Science & Technology Corner

FORCE PROTECTION: Flexible Buoyant Body Armor Flexible Lightweight Body Armor with Multi-Hit Capability Rapid Reaction Technology Office

The effectiveness of today’s body armor technology is reflected in the stunning increases in soldier survivability to small arms attack and improvised explosive devices. Still, current body armor designs have shortcomings. Their weight and poor ventilation increase soldier discomfort and is a safety concern for maritime applications. Also, their ability to withstand a second impact is poor.

The Rapid Reaction Technology Office sponsored the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to develop a flexible and buoyant body armor based on a low cost ceramic ball design. Testing showed that body armor using a tightly-packed ceramic sphere design provided equivalent protection with a 50 percent weight reduction over existing designs. The sphere-based design also has less bulk, is flexible enough to wrap around body surfaces, and can be made neutrally buoyant.

NRL successfully tested the prototype body armor at the end of FY 2015. They are now working with the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) to develop body armor concepts that will support their needs as well.

The benefits of the new flexible, lightweight body armor includes:

  • Buoyant design
  • Improved flexibility to enable seamless, wrap around body protection
  • Lighter than steel and monolithic ceramic plate designs
  • Improved survivability, capable of withstanding multiple shots
  • Lower propensity to being damaged during routine use
  • Lower sustainment costs, eliminates the need for periodic x-ray verification of cracks
  • Potentially less expensive than current SAPI/ESAPI armor plates, estimated cost is ~$170-$360/ft2

For additional information, contact LtCol Andrew Winthrop through the RRTO portal.