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Armor Express Lighthawk XT Body Armor

I recently had reason to wear tactical body armor every day for about two weeks and I had previously discussed a field test / wear report with Armor Express representatives. As a result of those discussions, I received their Lighthawk XT model in time to get it configured as I preferred for my use. The first thing I noticed when I got it was what it weighed in my hand. That's when I realized they'd included a set of 10"x12" plates with the armor. Now, don't make a mistake: I wasn't commenting on how heavy the vest was; I was commenting on how light it was given that it was fully outfitted and included front and rear trauma plates. The second thing I noticed was the modularity of the armor and how easy it was to tailor coverage to perceived need.

So, let's take a look at everything that came in the Lighthawk XT package and then I'll discuss how I configured it for my needs followed by a report on the wear / field test.

The Lighthawk XT, as I received it equipped with all options, included:

  • The main torso carrier and armor.
  • Both shoulder flanks (left and right) with integrated Ballistic Collars.
  • Both Deltoid Protectors (shoulder and upper arm, right and left).
  • Removable throat protector
  • Retractable Pull-Down Groin Guard.
  • Adjustable Cummerbund with 6"x10" soft armor pockets on each side.

 

The main torso carrier has a front utility pouch that is held closed by two snaps and hook-n-loop (Velcro). The outer surface of that pocket, like almost every usable surface of the carrier, is covered in MOLLE webbing for pouch attachment. On the front of both shoulders there is a non-skid material to help keep the butt of your weapon tucked into proper position while operating / firing. Additionally, on the front and back of the vest and on both of the deltoid protectors, there are Velcro patch placement spots for ID patches.

Although I received my test vest with all that stuff in place, some of it is optional:

  • The Shoulder Flanks with Ballistic Collar
  • The Removable Throat Protector
  • The Retractable Pull-Up Nape Protector
  • The Structured Deltoid Protectors
  • The Retractable Pull-Down Groin Guard
  • The "Custom ID Tags" (Velcro Patch panels)

 

For some of the field testing I did, I kept every piece in place and only made adjustments so that the vest fit me properly. I didn't put on any pouches or even use the built-in hydration pocket. While wearing it "fully outfitted" the only discomfort I experienced (that would be avoidable by changing optional pieces or removing them) was from the Retractable Throat Protector. I probably could have made an adjustment in the length of the over-the-shoulder straps to lower the front of the vest a bit, but if I had the main body of the armor fitting me comfortably, the Throat Protector felt high. This may have been entirely subjective and someone who is more used to wearing fully kitted out body armor may not have noticed at all. The easy answer is to lower the Throat Protector or not use it. Both are operator choice, so I'm not complaining - just making the observation.

For the remainder of my usage I took off the Structured Deltoid Protectors, the Throat Protector, the Groin Guard and the Nape Protector. I kept the Shoulder Flanks with the Ballistic Collar pieces in place mostly for the ability they add to guide the quick-release cables. (more on those in a minute). After I had the vest configured as I wanted, I added on the pouches I felt I would need for what I was doing. On the right front side (as I was wearing it) I added a large utility pouch that held my Individual Trauma Pack from Tactical Medical Packs. I carry one of their Battle Packs. On the left side I have a pouch that carries a flashlight (my Night-Ops Gladius Maximus soon to be upgraded to the LEDWAVE PEL-6 Secutor) and a pair of handcuffs. On the face of the vest's front utility pouch I switched out, depending on the day's activities, either a pouch to carry M4 magazines or pouches to carry twelve gauge ammo.

In the main body of the vest, in the back, integrated into the plate pocket, is the hydration pocket. It allows for carrying a hydration system without having to add an extra pouch on the back, leaving all the back MOLLE open for other pouches that may be necessary. The way the carrier is designed, the hydration bladder would be between the soft armor in the back and the back plate. At the top of the pocket, in the center, is a "port" that allows you to run the drinking tub out and then in either direction over your shoulder. One word of advice if you're going to use that hydration pocket: Fill and install your hydration bladder BEFORE you adjust the vest for fit realizing that when you wear the vest with an empty hydration system the cummerbund will wrap a little farther. That's perfectly okay since as much as four inches of overlap in the front is covered by the design.

Now, let's talk about the quick-release cable system. As with most decently designed tactical vests today, the Lighthawk XT has a quick-release system designed into it so that if the wearer/operator needs to ditch the vest in a hurry it's easy to do. Before I go on, let me throw out a few words of caution:

  1. You should never count on using the quick-release mechanism unless you've tried it at least once in a safe environment and know both how it releases and how to put it back together, and
  2. Be aware that the vest is heavy and when you pull that quick-release all of the front weight may come down on your toes. While you may not care about that in an emergency situation, it'd be a shame to unnecessarily hurt your feet in practice.

 

The Lighthawk XT's quick-release system involves two cables - one that runs over each shoulder - that trail over the shoulder and down the back of the vest to lace each side of the cummerbund together. If you pull one of those cables all the way out, the cummerbund will be released from the back so that the waist of the front of the vest is separated from the waist of the back of the vest, and whichever side shoulder you pulled will also separate leaving the vest to fall off the opposite side shoulder. For example, if I pull the right side release, the right shoulder and waist will separate allowing me to dump the vest off my left shoulder. If I pull the left side release, the left shoulder and waist will separate leaving me to dump the vest off my right shoulder. To get the vest off of whichever shoulder doesn't separate requires only a small shrug and the weight of the vest (thanks to gravity) will do the rest.

I should also note that there are optional "Communications Wire Restraints" on my test vest. They are located two on each shoulder at the collar and three on each side of the plate pocket in the front. The restraints on the collars work perfectly for directing the cable release pulls and all of the restraints work equally well for directing your drinking tube if you're using a hydration system.

Naturally all body armor is only as good as the protection it provides. Adjustable fit and modular components are great, but if the armor is sup-par then what do you really have? Armor Express has multiple armor options because the Lighthawk XT uses concealable body armor panels for the main body and then add-on panels for the cummerbund, collars, etc. For soft armor choices they have:

  • Their Seraph line
  • Their HALO line
  • Their Quantum line
  • Their Gemini line
  • Their Taurus line

Information on those lines of armor, protection levels, etc is available on their website.

 

Additionally they have other accessories available in addition to or in replacement of the hard plates they sent with this test vest. They include:

  • Cool Max T-shirt
  • Carry bag
  • Ara-Shock Plate
  • T-Shock Plate
  • Soft Trauma Pac
  • Soft Armor Pac
  • Enhancement Pac

 

All of the modular pieces are also available as accessories and Armor Express also has product lines that include Shields, Helmets and pads. Check out the Lighthawk XT on their website via the link below.

Overall for fit, comfort and mobility I have to give the Lighthawk XT high marks. With the user ability to add or remove modular armor pieces to make the vest better suited to a specific mission and/or to make it more comfortable for the wearer, there's no excuse to complain about discomfort or coverage. It is what you choose for it to be - unless you want more than is available from the design.

Stay safe!

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About The Author:

Lt. Frank Borelli (ret) is the Editor In Chief for Officer.com, and has over 29 years of military and civilian law enforcement experience. An instructor since 1989 and having delivered training across the country, he stays active in police work, training, and writing. Frank has had four non-fiction and two fiction books published along with two research papers of specific interest to the law enforcement and/or military communities. All can be found / purchased on his Author Page on Amazon.com linked above. If you have any comments or questions, you can contact him via email to frankborelli@officer.com.

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