Protect the Protector

Government must wake up to the urgent need of ballistic body armour for the armed forces

Dilip Kumar Mekala

There is nothing more shameful for the country than to send the armed forces and state police forces for counter-terrorism operations without adequate self-protection equipment. It is sad to see that no lessons have been learnt from past mistakes – in the recent terrorist attacks in Gurdaspur, many Punjab police personnel were forced to fight their opponents without bullet-proof jackets.

Protect the ProtectorInterestingly, many Indian companies are offering state-of-the-art body armour for the Indian forces. In the last few years, many foreign companies have also shown their interest in the Indian market for ballistic armour technology. Some of them have even opened their test centres here with a commitment to support Indian forces in the future. However, the lack of interest from the government - both at centre and states - and the bureaucratic hurdles are hindering the armed forces to access these high-end technologies.

In 2011, DuPont, one of the global manufacturers with expertise in ballistic armour technology, has opened its test centre in Hyderabad. It is DuPont’s first integrated ballistics facility in entire Asia Pacific region. The DuPont Knowledge Centre in Hyderabad hosts state-of-the-art integrated ballistics facility, with a ballistics testing range, a 600-tonne helmet press and stab testing equipment. “Indian defence and internal security forces have unique and challenging ballistics protection requirements. This new DuPont Ballistics facility in India will enable us to collaborate with our local customers and end-users and jointly develop appropriate ballistics solutions and applications for protective vests and helmets that can be tested under local conditions and against local ammunition using international standards, meeting the local requirements,” said a technology expert from the company.

The facility will help DuPont develop and test solutions in the Indian environment and it not only reduce the time to market for products but also ensure that products can be made, tested, verified and completed much quicker than before. At present the facility can test 9mm calibre rounds, future plans will expand this to a higher calibre.

The facility can also measure the back face trauma when a bullet is shot at a vest. However, the capability to test only 9 mm rounds at present would mean that the centre would be limited to testing armour vests for the police and paramilitary forces. The protection requirement for a police officer would be different from an army soldier’s or a paramilitary soldier’s.

Requirements of western militaries in Afghanistan and Iraq have tended towards a modular approach for body armour. The modular approach may be a useful option to ensure that the armour vest offers a basic level of protection that can be upgraded based on the threat level faced. For example, a police officer in an Indian city would typically need to have a vest capable of saving his/her life from a pistol round or a stab attack involving a sharp object. However, if there is a terrorist threat wherein automatic rifles are in the fray, then a modular armour vest could handle the threat at the time.

DuPont states that its facility will enable closer interaction with the buyers of such vests, which will enable them to correctly assess the threat levels they face and accordingly provide the specification for the required product. Since armour vests are expensive, there is also a need for the user to ensure that a solution is obtained that fully meets any current and potential threats.

One of the most noted trademarked products of DuPont worth a mention here is the Kelvar synthetic fibre. Kevlar fibre is used to make a variety of clothing, accessories, and equipment safe and cut resistant. It is lightweight, durable and extraordinarily strong and is best known for its use in ballistic and stab-resistant body armour. But it is also used on the ski slopes, the switchback trails, in demanding desert terrain, even the outer limits of space.

Kevlar fibre is also being used for new armoured vehicle programmes with Renault Trucks, Land Rover and Jaguar in France. Kevlar armouring systems consist of composite panels for side fittings and floors, with a varying number of layers being applied according to vehicle type and protection level. They help enhance the protection of floors and side fittings, especially against shards of explosives and ballistic attacks.

Kevlar claims to be five times stronger than steel at equal weight, thus providing astounding sturdiness combined with reliable and durable material performance. Kevlar armouring systems claims to be less cumbersome, easy-to-model, and adaptable to vehicle structure for simplified, quicker and thus, less costly installation. Kevlar fibre boasts high ballistic performance and can withstand extreme temperatures, remaining relatively lightweight without being too cumbersome. These properties are extremely important to help ensure protection while maintaining payload performance and vehicle mobility.

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