Types of Body Armor
Body Armor has existed in one fashion or another since the first weapons were created. From boiled leather, mail and plate, body armor has continued to evolve into the light weight bullet proof vests worn today, and the heavy duty SAPI armor plates carried in today’s plate carriers. As this sites main focus is on ballistic protection, we’ll focus on old flak jackets to newer tactical gear for body armor.
Body Armor Levels
Each tier also offers protection vs the rounds listed in the tiers below it.
Type I Body Armor
Type I bullet proof vests are made to stand up to light weight and low powered rounds like .22’s and .380’s.
Type II Body Armor
Type IIa is a bullet proof vest that can stand up to low powered 9MM, .40 S&W and .45 ACP rounds. Type II will handle high powered 9mm and .357 Magnum rounds.
Type III Body Armor
Type IIIa body armor is rated for .357 SIG and .44 Magnum rounds. Type III is engineered to withstand 7.62 NATO rifle rounds.
Type IV Body Armor
Type IV is designed to withstand armor piercing rifle rounds.
Soft Body Armor
Soft body armor can be thought of as a bullet proof vest. These are made of high strength Kevlar material. Kevlar was developed by Dupont in the 1960’s. If weight is equal to that of steel, Kevlar is up to five times the strength while maintaining flexibility. Kevlar is used in bullet proof face masks, tactical vests and helmets intended for combat use. Bullet proof vests made from Kevlar can also be stab resistant by both ice picks and knives, further protecting the wearer from penetration and blunt trauma injuries.
Soft Body Armor protects by using tightly weaved Kevlar material that tightens as force pushes in against it. The strands of material in the weave pull on all the surrounding strands further tightening and catching the object in a net of material.
Soft Body Armor is designated from Tiers I-IIIa and as such is typically light weight. Several materials several times stronger than Kevlar, such as Vectran (twice as strong) or Biosteel and other biologically developed materials (4 times as strong) are being looked into for alternatives. Further in the future, carbon nano-tubes may be a viable candidate. Currently that technology is far too rare, new, and expensive to be utilized in this fashion. Each of these promise to increase the ballistic ratings while potentially decreasing weight and bulk in the process.
Hard Body Armor
Hard body armor makes up the levels III and IV body armor, protecting from high powered rifles and armor piercing rounds. This is typically accomplished using plate carriers loaded with SAPI armor plate, ballistic steel or polyethylene inserts to provide additional protection.
SAPI stands for Small Arms Protective Insert. These ceramic plates are inserted in the sides, front and back of a ballistic vest or other plate carrier to protect against various rifle rounds. SAPI plates are composted of either silicon carbide ceramic or boron carbide like ESAPI.
The E stands for enhanced, than thats exactly what these are. ESAPI armor plates are made to manage armor piercing rifle rounds. These plates are made from boron carbide, and a layer of Spectra which is stronger than Kevlar by 40%. With the added protection comes added cost however, with many ESAPI plates costing twice as much as the originals.
XSAPI body armor promises to respond to high velocity rounds that even ESAPI is incapable of handling. Body armor falling under this standard promise to be scaled and flexible. Cutting edge materials allow for less weight and increased coverage for further protection.
Future Body Armor
The body armor of the future promises to provide increased survivability for the soldier on the ground. Many are being developed and are even commercially available.
Dragon Skin is a scalar body armor basically made up of scales of armor which deflects and causes the disintegration of the projectile. This armor is flexible and light weight and will stop armor piercing rifle rounds. The overlap from the scalar spreads out the impact, leaving the user bruised, but otherwise uninjured, even after multiple impacts. Standard ceramic plates shatter after impact, leaving the wearer vulnerable thereafter. This armor has not been adopted by the military as of yet, but is commercially available.
Magnetorheological Fluid Body Armor
The US Army is experimenting with Magnetorheological fluid for body armor. This fluid is added to another fluid like oil and can be controlled by applying varying degrees of magnetic field allowing it to react to input on demand. At the extreme, the magnetic field on MR fluid can make it visoelastic, causing it to grab at and slow impacts to the point of negation. This is obviously years away from being practical but is an interesting look into where things are going for body armor.