The Army’s Next Body Armor May Get Stronger The Harder It’s Hit

Gear
Photo via U.S. Army/DoD

The Army has been racing to equip soldiers with lighter, more durable body armor and helmets for years, a requirement that Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley reiterated during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington on Oct. 11. And defense contractors like Gentex, the corporation behind the Army’s Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH), flooded AUSA’s tech expo to showcase the latest updates in soldier protection.


But with the help of university researchers, the Army’s own engineers just took a major step towards developing durable materials to keep American troops safe during a firefight. On Oct. 11, the Army Research Laboratory and Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology at MIT touted the benefits of “poly(urethane urea) elastomers” (PUUs), astoundingly rugged and elastic polymers that the branch described as “fifteen times stronger than steel [but] flexible like fabrics.”

The extra strength is impressive, but the degree of flexibility is what distinguishes a PUU from the bulky average Army battle armor, with its rigid ceramic and metal plates. Instead, envision a "chainmail-like" network of PUU fibers, which deform upon impact before returning to their original thickness — allowing them to absorb more energy from, say, a 7.62mm round from a Taliban AK-47, and be good to go for reuse. As the Army Research Lab’s Dr. Alex Hsieh said in a statement, materials made up of PUUs literally “bounce back after the impact.”

A scanning electron microscopy image reveals a permanent indent on the surface of polycarbonate in contrast to poly(urethane urea) elastomers or PUUs, where no damage was observed after impact.Photo via U.S. Army/DoD

But the unique molecular makeup of PUUs means the fibers don’t just last longer but work harder when faced with high-speed impacts: There’s potential, according to the Army, that the materials could “change from rubber-like to glass-like when they are deformed at increasing high rates.” In layman’s terms: The harder it’s hit, the stronger it gets — not unlike the strange bulletproof goo dreamed up by an Air Force Academy cadet back in May 2017.

While Army and MIT researchers are still exploring the capabilities and limits of the new material, the potential applications include “transparent face shields, mandible face shields, ballistic vests, extremity protective gear, and blast-resistant combat boots,” according to the branch. The application to combat helmets may prove especially important in preventing the force of a shell’s impact from transferring through the helmet and causing blunt force trauma, a problem for even the most robust protection system.

army body armor

Two U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Special Operations Command-Europe, engage opposing forces at an objective during Jackal Stone 2016 in Tblisi, Georgia, on Aug. 15, 2016.Photo via U.S. Army/DoD

The PUU polymer is still in the testing phase, but the Army may end up slapping the stuff onto its soldiers faster than previous personal protection systems, thanks to a coming reorganization of the branch’s procurement process. In a letter to general officers released on Oct. 6, Milley announced that the Army was poised to completely overhaul its approach to buying, testing, and fielding of new weapons and equipment as a part of a service-wide modernization effort.

The branch needs to field “not only next-generation individual and squad weapons, but also improved body armor, sensors, radios, and load-bearing exoskeletons,” Milley wrote. “Putting this all together, we must improve human performance and decision making by increasing training and assessment, starting at the Soldier level.”

The average soldier may not end up donning this post-industrial PUU chainmail before deploying to Afghanistan or Syria in the coming years, but Milley’s comments suggest that, should the PUU research continue to yield such fantastic results, such revolutionary body armor could end up in armories downrange sooner rather than later. Until then, we’ll make do with some bullet-stopping goo instead.

Casperassets.rbl.ms

Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less

It took four years for the Army to finally start fielding the much-hyped Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, and it took soldiers less than four days to destroy one.

Read More Show Less

Airman 1st Class Isaiah Edwards has been sentenced to 35 years in prison after a military jury found him guilty of murder in connection with the death of a fellow airman in Guam, Air Force officials announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Capt. Jonathan Turnbull. (U.S. Army)

A soldier remains in serious condition after being injured in the deadly ISIS bombing that killed two other U.S. service members, a DoD civilian, and a defense contractor in Syria last week, Stars and Stripes reports.

Read More Show Less

A Russian man got drunk as all hell and tried to hijack an airplane on Tuesday, according to Russian news agencies.

So, pretty much your typical day in Siberia. No seriously: As Reuters notes, "drunken incidents involving passengers on commercial flights in Russia are fairly common, though it is unusual for them to result in flights being diverted."

Read More Show Less