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New Armor Plates in the Works

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We posted a story this morning about a team of engineering students at my alma mater who are designing new body armor inserts.

According to the story in the Richmond (VA) Times Dispatch, the three students -- one of whom is an Army National Guardsman -- are testing new plates that can absorb up to 32 shots from armor piercing rounds. The University of Virginia students' contention is that the new design will contain spall and reduce backface deformation.

But the students aren't being specific...

For proprietary reasons, the students don't want to get into the specifics of how the armor works, though the invention in part is a new configuration of ceramic plates. The students also don't want photographs taken of the armor.

O'Dell said the problem with current armor worn by Soldiers is that one shot from an armor-piercing bullet will create cracks in the ceramic material that makes up the vest. That leaves the Soldier vulnerable to the next shot.

The UVA.-designed vest should withstand possibly as many as 32 rounds of armor-piercing bullets per plate, said O'Dell, who at 29 is much older than his teammates. Armor vests usually have four plates -- one each for the front, back and sides.

"We're trying to contain those cracks," O'Dell said.

The new armor also will "deflect" less when struck by the steel-core bullets used to penetrate armor. That's important because too much deflection -- where the ceramic material is actually deformed inward by the force of the bullet -- can also kill a Soldier.

From what I can tell this isn't much of a breakthrough. Seems the students are still using ceramic in their armor material. They claim they're building a lighter plate that contains spall and reduces backface deformation. Sounds to me like a thinner ceramic core wrapped around a ton of Spectra or Dyneema. This is far from Earth shattering and there are armor manufacturers out there that are doing the same thing. Dyneema and Spectra have a hard time stopping the AP rounds, though, so maybe they have a new "configuration" that reduces the weight of the ceramic (which means they cut down on the amount) but preserves the kind of strength needed to stop AP rounds.

Until inventors start being able to forge armor from new materials, I don't see much promise in increased ballistic resistance with reduced weight. Carbon nano-tubes anyone?

-- Christian

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