Advanced body armor can provide the protection needed to prevent injuries and even save lives, but it must be the right design and composition to keep pace with the latest battlefield threats. For that reason, an essential research program (ERP) managed by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s (CCDC) Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is exploring different combinations of materials and configurations in search of the most advanced body armor possible. Threats range from traditional physical projectiles to more advanced electromagnetic (EM) and laser-based rifles.
The ERP supports soldier lethality modernization efforts for the Army, which involves all aspects when dealing with evolving modern battlefield weapons, including shooting, soldier movement, communication, protection, sustainment and training. As Dr. Christopher Hoppel, Physics of Soldier Protection to Defeat Evolving Threats program manager, explains, the ERP is meant to provide an edge in an ongoing struggle with adversaries for an advantage on the battlefield: “The United States fields the best body armor in the world, but near-peer adversaries have threats designed to defeat body armor. We are working on the technologies to provide soldiers with protection from those future threats while not placing any additional burdens on the soldier.”
Design requirements for advanced modern armor are often in conflict, such as being light in weight and not restrictive of a soldier’s movements yet capable of stopping high-speed projectiles. With the growing use of EM and laser-based weapons, the body armor must also employ a blend of materials capable of blocking these advanced weapons. In many cases the body armor integrates enough microprocessor power to perform the terminal ballistics and computational mechanics required to minimize the effects of physical and energy-based weapons.
To develop advanced armor, as part of the ERP Army scientists and engineers work with research partners in other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Energy (DoE), as well as partners in industry and at academic institutions, to explore the most promising body armor technologies. “In the short term, we are working to develop and demonstrate ballistic mechanisms to defeat small arms threats in a compact armor package,” Hoppel said. “At the same time, we are developing new ceramic composite materials technologies to minimize the weight and bulk of the armor.” As part of the research efforts, one of the goals is to create computational tools that can design body armor capable of withstanding non-penetrating impact for any ballistic threat.