Modern body armor is the result of decades of evolutionary engineering in design, ergonomics and materials science. It may seem like a miracle that body armor capable of stopping bullets can be cool, comfortable and flexible but it’s really just science, engineering and a lot of testing.
Much of the progress in modern body armor can be traced to the military. In the United States, engineers from organizations like the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center team up with designers from the Navy’s Clothing and Textile Research Facility to push the body armor envelope for protection, weight and flexibility.
The latest style of body armor being adopted by law enforcement and military commands is called a plate carrier. In a carrier configuration body armor comes in interchangeable components that can be configured for different threat environments. The basic plate carrier is a simple adjustable vest with a cool, moisture wicking liner on the inside and tough, scuff-resistant material on the outside. The ballistic protection component of the carrier comes in the form of bulletproof panels that fit inside specially designed pockets in the carrier. The panels can be very light, designed to defeat handgun ammunition, or heavier, stiffer panels designed to stop high velocity rifle rounds. The panels can be further supplemented with hard armor inserts for the most serious threats such as armor piercing ammunition and high speed grenade fragments. Modern body armor can be customized to the situation.
The biggest advantage to the carrier/panel combination is that new ballistic materials can be quickly incorporated into active service. Military and law enforcement personnel can also customize their body armor to the threat scenario they’re most likely to face in a given situation. If a more serious threat presents itself, the carrier system can be quickly upgraded to respond to that threat by simply changing out the panels in the carrier.
Military carrier systems of the near future will be further integrated with the warfighting equipment each soldier must carry. Next generation body armor will have to become more of a weight-bearing component with attachment points for gear and an internal structure to help distribute upper body weight from the shoulders to the hips. The body armor of tomorrow is as much structural as protective.
While the body armor of today is amazing, the body armor of tomorrow will not only keep its ballistic protection capabilities but will help soldiers carry more with less fatigue.