“We now have projectiles in some calibers with velocities in excess of 2,000 feet per second from a hand gun,” Taylor says. “With the introduction of high-speed rounds, it’s important for end-users to know that armor is bullet resistant, not bullet proof. With the emergence of high-speed threats, there are additions that must be added because soft armor only gives so much performance. You don’t have to go to a rifle plate Level III or IV, but you can put some thin, lightweight special threat KAP plates inside the trauma plate pocket within the carrier.”
Enter Bourque Industries. This company manufactures ballistic tactical plates made out of Kryron, a carbon nanotube metal matrix composite manufactured from standard alloys and base metals. This hard armor withstands multiple high-velocity impacts in a tight pattern, performs consistently across the entire surface of the armor plate even for half-on/half-off edge shots, and eliminates ricochet and spall, according to John Bourque, CEO of the Tucson, Ariz. firm.
With Kryron the first round shock hardens the material, allowing for multiple impacts,” Bourque says. “Most ceramic products massively fracture upon impact. Our plates allow for multiple impacts without fragmentation or spall being ejected from the front of the plate.” (According to research spalling causes approximately 30 percent of body injuries due to projectiles (shards) imbedding in wearer. Bourque’s plates do not spall, thus eliminating this threat.)
The plates also dissipate heat coming from the projectile itself. “When people get shot with a bullet there is enormous heat trapped in the plate and it can burn your body,” Bourque explains. “Our product eliminates that heat from those rounds, including phosphorous rounds.”
Bourque vests have been engineered to fit comfortably across the torso. “Curved plates typically rest on the rib cage, and this has been stated to my field representative as an area of discomfort during tactical and ground maneuvers. Bourque Industries listened…and made the changes to obtain the desired comfort required,” Bourque explains.
Officers often forgo wearing their vests when it’s hot outside. But there are a number of developments helping to keep wearers cool when they don protection. Carriers designed to be worn outside the uniform shirt lift body armor away from the body to help keep officers cool. These carriers can either look like a uniform shirt with ballistic protection inside or have a tactical look and feel with the vest noticeable to others. Either way, they keep officers cooler than body armor worn tight against the skin.
The look an agency ultimately selects comes down to personal preference, says Tim O’Brien, Safariland’s category director of concealable armor. “Some agencies want a uniform look so they choose a uniform carrier that looks just like the vest itself,” says O’Brien. “Others want a load-bearing vest that allows them to place equipment on the vest and take some of the weight off the duty belt.”
However, Davis says he strongly believes vests worn on the outside need a “chameleon effect.” He explains when a suspect shoots an officer he typically aims for center mass. But when that suspect can readily see an officer’s bullet-resistant vest, he may aim for the head instead. “An external carrier designed to look like a uniform shirt provides better concealability through a chameleon affect,” Davis emphasizes.
On the horizon, officers may soon don vests equipped with built-in cooling systems.
Empa, working with Unico Swisstex, has prototyped a Kevlar vest with a built-in cooling system consisting of coolpads filled with water and a miniature fan that blows air through a fabric spacer behind the pads to cool the vest and the person wearing it.
“The fans had to be extremely small with very low power consumption and an air stream designed to provide good ventilation,” explains Empa researcher Markus Weder.
The coolpads also required tweaking. “The original coolpad membrane, when filled with water, could cool for about an hour,” Weder explains. “But for law enforcement, that timeframe was too short. We put a flexible bottle into the vest that can be filled with water to lengthen cooling time to three hours.”
The new vest has been tested by Zurich City police officers who have reported that it offers a great deal of cooling efficiency, according to Weder. Plans are to bring the vests to market by year’s end.