The wards over in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught the military some major valuable lessons on the strategic front including how to deal with insurgency, dismounted operations on a large scale across rugged terrain, and a myriad of other lessons. To each of those is a tactical component, with military across the world recognizing the value of body armor to save military lives and also take them by loading down combatants with too much gear that slows them down and robs them of critical mobility.
It cannot be said that the US Army has been sitting on its heels. In less than 10 years, multiple types of body armor have been tested, approved, and fielded with increasing modularity to help local commanders make tactical level decisions. While these are great steps, the modular systems have still had to contend with the base weight of SAPI, ESAPI, and kevlar panels, which are not light in and of themselves.
To assist with reducing weight and increasing mobility, the Army has conferred at $100,000 grant to Kraig Biocraft, which has been working to graft genes from spiders to silkworms, increasing the strength and easy of production of spider silk. The resulting composite silk has been trade-named Dragon Silk, which is used today in surgeries as sutures.
The Army’s Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment (PM-SPIE) office is giving Kraig Biocraft a $100,000 grant to test their Dragon Silk as a form of body armor. The company will produce a series of ballistic “shoot packs” with different thread counts, thicknesses, and construction techniques to see how the Dragon Silk performs. If it meets expectations, the Army is prepared to increase the grant to $1 million.
Dragon Silk’s primary advantage over traditional Kevlar is its flexibility. Kevlar is slightly more durable than Dragon Silk, with a strength of 3 gigapascals (GPa) compared to Dragon Silk’s strength of 2 GPa. However, Kevlar only has an elasticity of 3 percent, meaning it’s almost completely inflexible. Dragon Silk has an elasticity of 30 to 40 percent, which offsets the slightly reduced strength.
The timeline for the grant was not easily accessible, but the prospect of developing a highly flexible ballistic impact protection material is exciting for US war-fighters.