Perhaps I should mention that since I was a kid I've had an interest in the design history and modern use of all types of military protective gear. I recall that in 1977 the American company, Second Chance, kindly sent me a sample panel of their Kevlar product. I was then a high school student in Saint John, New Brunswick. My brothers and I were not trained in conducting firearms tests, but we were always cautious. In that instance we simply pegged the sample to a one inch thick sheet of plywood. A round of Winchester 00 Buckshot punched the Kevlar sample through the plywood, and in the process made a mess of the yellow fiber weave. Still, our test was a success. The buckshot did not penetrate the folded layers of cloth, and the 00 load had flattened out into a palm full of Corn Flake shaped lead. We teens were impressed, and did what we could to test the remains of the damaged sample. By way of comparison we used a flak-curtain made for a WW2 American B-24 bomber. I don't recall where I got it.
In May of 2006 I participated in an online discussion thread on the topic of Canadian Cree snipers in WW1. In my enthusiasm I also contributed praise for the skilled snipers we currently have deployed in Afghanistan. I shared the URL of a video clip, captured in Iraq in 2005. It documents the moment when an American soldier was shot down by an Iraqi shooter. The urban guerrilla used a Soviet designed Dragunov sniper rifle, firing at street level, for an easy chest shot. It's a stunning video clip, and still available on the website of the manufacturer of the soldier's protective vest. You will witness the soldier knocked down, but responding instantly to his training. He jumps to his feet and takes a defensive posture. Then, realizing that he is fully exposed, he jumps to cover behind a Humvee. Take a look. http://www.pointblankarmor.com/news.asp
Coincident to my online conversation about Canadian snipers in WW1, my daughter, a captain in the Canadian Army, informed me that she might be deployed to Afghanistan in early 2008. That bit of family news rekindled my old interest in body armour. Call it a paternal instinct.
Just two nights ago (January 22), the Discovery Channel aired a superb program in its FUTURE WEAPONS series. What I saw on TV was simply jaw-dropping-amazing. The feature attraction was a new type of flexible vest called DRAGON SKIN. This product is not just an improvement on what we had, but an entirely knew concept. Have a look at this.
All other vests or jackets on the market require large metal or ceramic plates be inserted in pockets, in order to defeat rifle and machinegun rounds. Dragon Skin does not, and because it does not, it is truly flexible combat gear. Protection is built up with dozens of small composite plates, arranged like the overlapping scales on a reptile. These plates not only defeat armour piercing bullets, but spread the staggering force of impact across the vest surface. The soldier does not even suffer bruising, as with older Kevlar vests. http://www.pinnaclearmor.com/body-armor/dragon-skin.php
In the DISCOVERY program the DRAGON SKIN vest was subjected to automatic rifle and submachine gun fire, in single rounds and in bursts. No penetration whatsoever. Since the vest was already compromised in the test, with damage only to the sewn fabric which holds the plates in alignment, the host of the show, a former Navy SEAL, decided to submit the vest to the supreme torture test - a fragmentation grenade. Kaboom! While the fabric carrier was torn away in the blast, there was absolutely no fragment penetration. It is mind blowing to watch!
There are currently 23 companies in the U.S. which manufacture body armour, and I've read industry reports which suggest that they are all holding their breath, worried that the U.S. military might make DRAGON SKIN standard-issue. SECOND CHANCE, that company which was so generous to me in 1977, just recently came out of bankruptcy protective with help from the State of Michigan. DRAGON SKIN could knock that company down for the final count. Law Enforcement would continue to buy Kevlar vests, but military grade manufacturers would have to sub-contract to Pinnacle Armor.
As a stalwart supporter of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, and mighty proud of the dangerous mission Canada has undertaken, helping the Afghan military, the national police, and Afghan civilians, I do care that our troops have the very best equipment. If my daughter deploys next year I want her wearing the best protection available, even if I have the manufacturer ship one to A-Stan at my expense. I plan to write to Canada's Minister of National Defence and urge that we provide our troops with this vital life-saving gear. Our soldiers deserve nothing less than DRAGON SKIN. I am also going to urge other service families to join with me in pleading this vital point.
UPDATE: The U.S. Army has purchased thirty sets of the Pinnacle armour and put them through the same tests that all current kit have passed. According to a story I found on MILITARY.COM, dated May 21, 2007, "ARMY REFUTES DRAGON SKIN CLAIMS" (read here) the Army was dissatisfied. It seems that high velocity shots can displace the ceramic scales and, in the case of a burst, a following bullet can get through. Any carrier system rigid enough to prevent this problem, add excessive weight to the vest and make it so rigid that the soldier is impeded.