Body armor in its first iterations wasn’t terribly dissimilar to a suit of armor, it just weighed a hell of a lot more as it used proper steel, as opposed to simple metal plating that would protect you against an arrow or a sword blow if you had a squire that could help you in and out of it. Kevlar is the standard today, but an impressive video making its rounds around the Internet is showing Composite metal foams (CMFs) crafted into armor that, essentially, disintegrates armor-piercing RIFLE-FIRED rounds.
Before CMFs, present day body armor
Body armor has gotten more and more effective each year, but in order for it to truly stop a bullet, especially a large-caliber bullet, body armor has been forced to become heavier, more cumbersome, and more and more unwieldy. While that may seem like a small price to pay to avoid a bullet’s or bullets’ penetration, if you can’t move you’re going to get shot more. There needs to exist some sort of middle ground. Flexible body armor that allows for quick movements while also providing protection and that’s been the problem since body armor first became commonplace.
While soldiers seem to not mind nearly as much, law enforcement has struggled with adopting heavier types of body armor. Police have a number of jobs and duties that don’t involve getting shot at at the rate of a soldier in a war zone and it explains why police have been reluctant to go much beyond soft-armored vests that still afford a fairly free-range of motion.
Hard armor, essentially deflects a bullet or shrapnel while soft armor ( a typical police officer’s vest) simply works by spreading out the blunt trauma so that the force is not received in one focused spot. Even if a bullet (especially a rifle bullet or larger caliber round fired from a pistol) were to pass through soft armor, its velocity would have been seriously reduced and the chance of an exit wound is seriously reduced. Exit wounds, especially when a bullet mushrooms, can be up to five-times as large as the entry hole.
Even though hard-armor reduces the death rate by bullet dramatically (14X), most law enforcement personnel just won’t wear it.
For years beginning about five years ago, engineers and scientists were looking at the potential for spiders’ silk to be weaved to provide a much lighter and stronger alternative to Kevlar mesh. The problem with spider silk is mass production. This conundrum even saw two companies inserting spider DNA into goats so that goat’s milk also had a fair bit of spider silk that could be extracted following milking.
While that worked, to an extent, it still wasn’t an ideal means of mass-production.
Enter composite metal foams (CMFs), the future of body armor?
Last year saw researchers using CMFs as a means by which to block radiation of all sorts. Now, this little known material has been turned against the bullet with a fair amount of success as the video above shows.
Composite metal foams are essentially made by passing a bubbling gas through a molten metal to produce something that can be shaped and allowed to set as a lighter material that still retains (most of) the strength of the original metal that the gas was passed through.
Is it as strong? lt is not. Is it considerably lighter? It most certainly is.
Afsaneh Rabiei, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University showed the potential last year with CMFs being used as the aforementioned radiation shield that could block numerous types of gamma rays and neutron radiation as well as X-rays. Now, the professor has turned her attention to bullets.
Not pop-gun .22 caliber bullets (which still hurt and can kill you), but to NATO-issued 7.62 x 63 millimeter M2 armor piercing projectiles. And she essentially turned them into dust upon contact with her newly developed CMF. The bullets were fired while following the standard testing procedures established by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
“We could stop the bullet at a total thickness of less than an inch, while the indentation on the back was less than 8 millimeters,” Rabiei says. “To put that in context, the NIJ standard allows up to 44 millimeters indentation in the back of an armor.”
Now, don’t for a minute think that won’t hurt, and that is the reason that no one is wearing the armor that she and her colleagues fired into for their results.
But it won’t likely kill you and certainly represents a potential sea-change moving forward with new materials to protect soldier, officer and civilian alike.