Archive for the ‘Future Developments’ Category

Over the 40 plus years the NIJ has been certifying body armor, much has changed. Back in the late 60’s, through the 70’s and early 80’s, handgun threats on the streets escalated from .38 SPL RNL and .22 LR out of short barrels to hot 9mm FMJ and .44 Magnum JSP. The level I rating virtually disappeared as a result (though it is still better than nothing, see my shoot tests with Level I panels).

But perhaps the biggest changes have been in the area of rifle threats, specifically AP (Armor Piercing). At the outset, NIJ level IV was rated to stop arguably the most potent threat that could be regularly encountered (and all comparable but lesser threats), the .30-06 M2 AP 163gr. At 2750 FPS, this round was (and still is) formidable. Having a high molybdenum and vanadium tool steel core hardened to around 59-61 Rockwell C hardness, it can punch through 8mm of RHA at 100M. Comparable Soviet and ComBloc rounds do slightly worse.

But fast forward more than three decades, and the threat profile has changed. WC (tungsten carbide) core rounds are no longer a rarity, and their penetration profile is far better than the M2. The American military has recently introduced a second generation WC projectile as a replacement for the first generation M993. Called the ADVAP (Advanced Armor Piercing) round, it is essentially the same design as the M80A1 projectile, with a hardened WC “arrowhead” swaged to a copper alloy base/driver. At $13 -per round- it is designed to cope with advanced emerging armors.

Which means the threats are not unilateral. Advanced Russian and Chinese designs must be assumed to be at least comparable to the M993 (7.62), M995, and AP4 (5.56) rounds. Which is why the NIJ is strongly encouraged to drop the M2 AP as the baseline round for the highest rated rifle plates, and begin using the M993 (as sourcing the newest Russian rounds for testing is virtually impossible at this time).

Testing by Buffman, of BuffmanRange has shown that there are plates that are (barely) capable of stopping the M993 round (and by extension, the M995 and AP4), but it is a crap-shoot. They are neither designed, nor rated for WC threats, which necessitates a completely different design philosophy.

The second problem is that of fragility. The current NIJ IV rating specifies a SINGLE M2 AP round must be stopped, in order to meet the standard. The NIJ III is not much better, specifying 6 rounds of M80 ball in a 6″ circle. In nearly every case, the plate is reduced to rubble, with the entire strike face compromised after a single round. A more reasonable standard is to require 8 rounds in a 6″ circle, for both levels of plate. More difficult? Absolutely. But in keeping up with advancing threats, absolutely necessary.

Here at D-Rmor Gear, we are not satisfied to rest on our laurels, and have been working on these problems tirelessly over many years. As a result, we will have a major announcement by the end of the month. Stay tuned.

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From the inception of modern soft armor in the late 60’s to early 70’s, body armor has been tested and rated by the National Institute of Justice, a private organization that took it upon itself to issue standards and testing protocols for body and vehicular armor.

In retrospect, the NIJ rating system was a perfect example of “making it up as you go along.” For example, the use of Roma Plastalina #1 modeling clay as a witness backing material was simply the result of one of the NIJ’s employees grabbing his kid’s modeling clay off his kitchen table.

Over the years, the NIJ Standard has been taken as gospel when it comes to rating and testing armor, but certain high-profile failures over the years were the results of failures of the testing and evaluation of armor.

Chief among those failures were the Zylon fiasco, and the continued use of UHMWPE materials in soft armor.

Zylon, a new “super fabric” of the 90’s, began to see use in soft armor. Touted as the next big leap in body armor technology, it looked good on paper, and performed well- until it didn’t. The the original manufacturer of the fabric, Toyobo of Japan, had never envisioned the fabric being used as soft armor. But with the push for lighter, thinner, and softer vests, several manufacturers immediately jumped on the Zylon bandwagon.

Unfortunately, Zylon had a fatal flaw- because of the manufacturing process, the final step of cleaning the filaments left traces of acid on the fibers. Combined with moisture (such as perspiration), this initiated a chemical reaction that led to degradation and a massive loss of strength in the Zylon fabric. To the extent that it was no longer bullet resistant. This lead to the completely unnecessary and tragic deaths of several peace officers, including Tony Zapatilla, who was killed after receiving shots to his vest that would have been stopped by a non-Zylon armor.

Because the NIJ did not have any kind of environmental conditioning requirements in place, the utter unsuitability of Zylon for use in soft armor was never detected, until it led to deaths and injuries. Two of the earliest crusaders for more accountability in soft armor rating and testing were Kevin McClung, and Gary Roberts, DDS. Kevin also brought to light a key vulnerability of another commonly used material, UHMWPE. UHMWPE is another material that looks good on paper, performs well in its narrow range of suitability, but has several key flaws.

First, because it is essentially the same basic chemical structure as milk jug plastic, it will denature above 180 degrees Farenheit. Back in the late 80’s vests were being constructed with a woven version of UHMWPE, and there were several instances where a hot cup of coffee had been spilled on concealed vests. Hot coffee can easily exceed 180 degrees F, and because of the nature of the woven fabric, it was much more vulnerable to heat-degradation.

This lead to a “retirement” of woven UHMWPE, and a laminated version became standard (the idea being that laminated plies are more resistant to heat transfer, especially from liquids, which is valid). However, the trunk of a vehicle in a hot environment can also exceed the temperature threshold for de-naturation, and so to this day, UHMWPE soft armor is, in my and several other’s opinions, unsafe.

UHMWPE has another flaw, related to the temperature vulnerability: contact shots. Because muzzle blast from most pistols can exceed 900 F, UHMWPE armor can, and has been shown to be susceptible to penetration by contact shots. More importantly, these shots were from rounds that would normally have been easily stopped otherwise.

To their credit, the NIJ listened, and like most good companies, realized they needed to change.

Next year will see a complete restructuring of the standards and ratings.

The Roman numeral levels will be discarded, and instead, a more intuitive rating system will be unveiled. For example, for handgun threats, there will be HG1 and HG2. For rifles, RF1, RF2, and RF3. In our opinion, this will go a long way towards updating and improving armor’s effectiveness.

Some things that will be essential would include:

-More stringent environmental testing, including high temperature conditioning of both hard and soft armor @ 200 F.

-More focus on contact and high-angle-of-incedence impacts

-Specialized testing for female armor

-And perhaps most importantly, the updating of the Rifle threats, to make the M993 and M994 the standard threat projectiles in the higher levels, since the M2 AP is an 80 year old round.

Our hats are off to the NIJ for listening to their customers, and look forward to seeing how the new standards stack up.

Over the past 15 years, we have been designing, building, innovating, and improving armor, tactical gear, and related equipment. Our philosophy has ever been, “there’s no such thing as over-engineering, merely proper engineering.” After wearing out, destroying, and dissecting more pieces of personal gear than we can recount, there were some themes that kept repeating: stitching geometry, materials, and design are all critical. It sounds like common sense, but after witnessing many gear failures, and tracing them to their causes, we saw that common sense is not so common.

We began to design gear that incorporated advanced materials. Materials normally only found in ballistic armor, such as Kevlar and Twaron. We sought out the best materials, and when they couldn’t be found, we had them custom milled to our specifications. And we realized that using ballistic-rated materials could enhance the overall protective capabilities of the entire system, meaning that pouches and load-bearing gear was no longer pure parasitic weight.

The results of that decade of design, planning, innovation and re-design are now available to you, a dividend that you can benefit from when you purchase any of our FragTuf(TM) gear.

When you see the FragTuf(TM) name, it means that the item is stronger, lighter, better. There are three levels of FragTuf(TM) construction:

FragTuf-A: Utilizes our signature dual-stitching, combining mil-spec Kevlar and Nylon. Can also include advanced HANK (High Abrasion Neoprene Kevlar) laminate.

FragTuf-B: Includes everything found in FragTuf-A, but goes a step further, and contains between one and three layers of fifth-generation woven ballistic aramid.

FragTuf-C The most rugged FragTuf gear includes everything A and B has, with the addition of our custom-milled SpallGuard aramid material, usually in places other makers would use mundane padding.

Our goal is to create a comprehensive line of gear, that is both universally compatible with everything we make, as well as interchangeable and compatible with as much extant gear (current, future, and legacy) as possible. To give you the absolute maximum number of possibilities in setting up your kit, with the absolute best quality and durability.

At the recent ARMY-2017 Exhibition in Moscow, Russia,(http://www.rusarmyexpo.com/), an armored suit concept was unveiled. Several features stand out as quite unusual:

First, the armored components appear to be semi-load bearing. From visual appearance, the chest and joint armor looks to be made of hexagonal and triangular carbide ceramics. The construction would also indicate field or depot-level reparability, as there is no overlayer. The potential drawback of this system is much higher vulnerability to incidental damage. This concept differs from the current protocol of carrying hard plates in fabric suspension systems.

Second, the construction of the joint armor takes a lot of cues from late medieval designs, and does not appear to hinder movement greatly.

The design appears well thought out, with minimal shot traps and weak points. The overlap of the chest plastron is correct, as most projectiles will impact at a downward arc.

The passive exoskeleton looks to be durable and functional. When power density and heat dissipation issues are solved in the next decade, this system should prove easy to upgrade to a powered exoskeleton.

The armor is puported to withstand “10 rounds of various calibers.” Based on the predicted material/design elements, this system should be capable of providing level IV multi-hit coverage under the rigid components, and level II-IIIA/Frag over the remaining areas.

It is predicted to be fielded within 15 to 20 years.

It is a good time to be in the market for effective and affordable steel rifle plates. Maingun Surplus, makers of the excellent and affordable Patriot Plate, have just announced their newest and best steel plates to date! The Maingun Advance plate will stop all normal level III threats, while additionally stopping the notorious M193 high velocity round (up to 3300fps!).

In addition, they will be offering package deals, a full set of plates with a plate carrier.

Details can be found here:

http://eepurl.com/bu3gsj

Kudos the Maingun for the time and effort required to design and create these Advanced plates!

One of the questions I get asked frequently is “can you recommend a good source for SPEAR/BALCS cut soft armor panels?” and “do you make custom SPEAR/BALCS armor?”

Well, up until now, there were not many options. SPEAR/BALCS cut armor is a well thought out concept, giving plate carriers a greater area of armor coverage. But they tend to be expensive $750-$900 per set), and usually difficult to obtain.

If I get enough interest, I will be offering these panels on a limited basis. Pricing for a level IIIA equivalent set in Medium would be around $410. Pricing would adjust up or down for size Large and Small sets. XL may or may not be offered on a custom-only basis.

Features these would offer:

Fifth-Gen Advanced Woven Aramid
Thin- ~.24″ Thick
Light- ~1.18 AD
Ruggedized- Construction methods to minimize hard use/wear
**5-Year Replacement Guarantee**: If used in verified/documented Duty/SD scenario, will be replaced for free. Nobody else offers this.
Superior materials and construction to any other currently available BALCS panels out there.
-NO SPECTRA
-NO inferior Aramid Laminates
-Would be the BEST BALCS panels in all categories.

If you would like to see these become reality, contact me via email, or post comments. In one month, I will announce whether there was enough interest to go forward. Stay tuned!

The makers of the well-known and excellent Patriot III steel rifle plates have been busy, and I have just gotten wind of a project that has been in the works for over a year, and is nearing completion.

IMGP0502

Just a few details are known at this time:

Most advanced Ultra-Hard steel in the world
4.5mm/.178″ Thick (Uncoated)!
Stops M193 @ 3300 FPS as well as M80 ball and M855, all lesser threats
Weighs ~3.4 Lb.!

This is only .3 lb. heavier than the Midwest Venture STX plate of the same size, is .37″ thinner, and will stop M80 ball (true level III+)!

No word yet on release date or pricing, but even so, it sounds like they have themselves a winner. Keep your eyes on Maingun’s site and this blog for more information!

Steel rifle plates are an affordable and effective option for those looking for rifle-round protection, as well as possessing the twin benefits of extreme durability and thin profile. As I have mentioned in previous iterations of TGTBTU, they represent a viable solution to everyone from LEOs to the prepared American.

Their one main drawback, aside from their weight (on average, higher than either ceramic or UHMWPE) was their susceptibility to the very common M193 threat. This round, in general, could be counted on to Swiss-cheese garden variety AR500 steel, if shot at or above 3000 fps (a disturbing fact that has been well-known since 2007).

It has been known to me for some time that there was a solution, but it warranted further investigation. That solution was/is Ultra Hard Steel. Most armor-rated steel possesses a Brinell hardness (BHN) of around 480-510 (the well known “AR500”). This standard steel, used for target gongs, and of late, rifle plates, is hard, but not hard/tough enough to stop M193 at high velocity. This round, due to its energy and small frontal profile, “punches” out cylinders of material, a mode known as “shear-plug failure.” UHS, by comparison, possesses extreme hardness, almost approaching that of ceramic (anywhere from 650-720 BHN).

This steel will easily stop M80 ball, M855, and M193 in 5mm thickness, meaning that rifle plates made with this material are truly triple-threat capable (these three rounds, along with 7.62X39 constituting the main threat spectrum most wearers need concern themselves with both in and OCONUS).

A new company called Armor Wear has become the first to bring an UHS plate to market, and my congratulations to them:

https://armour-wear.com/shop/all/ar680-steel-plate/

Calling their plates “AR680,” in reference to the BHN, these plates can be fully expected to stop M193 at a remarkable 3300 fps. The price point is $134 per plate, which although higher than regular AR500, is very reasonable given the exceptional capabilities. Weight for uncoated plates is 6.2 lb., which is the same or close to some ceramic plates on the market! With the build-up Line-X coating, the weight rises to 7.4 lb. per plate, but that is still a vast improvement over the older, less-effective AR500.

With this sea-change in the nature of steel rifle plates, I can now unhesitatingly recommend steel as every bit as good as ceramic and UHMWPE if weight is not a primary concern. From this point forward, UHS should be considered “best practices” if one is considering steel rifle plates.

With the wearing of hard armor to defeat rifle threats becoming both more common, and more affordable, there seems to be conflicting opinions on plate sizing. One school of thought argues for maximum coverage- setting up the plate carrier with oversize side plates, and 11X14 (or even larger!) front and rear plates. The argument being, the greater area of coverage will result in greater survivability.

The other school of thought stipulates that the more steel or ceramic you strap on, the less mobile you will be. Smaller (8X10) primary plates, no side plates, or even omitting the rear plate, are all suggested to lighten the load, or to allow more ammo/sustainment gear to be carried.

Both schools have their merits. However, the latter school has a slight edge in my opinion (your mileage may of course vary). Smaller plates, while not providing as much coverage as larger plates, still do a good job of covering “the box” (Cardio-pulmonary box, containing the heart, large vessels/arteries, and a majority of the lungs). The role of armor is to allow you to stay in the fight longer, not make you invulnerable. A lighter, smaller plate improves mobility, resulting in less fatigue and more combat effectiveness. Not getting hit is always preferable to standing and taking rounds.

Secondly, omitting the rear and side plates (unless in a situation requiring the wearer to be stationary/defensive), may encourage a more pro-active/agressive mindset. Keeping “front towards threat” is not a bad habit to cultivate.

So unless you envision yourself in a fixed defensive situation, it may be worthwhile to consider lightening the load, and choosing smaller/fewer plates.

Over the past half century, the primary fiber for use in soft body armor applications has been Aramid fiber (known commercially as Kevlar or Twaron). And though continued innovations and improvements have kept this fiber at the top of the heap in overall effectiveness, it is nearing its plateau. There is only so much that can be done with the (admittedly excellent) fiber, and a worthy successor has been chosen.

Some time ago, it turns out.

Originally developed in 1998 by Azko Nobel, M5 was first produced by Magellan, and subsequently by Dupont, which purchased the rights from Magellan in 2005. With a modulus of around 310 GPa and tenacity of around 5.8 GPa, it exceeds every current high-strength fiber (with the exception of carbon nanotube fibers) by a large margin.

It derives its great strength, in part, from its ability to form hydrogen bonds in 4 axes (by comparison, Aramid only forms biaxial hydrogen bonds). In addition, it is more flame resistant than Nomex, and exhibits almost no degradation when exposed to UV light. It also tolerates humidity well. Essentially, it shows none of the weaknesses inherent in current ballistic fibers, while being far stronger and tougher.

So why are we not seeing this fiber in commercial armor yet? Well, it is in part due to the exceptional characteristics. M5 requires “tempering,” which is a combination of heat treating and tensioning of the fibers as they come off the spinnerets. Unfortunately, equipment designed for Kevlar would be destroyed if it was used for processing M5, simply due to the incredible strength of the fiber. It is thought that much of the delay in bringing this fiber to market is due to the massive retrofitting required to process it into fabric.

One thing is for certain- the translucent blue M5 fiber will eventually replace the iconic golden yellow Aramid fiber as top dog in ballistic armor. Keep your eyes on M5, it will make quite a splash when it goes live.

http://web.mit.edu/course/3/3.91/www/slides/cunniff.pdf

http://defense-update.com/products/m/m-5-fiber.htm