Body protector/armor always remains an important safety cover. The history of body armors or protector is very old. Designed primarily to protect against horse kicks or falls, the body protector covers most of a rider’s torso. They also include shoulder protectors, which shield the wearer’s collarbone. They work by absorbing the intense energy created by falling off, being kicked, or stood on by a horse.
In European history, well-known armor types included the mail hauberk of the early medieval age, and the full steel plate harness worn by later Medieval and Renaissance knights, and a few key components (breast and back plates) used by heavy cavalry in several European countries until the first year of World War I (1914–15). Mail is a type of armour consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh. A coat of this armour is often referred to as a hauberk.Gradually, small additional plates or discs of iron were added to the mail to protect vulnerable areas. By the late 13th century, the knees were capped, and two circular discs, called besagews were fitted to protect the underarms. A variety of methods for improving the protection provided by mail were used as armorers seemingly experimented. Hardened leather and splinted construction were used for arm and leg pieces. The coat of plates was developed, an armor made of large plates sewn inside a textile or leather coat.
Slowly and slowly these body protectors were replaced with some advanced and light weight body protectors as per the end use. Now a day’s much advanced versions of these body protectors are being used by military and paramilitary forces.
Classification of Body Protectors
In defense services mostly two types of body protectors are used prominently. These are i) Bullet proof jacket and ii) Stab and impact resistant body protectors.
i)Bullet proof jacket: A ballistic vest or bullet-resistant vest, often called a bulletproof vest, is an item of personal armor that helps absorb the impact and reduce or stop penetration to the body from firearm-fired projectiles- and shrapnel from explosions, and is worn on the torso. Soft vests are made of many layers of woven or laminated fibers and can protect the wearer from small-caliber handgun and shotgun projectiles, and small fragments from explosives such as hand grenades. These vests often have a ballistic plate inserted into the vest. Metal or ceramic plates can be used with a soft vest, providing additional protection against rifle rounds, and metallic components or tightly woven fiber layers can give soft armour resistance to stab and slash attacks from knives and similar close-quarter weapons
- ii)Stab and impact resistant body protectors:
Anti riot body protector comprises helmet, neck protector, body vest, elbow protector, gloves, groin protector, thigh and leg protectors. Now a day’s the role of body protector is changed. Today body protector is any defensive covering worn to protect the body from physical attacks- such as stone, knife, LATHI etc. These body protectors are made of foam (PVC, Nitrile etc) and covered in such type of fabric which is fire, water and chemicals (acid and Alkali) repellent. The foam is also perforated to increase airflow and flexibility, and to reduce the weight. Now a day’s flame retardant foam is also being used for body protector. In India, the demand of anti riot body protector is increasing day by day by paramilitary forces (CRPF, RAF, ITBP, BSF etc) to cope with J&K like situation, where stone throwing is one of the main problem faced by them. The body protectors, also known as riot-control dress are most commonly used by the Indian paramilitary forces as personal protective equipments to protect them against various threats such as petrol bombs, knife, stabs and stone pelting while controlling the mob. These stab-resistant equipments are also used by the jail security forces that face a common threat of getting attacked by knife or other sharp edged weapons. Briefly, stab threat can be classified into two categories as puncture and cut/slash. ‘Puncture’ refers to the penetration by instruments with sharp tips but no cutting edge, such as a spike or screw-drives while ‘cut’ or ‘slash’ refers to contact with knives or scissors with continuous cutting edge.
Improvements required in body protector:
At present in India, body protectorsare manufactured using polycarbonate sheets and rubber/foam inserts stitched with flame-retardant cotton fabric. These body protectors are mostly acceptedby states police and para-military forces. The present specification used by these forces for procurement of body protector is needed to be upgraded to meet the actual requirement during the riot situation.
Some of the important improvements required to be incorporated in the present body protectors used in the Indian states police and paramilitary forces are given below:
- i)It is noticed that many of the body protector manufacturers/suppliers do not take care the comfort of movement of wearer of body protector. The trauma insert comprise of polycarbonate sheets and rubber inserts should not be wrapped around the whole torso area especially with area which move with the body movement making them vulnerable to any attack. This also restricts movements while performing any rigorous activities. Therefore while designing body protector, free body movement of wearers should be considered.
- ii)As polycarbonate sheets and rubber inserts are used in trauma insert, it is not breathable which makes them uncomfortable to wear for longer hours especially during summer. There is a need to create breathability in the polycarbonates sheets and rubber inserts may be by making small holes.
iii) It was observed that the rubber/soft plastic inserts are being used to protect various body parts such as neck, armpit and lower abdomen areas in the currently designed body protectors, hence providing no protection to the wearer against stab (puncture) attack by screw-driver or spikes. There is a need to use better material which protects a wearer.
- iv)These body protectors are uncomfortable to wear in a sitting position as the lower edges often press firmly against the stomach, hip and side areas of the wearer and top of the shield places pressure on the wearer’s throat and chin area. There is a need for improvement in the designing of body protectors.
- v)The foam used in the body protectors is not flame retardant. Due to this there are chances of caching fire during riot conditions. Now-a-days inherent flame retardant foams are available. These can be tried.
- vi)The weight of body protectors, cause significant fatigue to the security forces over the working shift. Application of better and light weight material can be used.
vii) The currently available body protectors are bulky and not designed for female police and para-military soldiers. There is a need to have separate design for female wearers.
viii) These body protectors are not designed to be worn concealed under outer clothing if required for discreteness. Since the worn body protectors cannot be concealed, the potential attacker is more likely to stab/slash vital areas away from the vest such as the neck or head area. The improvement in design and material can make it possible to conceal body protectors under outer clothing.
- ix)The woven fabrics which are currently being used to manufacture outer cover of body protectors are neither ‘inherent’ flame retardant nor cut/slash resistant i.e flame-retardancy of ‘coated’ fabric may be washed out after few washing and this can easily be cut –through with sharp edged weapons.Further, the fabric used for outer cover is not having chemical resistance property. Therefore there is a need to use such type of outer fabric which is inherently flame retardant and chemical resistant.
- x)There is no indigenous instrument available to test stab & impact resistance of body protector.
- xi)There is no Indian standard available for quality and design requirementof the body protector. However recentlyBureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has formed Personal Protection Equipment for Law and Order Enforcement Agencies Subcommittee, CHD 08:SC2. This subcommittee has started working on framing specifications on body protector.
Prof (Dr) M.S.Parmar and Neha Kapil
Northern India Textile Research Association,
Sector-23, Rajnagar, Ghaziabad