“We need to make real advancements forward rather than incremental movements because if we do not, we’ll be in the same position with a threat that has significantly surpassed our capabilities.”
Our Make Your Mark series, powered by the NFL, showcases the global impact of the Tillman Scholars who are writing the story of a better future. In these videos, they share their works of humble leadership and service across both public and private sectors.
In his talk, Tillman Scholar Zeeshan Parvez discusses the importance of adapting body armor to be more durable, protective and suitable to its wearer as we continue to make advancements in technology.
Parvez points out that while the current mode of operations for producing armor works for now, there are significant challenges: cracks, a lack of dexterity and armor that doesn’t fit all body types. He also sees gaps in communication among researchers.
Yet despite these challenges, he ends his talk with a message of hope: With more investment in research, development and strategy, we can advance forward faster in improving body armor, providing service members with greater safety and survivability.
Watch the full talk and read the transcript below.
Cellphones have come a long way since the 1990s. They’ve gone through various iterations and stayed consistent with the growth of technology over the years. They’ve gone for something the size of a brick to something that could fill your back pocket. So why am I talking about cell phones when the name of this talk is “Pushing Body Armor into the Next Generation?”
Let’s see how body armor has progressed on the same scale. It doesn’t seem like much has changed. While the internal materials have been swapped out, the overall mode of operation has stayed constant. So why we adopted this mode of operation for 30 years? It must work, and it must work well, right? While it does work, for now, there is a slew of problems that just have not been addressed. So what are these problems that I speak of?
What if I was to tell you that your body armor must undergo x-ray scanning on a regular schedule to ensure there are no cracks in it? Sounds like a legitimate request, right? But I cannot tell you one time during my entire service where my body armor scanned. SAVVY plates and E7 plates are, in essence, ceramic plates similar to those on your dining room table. Yes, a SAVVY plate will not shatter when you drop it like a dining room table plate will, but it can form cracks that can propagate to the system rendering them useless.
Another issue is the issue of dexterity. We have made progress in reducing the overall weight by swapping out the internal ceramics from aluminum oxide to silicon carbide to boron carbide. We have not made much progress in the processing technique. What I mean is, these plates require a hot press method, which introduces high temperatures and pressures to prefix mold. This mold, by the way, is optimized for the male body type, and this body type does not work for all men and most definitely does not work for women, thus rendering them combat ineffective due to mobility and dexterity issues. And with the integration of women in the combat role, it is crucial that we address this issue immediately, or we’ll be neglecting a significant part of our military.
Lastly, there are gaps in communication from the researchers all the way to the brass responsible for implementing this technology. Millions of dollars of research go to the development of protective measures for our forces, but due to competing interests, gaps in tactical and technical knowledge from users and developers, lack of commercialization strategy for good technology, and a heap of bureaucracy, the right technology is not getting out to the people who need the most. I know from personal experience as both a user and developer in the lab. I have served with the Marine Special Operations Command as a Raider, and as I complete my Ph.D. in materials chemistry, I currently work for a company that develops the next generation body armor. And while this topic may seem bleak, I’m here to say there’s a silver lining to the situation.
Research is being performed in this area, and there are companies out there that are challenging the state-of-the-art. For example, Net Armor, a company that I work for, is researching impedance mismatch technology for the dissipation of massive amounts of ballistic energy. That round, by the way, is a .50 caliber round. Other companies are using titanium composites as low profile, low visibility armor substitutes, and research is also being performed in three-dimensional printing of ceramic plates, so now you don’t have to worry about a prefix mold.
The technology is out there, and we are not entirely stagnant. Here is a clip of what is possible with the technology available today. [Plays clip.] I’ll let that set in for a little bit. Crazy, right? That’s three rounds of AK-47 to the chest at point-blank range with zero trauma to the user. I would not try that with a SAVVY plate if I were you. This is doable, but we must invest in the right research and development and have a strategy to get out there. We need to bring the developers and operators on the same page, and we need to make real advancements forward rather than incremental movements because if we do not, we’ll be in the same position with a threat that has significantly surpassed our capabilities.
Science has pushed the boundaries on things that are once unimaginable. Remember that cell phone I was talking about the beginning of this talk, the one that resembles a brick? This is an archaic artifact now. Let’s do the same with the outdated body armor and provide our military and law enforcement with the latest and greatest so we can increase the survivability in the line of duty.