Some of you may have seen this system on television. It’s possibly the Army’s next generation of personal protective armor, but like so many other systems, there seems to be considerable controversy as to the armor’s effectiveness. The facts are muddled by the possibilities of huge government contracts.
Right now, the Army issues Interceptor Body Armor to its troops. This system consists of an Outer Tactical Vest and “SAPI” plates which protect the primary kill-shot areas of a soldiers front-torso and back. With the plates, a soldier is protected from an AK-47’s 7.62 round. It can withstand three hits in the same area with round muzzle velocities not exceeding 2,750 feet per second. It weighs about 17 lbs. This is considerably more protection than what is offered by standard-issue police vests. Police SWAT use similar protective levels.
The Interceptor, though far superior to previous generation battle armor (FLAK vests), is not without its problems. Marine Corps forensic tests concluded that many fatalities occurred form rounds striking marines in the areas surrounding the boron/carbide plates. Already pressing a soldiers ability to move and shoot quickly and fluidly, larger plates may not provide the answer, as soldiers have already been issued side plates which cover under the arms the rib area, but many of them refuse to wear them because they add another ten lbs to the system. I can attest: The last thing soldiers need now is more weight on their backs.
Pinnacle Armor Co. stepped forward to offer its solution to the Army’s new Armor-Wars. Enter: Scalar silicon carbide ceramics. Like its name-sake, Dragon Skin provides a flexible, over-lapping armor system. Individual, silver dollar sized plates lay over one another and according to Pinnacle, (and the TV shows, Mail Call, Future Weapons, and Test Lab) are capable of providing protection against 7.62 mm armor piercing rounds. It should be noted though, that the rounds used in the testing on television did not meet the NIJ Level III standard. The most impressive thing was that the armor was able to withstand multiple–in some cases over one hundred rounds– of shots without breach.
The controversy begins with other testing samples, specifically the Army’s own tests of the product. While Stanford University’s tests seemed to prove Dragon Skin capable of defeating almost all conventional small arms fire that would be encountered by US soldiers, leaked results from the Army’s testing stated that Dragon Skin failed to meet standards. Karl Masters, the Director of Engineering for soldier equipment could not give specifics on the armors performance, but advised soldiers not to buy the armor for themselves. He did however suggest that insurgents buy and use the armor. Pinnacle, of course, disputes Master’s analysis. The primary problem seems to be that the discs in the armor become loose or fall away when ambient temperature tests are moved to 120 degrees or higher, not unusual conditions for someplace like the Middle East. There was also arguments as to whether certain rounds, embedded in the armor, constituted a true potentially fatal breach of the armor.
Dragon Skin has now for a number of years come under attack from multiple sources, with its primary defender being Pinnacle–the system’s manufacturer. To me its obvious that this more expensive armor is not ready for field service, but I think Pinnacle is on the right track.
Our soldiers need the basics that every soldier has needed for two thousand years. A reliable and sufficiently lethal personal weapon, and armor that can thwart the enemy’s weapons.
The individual soldier, proficient and well equipped, is what will win tomorrow’s wars, not $300,000,000 F-22 Raptors. (Yes, they really cost that much–each. What a waste.) Urban combat and Wars of the People (Insurgency) is what America’s Army must prepare for. Give the soldiers the best.