The Army’s Next Body Armor May Get Stronger The Harder It’s Hit
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.
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 …read more
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