Bulletproof jackets were all over the news when Indian Army signed a contract worth Rs. 639 crores with a New Delhi-based manufacturer SMPP Pvt. Ltd. The army will procure 1.86 lakh (1,86,138 to be precise) bulletproof jackets in next three years. The new jackets have been thoughtfully designed and developed to meet the stringent requirements, specified under GSQR 1438 (technical parameters) by Indian Army. “When the specs were made, it was given a thought to the extent that today it is the best in class jacket,” stated Ashish Kansal, Executive Director, SMPP Pvt. Ltd. With this procurement, a long wait of nine years has finally come to an end.
Over the years, the bulletproof jackets have been improved with change in bullet-resistant materials. Let’s look at the transitions from the start. Moved from metals (steel) to Kevlar fabric, Kevlar changed the dynamics of bullet resistance which paved the way for fibres. However, Kevlar was only able to stop soft ammunition like 9mm pistol bullet, but not rifle or AK-47 bullets.
The Dupont trademarked fabric was then challenged by the new developments such as Spectra and Dyneema. These fibres significantly reduced the weight of the jacket.
The need to further reduce the weight of the jacket and provide much better protection urged the manufacturers to shift to ceramics in 1960s. Another benefit that ceramics provide is the destruction of the bullets with hard pointed tips while absorbing the energy. The lightness and hardness of ceramics makes it a better choice compared to steel. The ceramic plates are inserted inside the vest.
Three types of ceramics have been used in the manufacturing of bulletproof jackets, namely, Alumina Oxide, Silicon Carbide and Boron Carbide. These ceramics have been used due to their features of less weight, more mobility, and hardness. Alumina Oxide was highly dense material which could stop AK-47 bullets, but had much lesser weight than steel. Then, came a much lighter ceramic called Silicon Carbide.
Boron Carbide is the hardest material with a very low density. Boron Carbide ceramics are processed at very high temperatures to make them extremely hard and tough. The thickness of a single plate depends on the requirements. Areal densities of Boron Carbide composite systems, designed for protection according to German SK4 (7.62 x 51 AP) start at 30 kg/m2. This is lower in weight than Silicon Carbide based systems (typically 36 kg/m2) and significantly lower than Alumina based systems (typically 42 kg/m2).
Features of SMPP Bulletproof jacket
The old bulletproof jackets worn by Indian soldiers were only able to offer a NIJ level III protection, which means it could not stop AK-47 hard steel core rounds, or even the 5.56 Insas rifle bullet. The new jackets offer protection of NIJ level III+ which is between NIJ level III and NIJ level IV and can stop AK-47 hard steel core bullets.
- The jacket makes use of the most advanced material in the world, ‘CaraSTOP-Boron Carbide Ceramic’, which is the lightest and hardest material for ballistic protection. No metallic has gone into the jacket.
- The plates in old jackets were smaller in size (covering an area of 1500 sq. cm.), thus were not able to provide full protection to soldiers. The plates in jackets made by SMPP are almost 40 per cent bigger (covering an area of 3500 sq. cm.) than the older ones.
- The modular design of the new jackets allows soldiers to remove the throat protection and groin protection panels when not needed. Therefore, freeing soldiers of unwanted load and providing protection in areas that were earlier not considered.
- It comes with side plates on both sides which were missing in previous jackets, thus providing a 360-degree protection to our soldiers.
- The front plate and back plate of the advanced jacket can take 8 bullets each and each side plates can stop 3 bullets.
- The weight of the jacket is around 10.4 kg, inclusive of modular panels.
- SMPP has used a ripstop fabric which ensures that the fabric will not sag with the weight of the panels. The presence of nylon going through enough in a + and – direction prevents sagging of fabric with weight.
- The fabric of the bulletproof vest has much higher tear strength, making it more durable.
- The fabric has not been coated with plastic to make it breathable for soldiers.
Why did earlier Indian manufacturers fail?
Using indigenous jackets were always the priority, but Indian manufacturers were not successful in getting the jackets validated. The requirements put out by Indian Army were far more stringent than any other forces in the world. It demanded jackets to be light-weight that can protect head, neck, chest, groin, and sides of the soldiers alongside offering greater agility. This made the development of the jacket a challenge. Another challenge that put manufacturers on backfoot were the presence of testing facilities.
Testing facilities in India were very limited, thus elongating the time for manufacturers to do the R&D from outside countries. Moreover, the testing environment would also change between the countries.
Excerpts of the exclusive tête-à-tête with Ashish Kansal
AR: How did your journey of bulletproof jacket manufacturing start?
Ashish: Our company SMPP Pvt. Ltd., named after my great grandfather started with the manufacturing in 1985. Later in 2004, we decided to venture in bulletproof jackets. That’s when research started and finally we came out with a first tested product in 2008.
AR: From where do you source Boron-Carbide ceramics for the jackets?
Ashish: Boron-Carbide ceramic is one of the most expensive materials that has gone into the jacket. We are making that in-house.
AR: How critical or stringent is it to meet the requirements set by Indian Army?
Ashish: Let me picture it like this, bulletproof jackets work in a different manner, either it passes or fails. No in between. A soldier not wearing a jacket in a war-field is better than soldier wearing a jacket which doesn’t work.
AR: On what BIS quality standards, the new jacket stands?
Ashish: There are no BIS standards in India for bullet proof jackets. We are in the process of formulating it and I am one of the committee members of it.
AR: Where are your manufacturing facilities located and to which countries you export the bulletproof jackets?
Ashish: We have our manufacturing facilities in New Delhi and Faridabad. We are exporting our products to Germany, France, Israel, UK, Australia, South Korea, and Egypt and are part of critical projects like armouring of Airbus A400M aircrafts.