Body armor provides a lot of protection to their wearers, and history is a witness to that. Soldiers have worn them over the centuries, from metal armor in ancient times to the modern versions that already incorporate new generation fabrics. However, a question still lingers until now - why is hard body armor so heavy?
Companies put great effort into making hard body armor their lightest possible. Yet, with all the enhancements done to hard armor in this era, it is a wonder why muscle-related and mobility issues still occur when wearing them. Hard body armor is heavy because they are built to resist existing high powered ammunition. Many times these require heavier materials, especially ceramics.
But then again, is hard body armor really worth it? The answer is yes for specific situations. Otherwise, they would’ve been ceased to be deployed in critical military operations. The usage of hard body armor can be determined by one’s tactical role for a mission. When looking to invest in armor, it’s important to maintain a balance between weight and ballistic protection.
That’s why we need to get to know the makings behind hard body armor. What makes body armor so heavy and what new ways are being researched to make body armor more lightweight without sacrificing any protective properties?
Table of Contents
What Is Body Armor Made Of?
By the end of the 1900s, more innovative soft and hard body armor were invented. Soft body armors are made of a mix of materials, mostly scientifically advanced fabrics such as Kevlar®. Hard body armor, meanwhile, integrates harder layers like ceramics. Here are more facts about hard body armor nowadays:
The main component of body armor is its ballistic panel, placed on both the chest and the back. The ballistic panel’s properties can depend on the intended design whether it is for a soft or a hard body armor. To make the panel wearable, the panel must be inserted into a plate carrier.
Hard body armor can include ceramic, ceramic composites, or bullet resistant fibers, particularly para-aramid ones like Kevlar®. As for the vest carriers, they are made of viable fabrics such as cordura nylon and cotton.
The Production Process
Body armor plates are typically a combination of bullet resistant fabrics and ceramics. Fibers need to be twisted with one another to be tight and efficient enough for the armor. The fabric is covered with a resin substance and ist placed between plastic layers.
The advanced fibers won’t just prevent the bullets from penetrating, but also prevents trauma related injuries in the area hit by dispersing the force across the surface of the plate.
Ceramic is added into the mix for even more protection. Ceramics can either be removable or built within a body armor. For removable armor plates, either type may be effective depending on the wearer’s use case.
Hard Body Armor Plates
Spartan Armor Systems is a company that manufactures a range of body armor and tactical gears, some of which are ballistic armor plates. Such plates have different sizes and cuts to accommodate wearers with different activities.
The Spartan AR500 Level III Omega Body Armor Single Plate, just like SAS’ other armors, has a fragmentation mitigation coating to minimize fragments from bouncing and hitting other parts of the body. It consists of Level III protection IAW NIJ0101.06 standards with a ¼ inch thickness of the AR500 Omega™ Armor.
This plate comes in either a shooters or swimmers cut to match the cut of your plate carrier.. The swimmers cut has a base coat weighing 9 lbs-2 oz., with a full coat of 10 lbs-15 oz. The armors cut has a base coat of 8 lbs-10 oz., with a full coat of 9 lbs-11 oz.
The Spartan Armor Omega Ballistic Armor Plates specifications signify that it has better resistance when it comes to ballistic penetration. However, its 10lb load can be limiting in terms of mobility.
Weighing 8 lbs. with a thickness of 0.26 inches, it offers good multi-hit performance capabilities, with Level III+ protection. It is made of ballistic steel core, with a dimension of 10 x 12 inches. It has an Advanced Shooters Cut (ASC).
Impacts that may exceed the armor’s limitation can cause it to crack. A crack is a sign that the armor’s ability to slow oncoming bullets has been compromised. At this point, the penetration resistance is still significantly intact, but the wearer will need to be more cautious.
The AR500 Armor Level III+ 10x12 Advanced Shooters Cut (ASC) Plate banners a good multi-hit performance, meaning the armor has the ability to resist multiple bullets that are shot in one go, while lessening its rounds velocity when the armor cracks. It offers more mobility with its lighter weight.
Innovation and Breakthrough in Hard Body Armor
Ever since the world moved on from the cast metals of armor in the past, Companies and scientists over the years have worked on refining the effectiveness of armor, which has led to some of the most advanced body armor today. Here are some that demonstrate such advancements:
The first thing you will notice from DFNDR armor is that they tend to be lighter, while maintaining the same if not a higher level of protection. DFNDR is said to be one of the most advanced armor systems, offering a ceramic mechanism that has a low density, yet incredible toughness. Their vests are approved as multi-hit armor and their adhesive components are aerospace-grade. The following are some DFNDR Lightweight Plates:
The DFNDR Armor Lightweight Level IIIA Bulletproof Armor Plate weighs only 0.96 lbs. (medium size). It is made of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber and bound with a resin matrix. It has both the shooters cut and the Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) cut. Sizes vary. It can resist a variety of calibers, from .22LR to .44 Magnum.
The DFNDR Armor Lightweight Level III Bulletproof Armor Plate is also made of UHMWPE, bound with a resin matrix. It has been tested to withstand multiple rounds of 7.62x51mm Steel Jacket NATO M80 and more. It weighs only 2.9 lbs. per plate with a size of 10x12 inches. It is also available in both shooters and SAPI cut.
The DFNDR Level IV Armor Plate can withstand a single shot of 7.62×63 APM2 at muzzle velocity, which has quite a strong, yet brittle caliber and pierce. It weighs 5.8 lbs. for a medium cut. It has a multi-curve plate to reduce the possibilities of deflection and breakage. It is again made of UHMWPE. It has the highest grade of Ceramic strike face upon making light armors.
The DFNDR Armor Plates mentioned so far vary in terms of weight, with the first one to be the lightest and the third one to be the heaviest. The DFNDR Armor Lightweight Level IIIA Bulletproof Armor Plate can resist relevant calibers, while the DFNDR Armor Lightweight Level III Bulletproof Armor Plate offers more powerful protection, for a slightly heavier weight of about 3 lbs.
Lastly, the DFNDR Level IV Armor Plate weighs about 6 lbs. but has the ability to resist a 7.62 caliber. Aside from possible military operations, the third one seems to be ideal for situations such as protection of individuals in vulnerable situations, like public events.
Are There Any Alternatives to Lighter Plates?
As you might see, innovative, higher end lightweight armor might not just be costly, but also have features that are unecessary. It depends on the situation you are likely to put on your armor for. Lightweight Armor Plates can cost up to $500 or more and the vest that are available might not even meet your needs. For example, armor plates that are meant to take high powered bullets, but are too heavy to allow for easy movement across the field are not a sustainable option.
Military situations that won’t need as much mobility because of tactical factors such as being contained in vehicles or defending a specific point would be more likely to call for heavier armor.
For the police and the military who have to chase and contain criminals, they need armor or vests that allow them mobility and comfort. These shouldn’t cause strain while wearing them for longer periods.
A removable hard plate might even come in handy for those who don’t need one during many hours of the day, but need it in special circumstances that are dangerous. Lightweight armor and vests are convenient and partly meant for civilians who want to wear them during ordinary days, for added protection.
The best way to evaluate whether a certain type of body armor is right for you is to check its assigned NIJ Protection Level, among other specifications. For example, Level II armors are classified to protect from short barrel handguns, but usually won’t shield from rifle ammunition. Level IV armor can withstand rifle ammunition.
Is Hard Body Armor Right for You?
You don’t need to look like Robocopif the situation doesn’t call for it. Although being Robocop is cool, you should identify your needs where you work, live, and play, and the possibilities that may arise.
Hard body armor provides greater ballistic protection, and innovative materials are being continually researched to improve their protective and lightweight properties. Protection wise they can stop even the fastest and hardest of rounds but their heavy loads make them difficult to move with. Lightweight body armor exists to make a compromise between weight and protection.
The bottomline is to carefully evaluate your needs and your budget. Make an informed decision by consulting your peers or higher authorities, studying your work, as well as examining the hard armors’ specifications. Pick the best one that balances protection and mobility to suit your needs.