Bulletproof clothing is now ubiquitous in military and police organizations – where it is used with varying levels of success. Early attempts at making bulletproof clothing in the dawning stages of the 20th century were entirely inspired by traditional plate armor designs. Modern bulletproof clothing uses a combination of high-tech polymers and metals to protect people from projectiles. Here are some materials that modern bulletproof clothing is made of.
Kevlar is an extremely strong, heat-resistant synthetic fiber first developed in the United States during the 1970s. It has a very favorable high tensile strength-to-weight ratio, which means that it is very good at absorbing kinetic energy without breaking. Kevlar cannot simply absorb the energy of a gunshot when used in a single layer. It has to be layered many times over in a rather heavy arrangement to be able to stop a speeding bullet.
Kevlar has increasingly been replaced in body armor by a new material: Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene. The creators of this polymer claim that it is 15 times more resistant than steel when used in comparable quantities. Weight is a huge issue when designing body armor. Soldiers have to carry huge amounts of weight during operations, so any innovation that can reduce the amount of weight carried is welcome.
Lexan is an extremely resistant thermopolymer that is both transparent and flexible. While it is not used in creating bulletproof ‘plates’ in body armour, it is used in creating bulletproof ‘windows’ in SWAT shields. Lexan was discovered by General Electric in the 1960s, who swiftly patented the name. Since then, however, every other polymer company under the sun has been able to produce high-quality ballistic transparent thermopolymers.
Steel has been used in armor for thousands of years. The ancient Romans used rather crude steel in the creation of their standardized uniforms. In Medieval Europe, the master armorers of Milan and Paris perfected plate armor using high-quality steel that could deflect powerful sword blows.
Steel is still used in modern bulletproof clothing. Most ballistic plates have a base layer of steel underneath all of the layered polymers and titanium. Steel helps the plate stay together under stress due to its high degree of elasticity. Steel is only useful in conjunction with other materials. It is so elastic that it would risk injuring a wearer through inward bending even if it did not break.
Titanium is an extremely resistant metal that is able to withstand huge amounts of kinetic and heat energy. Titanium has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. It has the same strength as steel at 40 percent usage. Titanium is expensive to refine, despite the fact that it is one of the most abundant metals on the planet. It is extremely difficult to weld, machine, or form. This means that expensive machines and highly trained machinists are needed to work with it. There is usually some titanium content in body armor plates, though it is only a partial material used for armor construction.