VESTLIFE – A NEW MODULAR, ULTRA LIGHTWEIGHT BALLISTIC SOLUTION

by Beatriz Domenech

R+D Projects

4th February 2020

Protective clothing is designed to protect the soldier against ballistic threat. The demands for protective clothing are strict yet contradictory, requiring a combination of optimum protection and comfort. For example, denser and more waterproof textiles increase protection, but are uncomfortable. This makes the design and development of effective protective clothing a complex issue.

Optimisation between weight and protection helps create the ideal clothing for a specific mission. Most commercially available ballistic systems have several disadvantages, mainly weight, but also others such as poor flexibility and design deficiencies due to differences in anatomy. Additionally, protection systems are based primarily on kinetic energy threats while NBC protection is limited.

The core objective of the VESTLIFE project is to develop a new lightweight modular integral solution for ballistic protection that also integrates an NBC protection system.

VESTLIFE has received funding from the European Union Preparatory Action for Defence Research-PADR Programme, under the call for research action on “Force protection and advanced soldier systems beyond current programmes”, under the sub-theme “Tailor-made blast, ballistic and CBRN protection of military personnel”.

VESTLIFE started on 27 April 2018 and will run for 36 months. The project consortium includes CITEVE (Portugal), Brapa Consultancy (Netherlands), TECNALIA (Spain), Petroceramics (Italy) FY-Composites (Finland), with AITEX (Spain) as project coordinator.
The project aims to develop different types of ballistic protection body armour with advanced performance characteristics. The system will consist of different levels; flexible panels for low and medium levels of ballistic protection and rigid plates for higher levels.
In order to find the optimal architecture of the materials in the product, an optimal point has to be found based on experience in terms of comfort and protective performance. A software model will provide information and the ability to define garment architecture that will be created during the integration phase, to validate garment performance.

The technical work of the project (Figure 1), will develop lighter modular ballistic protection that increases the protected area without affecting user comfort, in addition to adapting the required protection requirements to different areas of the body (adapting the protection surface to the level of risk of the mission and the vital organs of the body). In parallel, NBQR sensors will be integrated for the detection of possible risks, in addition to developing a predictive mathematical model of the possible risks expected in the different scenarios that may arise.

Figura 1

Figure 1: a work flow diagram to build the new modular, ultralightweight ballistic protection solution.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Ballistic scenarios and requirements, including comfort were defined and established under international testing standards. First-hand information was collected through surveys of soldiers. Ballistic protection systems are being developed using composite auxiliary materials and 3D textiles that complement the more traditional materials.

At the same time, polymeric panels of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) are under development, beneath which the auxiliary materials are inserted to complement and improve the behaviour of the assembly. The panels have been tested in ballistic rooms under the NATO Standard STANAG 2920, establishing a NIJ III requirement level with a V50 x 847 m/s using 7.62 mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) ammunition or a metal coated bullet tip. Synthesis with modified ceramic for ballistic panels that achieve NIJ IV level, maximum protection, is also a work in progress.

These developments, and tests are currently under development, within the respective work packages comprising the project.

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The project is financed by the European Union Preparatory Action for Defence Research-PADR Programme in accordance with grant agreement no 800876 [VESTLIFE].

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