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The basis of all modern 'soft' body armour is an aramid fibre known as Kevlar. First discovered in 1965 by the Du Pont Company, it was originally engineered to reinforce radial tyres and rubber goods such as hoses and conveyor belts. The synthetic aramid fibre has a specific tensile strength five times higher than that of the strongest steel wire and three times that of nylon. Early in the 1970s the US Army Materials and Mechanics Research Center (AMMRC), Watertown, Massachusetts, determined that Kevlar had outstanding powers of ballistic resistance. AMMRC and the US Army Natick Laboratories initiated programmes to develop Kevlar fabrics for flak jackets, and research was also undertaken to use it in reinforced plastic helmets.

Although the initial development emphasised fragmentation resistance, it was also discovered that Kevlar had the ability to arrest a wide assortment of handgun projectiles at significantly less weight than ballistic nylon cloth. Learning this, Lester Shubin, programme manager for standards of the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (NILECJ), realised its potential for police body-armour. At that time the only items available were military flak jackets, whose bulk and protective characteristics were unsuited to police work. Du Pont provided a few pounds of Kevlar, which was then in very short supply. At a firing range at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, 100 goats were dressed in Kevlar vests less than half an inch thick and then, in what might have struck a passerby as a depraved ritual, marksmen fired at them with .22 and ,38cal. pistols—the weapons police are most likely to encounter on the streets. All the goats survived, and suffered nothing worse than bruises.

Following these trials, an extensive research and development programme was initiated to develop bullet-resistant vests for police officers. Several fabric styles were developed and one, a balanced plain weave made from 1,000 denier yarns of Kevlar 29, was shown to have an excellent combination of ballistic performance and light weight. Tests indicated that by combining five layers of this fabric, a vest could be made which would stop a typical .38 Special round (158-grain Round-Nose Soft-Point at 800 feet/second) or a .22, 40-grain RNSP round at 1,000 feet/second. Seven layers could stop a 230-grain .45 Automatic round, and 28 layers, a .44 Magnum round. Fitted with a waterproof, opaque outer covering (the ballistic performance of Kevlar is degraded ifwet or exposed to sunlight) and non-metallic straps and fasteners (to avoid secondary missiles), a five-ply vest weighed only i|lbs, while protecting the wearer in the front and back torso areas. Furthermore, the vest was concealablc and comfortable enough to wear on a full-time basis.

In 1975, 5,000 seven-layer Kevlar vests were distributed to 15 police departments throughout the United States. During the first year five police officers wearing vests were assaulted, two with handguns, two with knives and one with a heavy wooden club. None was seriously injured. The first incident occurred on 23 December 1975 when Ray Johnson, a Seattle patrolman, was standing in a checkout line at a supermarket while offduty but in uniform. During the course of a robbery he was shot in the chest with a .38 revolver. Lester Shubin recounts: He was shot from only three feet away and he didn't even fall down, so the guy shot him again. We rushed out to Seattle to see him. All he had under the vest was two mean-looking bruises. He was out of hospital in three days.' Two other officers who were issued vests but chose not to wear them were assaulted with handguns and received serious wounds.

While the requisite number of layers of Kevlar will stop bullets, the energy of the impact can cause severe but non-lethal injuries—an effect known as 'blunt trauma'. This can be minimised by extra layers of Kevlar or by the addition of shock-absorbing material behind the armour. When a fibre is struck by a projectile it stretches and transmits energy along its length. The greater the length of fibre affected, the better the ballistic-resistance. Because Kevlar has the greatest 'effective' length of any textile fibre, it has the ability both to defeat projectiles and to dissipate the impact energy over a wide area, thus reducing the effect of blunt trauma.

In July 1976 a Nashville patrol officer, driving to an emergency call, sped over a hill to find an 18-wheeler tractor/trailer rig slewed across the road. In

Royal Engineer Search Team

A member of a Royal Engineer Search Team uses his No. 6 Mine Prod to scrutinise an empty bag of fertilize!—one of the constituents of IRA iCo-op mix' bombs—in a farm outhouse near the Irish border. He is wearing 'US Variable Body Armour' with ceramic plates, front and rear, and an ART helmet. Search teams now use a range of purpose-designed body armour items, including a special helmet incorporating communications equipment. (Soldier Magazine)

A member of a Royal Engineer Search Team uses his No. 6 Mine Prod to scrutinise an empty bag of fertilize!—one of the constituents of IRA iCo-op mix' bombs—in a farm outhouse near the Irish border. He is wearing 'US Variable Body Armour' with ceramic plates, front and rear, and an ART helmet. Search teams now use a range of purpose-designed body armour items, including a special helmet incorporating communications equipment. (Soldier Magazine)

the ensuing collision the impact forced the police car's bumper to the firewall, and the shattered steering column hit the officer in the chest. On account of his body armour he sustained only bruising in what would otherwise have been a fatal accident.

Wearing Kevlar body armour also provides a degree of protection against knife slashes, but not against the direct thrust of a sharp, pointed weapon such as a stiletto. To every rule, however, there is an exception—as in the case of Officer Eva Rosenblatt of the Baltimore Metropolitan Police Department, who was struck in the breasts with an ice pick. Her protective vest prevented penetration, and she shot her assailant dead.

In 1974 a total of 132 federal, state and local officers were killed in the line of duty in the United States. All but four were the victims of firearms. Ninety-five of them were killed by handguns, the most common being .38, .32, .25 and .22cal. models. These weapons represent 80 per cent of all confiscated firearms in the US and 90-95 per cent of the country's private handgun arsenal. After the widespread introduction of body armour in 1975, fatalities were reduced to 94 in 1978, and have

Ulster Constabulary
Policemen of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) on patrol wearing Bristol Grade 25 Armour, manufactured by Bristol Composite Materials Engineering Limited (BCME). This was the first body armour model to see widespread service with British police forces. Note the lack of side protection. (RUC)

remained at around 100 ever since even though the assault rate has risen. Since 1975 over 500 law-enforcement officers in the US have been saved from death or serious injury from a variety of weapons by their body armour. Law enforcement agencies throughout the world now use Keviar vests, as do VI Ps and celebrities—the reason Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wore a full-length trench coat throughout his Middle East diplomacy missions was that it was lined with Keviar, as are former President Gerald Ford's golfing jackets.

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