Indigenization of Bullet Proof Jackets-A Giant Leap Forward

Dr Sudershan Kumar
The current military scenario around the world has undergone a paradigm shift. In the modern era, soldiers’ operational needs are undergoing rapid transformations in lieu with continuous advancements occurring in technology specially with regard to personal protection systems. In these personal protection systems, the emphasis is always laid upon enhanced personal protection of the military personnel. Besides, every country ought to cater to the systems that provide psychological comforts to Jawan. These psychological comforts in protection systems are in terms of mobility, reliability and endurance against various ammunition, including sniper fire. Hence the two critical factors which need prime utmost attention are minimum weight bearing systems and maximum protection. Therefore the need of the hour to provide a solution to this, is the development of various Body Armour with different permutations and combinations. If one turns the pages of history, one finds that Body Armour has been the paramount feature of a soldier’s protection since time memorial even when the earliest period of organized warfare was initiated. The first records of Armour date back to the third millennium BC, but some evidence even suggest that offensive warfare date back much earlier to eight millennium BC. So it cannot be ignored that the history of Armour may also be of similar antiquity. Although this development process was purely empirical yet the vast experience gained over thousands of years has led to the development of a variety of highly effective Armour systems. Modern developments such as high-strength synthetic materials have been built upon this to develop systems that protect against bullets, shell fragments, knives etc. As a result, the Body Armour in various combinations is an accepted part of protective gears in every war to protect soldiers, paramilitary forces and police personnel involved in combing operations.
Bulletproof Jacket has progressed from leather skin of antiquity, through flask jackets in world war II to today’s highly sophisticated design that exploits ceramic plates to protect from a direct strike from Armour piercing projectile.
But even with such advances maintaining the weight of Armour to a level that is comfortable to a soldier and at the same time managing threat of ever-increasing destructive capability of the modern projectile is a challenge. Therefore,selecting and designing materials as Hard Armour Panels (HAPs) and Soft Armour Panels (SAPs), manufacturing and establishing test protocols as per the requirement of forces and at par with international standards poses a more significant challenge. Therefore the selection of material for lightweight Body Armour visa-vis understanding of Ballistic threat is essential from an engineering perspective. Hence the material for Body Armour design should meet several requirements First,the material should be strong enough to provide sufficient ballistic protection to Jawan.Second,these materials are required to have lightweight and low bulk. These materials should not be a hindrance in the wearer’s mobility and efficiency. Thirdly, more so,these materials should be most durable,ensuring that their performance as Body Armour does not degrade under adverse circumstances such as moisture or UV light. These materials have to be flexible to provide enough comforts to the wearer during combing operations. The manufacturing methods of personnel Armour depends upon the flexibility/ rigidity of its components and protection’s flexibility/rigidity against a particular threat.Therefore, SAPs and HAPS are produced by different manufacturing processes.The process involved in manufacturing SAPs is first cutting polymeric layers into particular shapes and sizes as per the requirement, followed by stitching along the peripheries for structural integrity. This process can be manual or fully automated. Similarly,the technology in manufacturing HAPs is the fabrication of Laminates whose design is optimized based on a specific combination of aerial density, shape and size. For manufacturing Bullet Proof Jacket, joining these two different types of panels is a very crucial step. For qualifying as any protective gear, ballistic testing is essential. In fact, ballistic is defined as the study and the science of projectile and firearms. Ballistic testing is a standard-based process. Products are tested to determine if they meet protection, safety, and performance criteria. Most of the ballistic testing helps commercial research and development programs, law enforcement and military applications. Hence ballistic testing is done as per standards. Therefore, each country uses its own or internationally available testing standards to keep its requirements and threat perception in mind. With these aspects the nations around the globe are involved in developing BPJs/BRJs for the protection of their soldiers against firearms threats. If one analyzes the international scenario, various countries have developed various BPJs/BRJs as per operational requirements over the years. United Kingdom has developed Osprey Bullet Resistance jacket and Flak jacket for their troops. Whereas Canada, Australia and Israel have provided Fragmentation Protective Vest (FPV), Tiered Body Armour Systems (TBAS), IDF, and other NIJ Level IV BPJ/BRJ to their security agencies respectively. Besides, as per the literature available, in United States US troops/policemen are using advanced Improved outer Tactical Vest (IOTV), Modular Tactical Vest (MTV) and Dragon Skin Armour for protection against external and internal threats. But, when one analyses the Indian scenario, one finds requirement of BPJs/BRJs is multifaceted.
This may be because of the complexity of operations performed by security forces, including the Indian Army, Central Para Military Force and State Police Force. Therefore, to cater for the needs of security forces, one of the DRDO laboratory DMSRDE (Defence Material Store Research and Development Establishment) Kanpur, has developed several materials and processing techniques for the fabrication of protective gears. Further, they have also developed Front Hard Armour panels and tested them as per BIS standards. These panels met all parameters as per the requirement of security agencies. Keeping in mind the prevailing situation in the country in terms of threat levels, the security agencies proposed the stringent requirement for developments of BPJs, which qualify the international standards NIJ. By NIJ, one means National Institute of Justice of USA.By the way NIJ also defines the threat levels. To meet this requirement, the DRDO laboratory DMSRDE initiated a Mission Mode Project to develop lightweight BPJs of three different sizes (Large, Medium and Small). Under this Project, DRDO has successfully developed Modular and ergonomically designed BPJs by ab initio design for all three dimensions of BPJ. Besides, process parameters for compression moulding for fabrication of (HAPS) and (SAPs) were also optimized. DRDO developed BPJs is based on lightweight material with polymeric backing materials. The developed BPJ meets the requirement as per Indian Standards. Besides, the use of the latest materials and innovation in the design of BPJ has reduced weight from 10.4kg to 9kg. Parallelly, DRDO has also created an Industrial base for bulk production. As per reports available in open literature, it seems the defence ministry has signed major contract for procurement of large number of bullet proof jackets from Indian industry. This has also given impetus to “Make in India” initiative of Government and also infused confidence that Indian Industry is capable of full filling the requirement of Indian security agencies for personal protective equipment through indigenous technologies.The author is of opinion that this light weight ergonomically designed Bullet Proof Jacket developed by DRDO in three different sizes (Large, medium and small) will provide immense protection and flexibility to soldiers operating in different situations ranging from long distance patrolling to high risk room intervention scenarios. These bullet proof jackets will be an asset not only for protecting soldiers involved in safeguarding our frontiers but also be a life saviour for jawans of paramilitary forces, and state police who are involved in counter insurgency and internal security duties in different states against internal and external threats. Simultaneously, DRDO should also ensure that private firms involved in manufacturing should maintain the quality and standard during bulk production.This will enable jawans to get one of the best life saving bullet proof jacket.
(The author is former Director General & Special Secretary DRDO, MoD GoI)