Infantry: Lighter, Stronger And Safer

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November 25, 2008: The U.S. Department of Defense is under pressure by infantry officers to replace existing body armor with new models using a new, lighter and stronger fabric. In the last seven years, the Department of Defense has spent nearly half a billion dollars on new Protective Vests ("flak jackets"). That large a market has spurred development of new body armor technologies. This created a situation best described by the term, "disruptive technologies." All of them, unfortunately, were heavier, and many of the troops protested the weight of the new protective vests. Running up hills in Afghanistan, or through the intense heat of Iraq, is a lot more difficult when wearing any kind of protective vest, and the troops often leave some, or all, of the body armor behind when a mission requires them to be faster and more nimble.

Then, two years ago,  Indian firm Anjani Technoplast, came up with some innovative protective vest technologies, a new fiber (Dyneema HB26) which is 15 percent lighter, 40 percent stronger than aramid (Kevlar) fibers, floats, and is more resistant to sunlight, moisture and chemicals. Until recently it was much more expensive, but new production techniques have brought the price down. South Korea, for example, is replacing its Kevlar helmets (which are similar to U.S. models) with ones made of Dyneema HB26. These are 20 percent lighter than the Kevlar ones, and more resistant to bullets and shell fragments.

 While the Department of Defense doesn't want to spend up to half a billion dollars replacing all current protective vests, if there are enough pressure from the infantry to get new, lighter and stronger models for the combat troops. Combat support personnel can use the older, heavier models, if only because they do not face the same dangers, and don't run around nearly as much. At the same time, the new Afghan and Iraqi armies need protective vests. So it may be possible to pass on the current stuff to our less-affluent allies, and get the new models for U.S. combat troops.

Meanwhile, police forces are enthusiastically adopting Dyneema HB26 body armor and helmets. It's also likely that the new generation of U.S. armored trucks (the hummer replacement) will use Dyneema HB26, which will lower fuel consumption and strain on the suspension and other vehicle components.

 


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