Hypothetical Armor Question


May 29, 2004, 11:29 PM
Okay, I have a question regarding the possible future of body armor. This doesn't really apply to civilian self-defense needs, as your typical street hood isn't going to have latest generation composite body armor. This is more of a battlefield question.

I've read here and elsewhere that new materials technology will allow the creation of lightweight, wearable armors that can stop all current armor piercing rifle rounds, and can even withstand multiple hits.

So lets say some kind of materials breakthrough happens. A cheap, easy to produce armor comes on the market, and is quickly copied by the Russians, the Chinese, and the Europeans. While the terrorist and third world nations we typically have wars with probably wouldn't have the stuff, all the major powers would.

Let's say that now, the majority of soldiers in the world's armies are equipped with these vests. They provide full frontal, side, back, and over-the-shoulder protection. They're light compared to the ceramic plate vests of today, and can withstand mulitple hits of 7.62x51mmAP.

So what happens? Is there a way to make existing rifle cartridges penetrate armor better? New bullet alloys or construction? You could, of course, upgrade to a higher-velocity catridge, but it'd be a trip if all the world's armies started carrying .300 Ultra-Mag rifles (hard on the shoulder, too, and forget about automatic fire).

I'm just asking mostly about whether or not existing rifle catridges can be made to penetrate better, or if something radically different would be required. There are always very small bore, very light, super-high-velocity rounds, but I don't know how well these do compared to regular AP stuff.

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May 29, 2004, 11:41 PM
Several thoughts:
(in traditional conflicts) Most casualties are not caused by rifle fire, no matter how much we want them to be. Artillery and so on. Good armor will help there, but only so much.

Non-linear & asymetrical warfare will continue to increase (as a ratio, at least) for the forseable future. Very few of our enemies will have any armor, like they have no night vision to speak of and run away from their jets instead of fighting us. So we will be more and more indestructable. To some degree we are already there with IBA; at some point last year (might still be true) zero fatalities in Afghanistan or Iraq from a small-arm-inflicted torso wound to anyone wearing an IBA vest. That is amazing protection. I have heard anecdotes of people being shot in the chest, getting up and just continuing along. Wow.

Some of the dumb ideas the Army (and foreign armies, like the French) is working on are already getting there. The grenade part of the XM-29 OICW is supposed to attack tops, sides and backs with a spray of shrapnel. Until you get to (star wars) storm trooper full-body armor, you will be vulnerable to explosives like this. The OCSW replacing the M2 (in theory) is another move that direction. For example:
"The OCSW system will provide decisively violent and suppressive target effects, including a high probability of incapacitation against protected personnel (body armor and in defilade) out to 2,000 m..."

May 30, 2004, 12:20 AM
we'd just see an increase in sabot-clad tungsten / osmium penetrators / flechette-type ammunition.

May 30, 2004, 12:37 AM

They have SLAP rounds in 7.62x51mm. They're reported to be markedly ineffective at incapacitating people, too, even at close range. (A super-light projectile, even at very high velocity, won't have enough momentum to create much of a shock effect (temporary wound cavity, tissue rupturing, etc.) and a SABOT projectile, very small bore designed for penetration, will slide through a person and wont' leave much of a permanent wound cavity either. I'd guess, anyways.)

Big tradeoff, I guess.

I understand that for the foreseeable future we'll primarily fall into conflict with much less well equipped opponents. However, for the sake of argument, let's assume we were at odds with an army equipped with this new armor.

In any case, I think it's a mistake to assume that the kind of enemies we have now are the kinds of enemies we'll always have.

May 30, 2004, 12:40 AM
Another option could just be to use heavier, wider rounds that, while they won't penetrate armor, could crush bones and damage organs, assuming these new vest are soft.

May 30, 2004, 09:44 AM
I wonder how effective of a shaped charge you could load into a .45-70 case? :uhoh:

May 30, 2004, 10:11 AM
Phased plasma rifles over the 40 watt range. :D

May 30, 2004, 10:20 AM
We would just see another change in tactics by the enemy, removing the advantage of the armor.

Possibly increases in Chemical and Biological attacks on troops, not to mention car bombs, etc.

May 30, 2004, 10:59 AM
I wonder how effective of a shaped charge you could load into a .45-70 case?

Big enough!

One of the interesting aspects of Iraq is that the US seems to be moving away from the Geneva Conventions - including the one on permissible small arms. I would guess that within 20 years no major army will rely on FMJ as their only infantry issue - so a broader question is, what then?

Soft tips with HE impact-detonated loads? Say with a delay for 3 inches or so of penetration?

Or a hard penetrator with conotoxin coating?

Either would seem to have some potential for armor penetration plus soft tissue damage.

Pretty ugly, but if we get away from Geneva I think lethality is going way up.

May 30, 2004, 11:38 AM
Throughout history, every time there has been an advance in arms or armour, there has been some sort of counter for it.
There are projects already in the works to use aimable mircowave bursts and lasers.
I expect there are other ideas being devloped that we don't hear about.

May 30, 2004, 12:12 PM
Tungsten jacketed rounds with a delay-fuzed HE core.

May 30, 2004, 04:34 PM
A microwave weapon would be very effective against a person in armor. A laser would not be; lasers expend all of thier energy on whatever they hit. In other words, zero penetration.

Perhaps the movie Aliens had the right idea after all? Big bore (10mm) armor piercing, light explosive ammunition in an assault rifle that was apparently recoil-dampened somehow. Might not be the best long range weapon, but that's what the Smart Guns and Sniper Rifles were for. :D

May 30, 2004, 06:18 PM
You can have (and will have) a progression between any one arms and "armor" (defense, if not armor) system... but at a certain point you hit a wall where you will get diminished returns from either progression. Then moving forward grows increasingly expensive, marginally more effective, and- frankly- rather silly.

Traditionally, what happens is that the next weapon system to trump the previous one then steps to the forefront despite being there simultaneously.

People heavily focused on future generations of small arms as being "the same but better" are philistines. Correction. Their making the same mistake as the Philistines. Take the ancient soldier. Roughly, the best soldier would have the most armor, the best weapons, etc. More arms & armor means, means more weight, means more strength requirements. So you get Goliath. He can carry more armor and the heaviest most effective weapons. Obviously he's a case of dimished returns requiring a genetic anamoly to even exist. That aside, he's the "ultimate" ancient soldier.

What beat him? The humble sling... "out of the box" non-linear weapon system. The Israelites could have waited until they had their own huge soldier, larger, stronger, and better armored and armed- and it would have worked- but it wouldn't have been worth it (compared to a shepard boy with a sling). Likewise, you could start upping small arms so that everyone is using elephant guns or exotic HE rounds, etc... but things start getting silly there unless all sides are committed to a cycle of infantry armor/small arms development.

Much much more likely, something we already have will step up for a wholly different approach whether it's NBC, nanotech, robots, long range missiles, microwaves, or whatever. My point is, we're much more likely to see "David's sling" come along before scifi small arms ever become widely adopted.

Which isn't to say they won't be developed or exist theoretically or as proto-types... but I'd expect, for example, a system that kills enemy infantry from space in their sleep before nations begin fielding full body armor and HE small arms (completely hypothetical- not seriously professing such a system- but that's the point- any answer other and driving up the costs/tech of fielding infantry versus infantry).

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