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Technology: Multi-Ply Heterogeneous Armor
Agency: Naval Research Laboratory
The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed impact armor with unparalleled performance for its weight. It’s strong, durable, flexible, even repairable, and has the capacity to deliver some real benefits to service members in the field. Could this be the agile armor that we’ve all been waiting for? Let’s take a look…
What is it?
The armor consists of alternating layers of an elastic polymer and a harder material such as aluminum, ceramic, or an alternative polymer. Performance is enhanced with as few as six alternating layers. The layers can be attached to a thicker front plate or backing for additional protection. A topographically structured front surface rotates pointed projectiles, enhancing penetration resistance, and allows for breakage by blunting the projectile’s point.
What does that mean?
This means that it’s lighter and more flexible than some other armor counterparts. But this doesn’t mean this multi-ply shield functions as only stand-alone armor. It can also serve like an enhancement, an augmentation for preexisting armor. The bullet-stopping candy coating, if you will. So it’s versatile, in many ways (lol). It uses layering techniques and different materials to create a more pliable form of bodily defense.
What does it do?
Well, it’s armor, so the first thing it does is protect things from other things that cause harm. But what makes this armor special is how it goes about protecting things.
The armor affords protection against a range of threats, including armor piercing munitions and explosion fragments. It boasts a 50% enhanced ballistic resistance over steel armor at equal areal density. It’s significantly lighter than conventional armor with equal or better performance. It also meets STANAG insensitive munitions requirements.
One of the coolest things about this armor is the fact that it’s recyclable and repairable. In the field. Talk about going green. This provides an added benefit of financial savings. If you can repair and reuse things in the field, it will save time and money. In this economic environment, it’s hard not to see that as a benefit.
How can this help?
The strength and lightness of the armor allows for portable, modular protective structures or lightweight personal gear. This would serve to the advantage of people in both industrial and law enforcement applications. It can be used to create and improve protective gear, including helmets. There are also potential applications for up-armoring vehicles and equipment. It could reinforce infrastructure protection, like railway cars, tankers, even buildings. It also has applications in portable ballistic and bomb protective panels.
If you’ve ever worn body armor before, you know it’s not exactly the most comfortable, snuggly thing to wear. It’s bulky, it’s heavy, and it’s not so easy to move around in. Ballet would be a challenge in full battle rattle, I imagine. Interestingly, the idea that armor could be flexible and light, while still providing protection, is not a new concept.
Actually, it’s an ancient concept.
In the days of yore, when plate armor was all the rage, the best equipped soldiers were walking around in less than fifty pounds of gear. From head to toe, a complete suit of armor made from well-tempered steel would weigh about 33-44 pounds. The weight was intentionally distributed evenly so the wearer was agile enough to run and jump. I guess you could say those medieval warriors were onto something. Arguably, the threats presented in the middle ages were a little less bullet-like, but there is merit in free-moving protection.
My take is that this is a great idea. Giving soldiers the ability to move freely while still being protected from danger, while also being cost effective and repairable in the field, would be of a great benefit to service members. Especially the ones who need to do cartwheels.
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Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science. She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.
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