U.S. Army researchers are exploring methods of reducing the weight burden of individual body armor. The effort is reflective of widespread government interest in optimizing body armor solutions.
The most recent Army interest is focused on reducing the weight of the plates that are inserted into soft armor carriers to provide the wearer with increased levels of ballistic protection.
As a replacement for the original Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI), today’s Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert (ESAPI) plates provide protection capable of defeating the most prevalent threats on the battlefield today.
As with other current technology designs, the ESAPI design consists of three major inputs:
- ceramic strike-face
- a composite backing, and
- integration and assembly of the ceramic strike-face and composite backing.
However, while dramatically enhancing soldier protection, the use of front and back ESAPI plates adds 10.9 pounds to the weight a warfighter carries into combat.
The latest Army explorations were described in a recent announcement issued by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in cooperation with Program Executive Office Soldier/PM-Soldier Protection Equipment and Marine Corps Systems Command/PM-Infantry Combat Equipment, calling for “concept papers from industry and academia for Personal Armor Light Weight Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert.”
According to the announcement, the desired outcome of the effort is “to develop a light weight ESAPI armor system that is 10 percent lighter than the currently fielded ESAPI. The end state prototypes shall conform to the performance requirements of the Purchase Description CO/PD 04-19 in its entirety while realizing a 10 percent weight reduction.”
Referring to the three major inputs in current plate designs noted above, the project description explains that, “The three major inputs of a composite armor system are themselves dependent variables of a multitude of independent variables. Concepts must identify the independent variables to be investigated, how they will be measured and the analysis of the main and interaction effects of these variables. All concepts must be focused towards the objective of developing a final system configuration that results in a minimum of the objective weight reduction.”
“The proposed technical approach must clearly identify how and why the effort will be successful,” it continues. “Substantiating data and analysis of the proposed approach must be included. Concepts without supporting technical information will be weighed negatively. Concept technology must be scalable to full rate production. Concepts should be programmed with incremental build/test/analyze iterations with specific technical milestones. Technical approaches should include a well planned Design of Experiments to analyze the main effects and interaction effects of the independent variables to be investigated.”
It is anticipated that the main effort should last no more than one calendar year and will culminate with delivery of a final report, along with plate prototypes for independent government test and evaluation.
Subsequent phases as option years to any contract may be included to conduct further exploration and capitalize on the successful material solutions and/or processes found during the main effort.
In addition to benefits from efforts to lighten the ESAPI plate, future warfighters may also benefit from the availability of new XSAPI plates that are designed to meet potential emerging threats. Increased protection levels in current XSAPI designs come at a cost in weight of 12 pounds.