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Navy Research Lab Develops New Body Armor for 2016

By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2015 – New lightweight, flexible and buoyant body armor developed at the Naval Research Laboratory could be in field use by 2016, the lead scientist who has overseen the armor’s two-year development said yesterday.

Research physicist Raymond M. Gamache of the lab’s chemistry division was one of dozens of exhibitors in the Defense Department’s first “Lab Day” at the Pentagon to display the latest innovations that will advance DoD’s Force of the Future, DOD officials said.

Gamache said his new armor will replace the existing enhanced small-arms protective insert to mitigate the impact from bullets and fragmentation.

Armor Protects Torso, Spine

He displayed two forms of his flexible armor: a fabric for the torso that resembles dimpled foam rubber, and an insert of interlocking pieces that lock up into a solid piece upon impact.

Using both, he noted, would provide torso protection, while the insert could be used in a warfighter’s back to shield the spine from damage.

“It’s a great solution for [spinal injury],” Gamache said. And while the insert can’t stop blunt-force trauma, “you’ll still be alive,” he said.

While Gamache’s armor is intended for protection from bullet fire and fragmentation, it would only offer some degree of protection in improvised explosive device blasts, he said.

Armor is Like Fabric

“You hear stories about troops who won’t wear their armor because it’s both heavy and it is very restrictive,” Gamache said. “This is like wearing a fabric, [and] it’s loose,” he said of the material that resembled dimpled foam rubber, noting that the new material is about 2 pounds lighter than existing body armor.

“The beauty of it is no matter what your body contorts into, you’ll always have the same amount of protection,” Gamache said.

The proximity of the tiny spheres of boron carbide and silicon carbide is what protects service members from the vulnerability of bullet impact and fragments, he explained.

“You can twist and turn, but you’re always going to maintain the same protection against bullets,” he said.

The armor can be used all around the globe in any environment from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region, Gamache said.

There is no temperature variance with his armor, he added, although ventilation can be added for greater air flow in warm climates.

“With this technology, we’re trying to essentially make lighter, more compliant materials that people will be willing to wear [that] still gives equivalent protection,” Gamache said. “And that’s the bottom line.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD

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U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

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