Body Armor Breakthrough by Air Force Officer Cadet

Having worn it before and knowing many who have lived because of it, body armor – specifically hard plates – have become indispensable life-saving tools for police and military. Designed specifically to defeat high velocity ballistic threats such as the AK and RPK, hard plates acre credited with 1’000s of stopped bullets. But, this protection comes at a high price. By adding armor, the wearer has decreased mobility and stamina due to the added weight and bulk.

The military has made it a large priority to reduce the combat load of the average infantryman. With full armor kits weighing up to 35 lbs including all hard plates, and accessories, there has been a huge drive to reduce the weight of armor, as shaving ounces off the weapon and ammo is becoming increasingly more difficult. The industry has been chasing this for years which led to the creation of ceramic plates which boast more effective protection and reduced weight – at the cost of increased cost and durability.

Full kit. Its heavy!

Thus, it comes as a surprise to see an Air Force officer cadet come up with potentially the next armor technological revolution. 21-year-old cade Hayley Weir posited that the combination of anti-ballistic fabric (like Kevlar) can be combined with shear-thickening fluid (like cornstarch and flour) can further decrease weight.

Combined with guidance Professor Ryan Burke and Dr. Jeff Owens, a Senior Research Chemist with the Air Force Civil Engineering Center, the three have been working tirelessly to find the right combination of fluid and film. That is until a 1/4 inch thick set stopped a 9mm and then multiple hits of .44 magnum. The material/fluid combination has the potential to protect not just troops, but tanks, aircraft, and other machines where weight is critical.

The newly graduated 2nd Lt. Wier now has a full-ride scholarship to Clemson University for a Master’s of Material Science courtesy of the Air Force to continue the patent-pending work. If the concept proves true and money is made, the young Lt. will stand to share the revenue with the Air Force.

Title photo courtesy of the Air Force Academy – Tech Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes. 

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • James Earl Jones

    Go Tigers.

  • Demolition Ranch video in 3… 2… 1…

  • John

    the use of non-newtonian fluid to stop bullets is not a new idea. The problem is evident as it is a fluid and would naturally tend to pool downwards. The challenge would be to suspend the fluid so that it would be evenly distributed.

    Proposed solutions to this problem include using a fluid that is magnetic

    • Tassiebush

      I guess a system of overlapping layers of hoses containing the fluid could be one way to keep it fairly evenly distributed. Even if it just had a strong mesh that held the walls evenly spaced and something like tyre slime to self heal if it’s punctured.

      • Rick O’Shay

        I dunno if I want body armor that can get punctured. Unless you’re talking about knives, in which case I’m of the opinion that if you’ve been stabbed, it’s time to get new body armor.

        • Major Tom

          Modern trauma plates shrug off knives like it’s old school plate armor from the Middle Ages.

          • valorius

            So does good soft body armor. I have a 25 year old Safariland IIIA that stops sword thrusts with ease.

        • Tassiebush

          Yeah fluid armour is a bit challenging for me too. As far as hits go I don’t think any armour should be reused after it’s hit. A bit like seat belts after a crash. You replace at the next opportunity. If it turns out fluid armour works then something that doesn’t puncture would be bullet proof in it’s own right but in the absence of that something that self plugs would probably be the most durable it could be.

          • valorius

            Why? Ive done tests where i shot the same vest dozens of times and it stopped everything.

          • Tassiebush

            Cool experiment! I’d want to know where the breaking point is and stay well back from it.

          • valorius

            vs threats the vest was actually rated to stop, i never saw it fail even after dozens of hits by calibers as big as .500 S&W and .50 caliber 3″ magnum sabot slugs.

    • mosinman

      or pressurizing the armor plate that contains the fluid might help

    • RSG

      This can be accomplished by making 1 inch quilted squares. Then line them up in a shingle design.

      • Phillip Cooper

        Very much like was done in the middle ages with overlapping scales of boiled leather.

      • Reef Blastbody

        One problem: you lose the capability of having the contiguous mass of a single large panel to distribute the impact force across. Instead of having, say 3 or 4 square feet of area, you’ve got that 2″X2″ square, and the worse associated blunt force trauma.

        • aka_mythos

          I think it’d be interesting to see if you could make whatever is holding the fluid into a sorta two sided accordian… uniform continuity of fluid through a single pocket that has flex… and the ribbing would allow the weight to rest more evenly down the front. This sort of structure could easily use tension wire to adjust fit and weight settling.

          • Redfoot

            See dragon skin armor design with this technology embedded. And make sure there are no political shenanigans involved this time.

          • What, political shenanigans like actually making sure the armor meets plausibly expected storage environments without degrading to a wholly unserviceable condition, or political shenanigans like the manufacturer deliberately playing games with their sizing standards to hide the fact that it weighted significantly more when compared to IBA that would actually fit the same person?

          • Redfoot

            I looked a bit deeper, and I stand corrected. Thank you.

    • Pseudo

      I could imagine keeping such a fluid basically wicked in a semi-porous ceramic skeleton. It really depends on how much liquid vs solid you need to get good enough protection. Some of you might have seen ice packs that are similar to what I’m suggesting. They’re basically foam and can be shaped (and retain shape frozen or melted), but suck up the liquid that is ultimately providing most of the thermal mass for the ice pack. The foam retains the liquid so even after freeze thaws cycles, the liquid is still immobilized in the foam.

      • JoelC

        Oh! Ceramic sponge. I like this idea.

    • Phil Hsueh

      It doesn’t need to be a fluid to work. Take a look at the company D3o, they make protective gear using NNFs but instead of a liquid in a bag or anything like that, the fluid is embedded in or made into a foam. So it’s possible, based on D3o’s products, the NNF the article talks about is somehow embedded or suspended within the Kevlar and not something separate.

    • Reef Blastbody

      Exactly. BAE displayed some silica STF enhanced kevlar panels a few years ago, but they had the same problem, the STF pooled at the bottom of the panel in very short order when hung vertically.

      I’d think carbon nanotube sheets sandwiching STF might have promise.

  • MeaCulpa

    Not to rain on anybody’s parade but the use of the word “potentially” and the smell of Airforce PR leaves me more than a bit sceptical. Also “patent pendig”

    • Kinetics

      Yeah, “liquid” armor is pretty much a PR maneuver whenever it is brought up by companies/services. There are far too many issues with it.

      The most likely “advance” in armor technology will be whoever can develope a stronger type of UHMWPE that can consistently survive Level III threat hits, and then properly making a variant and combining it with ceramic to stop AP rounds.

      Given all of the work that has been done with helmets recently, I’d guess that it’s not terribly far off.

    • john huscio

      Patent pendig is the German subcontractor.


    • Dan Garrett

      “…hard plates acre credited with 1’000s of stopped bullets…” 🤔

  • Thomas S

    We could just replace all of the Kevlar soft armor with carbon nanotube armor. Available today at a reasonable cost. Same protection, much less weight.

    That drops the weight of a soldiers armor by nearly half and you don’t even need to do anything with the plates.

    I think doing the same to the plates would fully give you that half.

    • Phillip Cooper

      Carbon is by nature very brittle. I think you’ve been reading too many Starship Troopers spinoffs.

      • Kinetics

        I think he is thinking of Bourque Industries’ BORK armor.

        Haven’t heard anything on it since 2011/2012 and a lot of the coverage sounds like spin. However, there are some pretty interesting YouTube videos of the plates being shot.

      • Thomas S

        You could do a quick Google search before being needlessly insulting.

        • Phillip Cooper

          Why do you hate Starship Troopers? Heinlein was the father of Military SF.

          I’ll believe the hype over carbon nanotube armor when I see people putting a shirt of it on and turning a 357 on themselves, like the guy that invented the bulletproof vest did.

          • valorius

            Carbon nanotube armor is sold commerically and has a NIJ rating.

      • valorius

        Bud the stuff is on the market. you can buy it on inforwars website for goodness sake. It is NIJ certified.

        • Phillip Cooper

          “Infowars” website. God, that’s rich. Thanks, I needed the laugh.

          • valorius

            From a police gear website:

            “AR500 Armor® Carbon Nanotube Soft Body Armor is Ultra-Light, Ultra-Thin, and extremely Flexible. Carbon Nanotube Soft Body Armor is the pinnacle of soft armor technology. Utilizing the latest Carbon Nanotube technology and proprietary Non-Newtonian back-face foam, AR500 Armor® CNT body armor is the most robust, light-weight, flexible, and affordable level IIIA soft body armor in the industry!

            Our 6” x 8” Carbon Nanotube side plates weigh in at just 6.9oz per panel! These aren’t just meant to stop fragments and low velocity pistol rounds like other soft side armor plates you’ll find. Our entire Carbon Nanotube soft armor line-up is IIIA rated and capable of defeating heavy hitting pistol threats up to .44 magnum, and .357 sig. Fits in all side plate pouches able to accept 6” x 8”, and 8” x 8” side plates; will also fit inside hollow cummerbunds such as the Banshee and XL plate carrier with the 8” side in horizontal orientation, or they can be installed in traditional side plate pockets with the 8” side vertical orientation. These are ideal for light weight platforms where mobility and/or concealment traits are desired over rifle protection. Minimal interference, improved mobility, and flexibility are reason enough to own a pair.”

            AR500 Armor 6″x8″ Carbon Nanotube IIIA Soft Body Armor – Side Plate

            SKU #: AR500-CNT-6×8

            MSRP: $70.00

            Google is your friend.

    • Uhm

      Carbon nanotubes can NOT yet produced in full lenght… They only use tiny strings of it, which has far far lower performance, basicly for marketing.

      • valorius

        Bro, the stuff is NIJ certified and on the market.

        • Uhm

          Still NOT full lenght carbon nanotube at all…. its worlds ahead from its actual potential

          • valorius

            Well i agree it has just started to touch on it’s potential. When they perfect the stuff a vest as thin and light as a regular IIA will stop a .30-06 round.

    • valorius

      Carbon nano tube armor does seem to be the future.

  • 22winmag

    Body armor shines with flak/shrapnel. In the field, it just attracts head and thigh shots.

    • While I would really prefer to be somewhere else when the shooting starts, I would much rather take a bullet to the thigh than to an internal organ.

      • Major Tom

        Sever the femoral artery and you die in like 3 minutes without tourniquet.

        Thigh hits are one of the worst areas to take a round. Much like the head, neck and heart.

        • valorius

          The femoral artery is an extremely small target. Surely you’re not suggesting that it can be deliberately targeted in the field by dirt farmers with AK-47s.

          • Major Tom

            Normal impact effects can rupture the artery as well. Hydrostatic shock works the same in the thigh as it does the chest.

            And what do you mean small target? It’s larger than most arteries and veins with only the aorta being larger. Any hit to the middle part of the thigh including the femur or inside runs a high probability of damaging the femoral artery.

            Really, the only “safe” hit you can take in the thigh is around the illiotibial band on the furthest outside part. Even that can cripple ya good.

          • valorius

            Arteries are flexible and tend to move out of the way. It is a VERY small target.

          • Major Tom

            It’s a more probable hit than the brain stem.

          • valorius

            Neither one is very likely- but of course bad luck does exist. 🙁

          • Major Tom

            A thigh hit is one of the more probable areas. In the order of hit probability, the highest probability is the chest, followed in a tie with the abdomen followed by the pelvic region (including the glutes!), followed by the thigh, followed by the head, followed by the arms, followed by the lower legs and bringing up the rear as least probable hits are the digits (fingers/toes).

            The only thing going for the thigh from a hit probability stance is when standing behind low cover such as certain fences and walls, the thigh is concealed or behind hard cover even if the upper body is not.

          • Dan

            Until the bone shatters and ruptures it. If people can cut it just breaking their leg a shot through the bone will definitely get the job done.

          • valorius

            Saw a dude at a poker game get shot through the thigh with a .45 hard ball which shattered his femur. Aside from some whining when the paramedics moved him, you’d have never guessed he was even shot.

            Arteries are tiny targets, they are also very, very though and ‘squirmy’. I’d be willing to bet that less than 1% of thigh wounds are fatal.

    • ARCNA442

      Given how most people are lucky to even hit the enemy while under fire, I wonder how many would be able to actually aim at specific body parts?

    • AC97

      Which one’s a smaller target, your head and legs, or your torso?

      Thought so.

  • Hellbilly

    Years ago I thought of getting a grease/sand mix and testing it for bullet stopping ability – a combination that would feel like a gel seat for a bicycle worn as a vest. I never got off my duff to do any testing, though. Wish I would have spent the time to do so after seeing that folks have similar ideas.

  • Brett baker

    If it works, yeah! If not, we found out what Doesn’t work. (As an aside, I like geek girls who can kick ass😍.)

    • valorius

      What’s kick ass about making body armor? I’m so confuzed.

      • FarmerB

        Beats a 200 page thesis for a Gender Studies course that’s a non-stop moan about the patriarchy.

        • valorius

          Well you’re certainly right about that.

  • Kinetics

    These boutique “next-gen” solutions are actually getting outpaced by lighter weight legacy armor options. The USMC is fielding the ECH to the whole force (estimated 7.62×39 protection at roughly ACH weight), the Army is going with the ACH II (ACH at much less weight), and Ceradyne is slowly but surely making lighter weight versions of their current Level III & IV plates.

    It’s not going to 1/2 the weight of armor overnight, but it is taking ounces and pounds here and there, and overtime, will have a larger impact.

    • valorius

      The ECH has been around since 2006 too. So even that is not new tech.

      • Kinetics

        True, and it will be interesting to see what protection level the Army’s IHPS program gives, given that it should be going into LRiP in late 2017/early 2018.

        However, the first few batches if ECH’s from Ceradyne (but mostly Gentex), actually failed First Article Testing for the higher protection standard and the formula had to be reworked which resulted in the ECH’s that exceeded program V-50 specs. So you could say it’s a bit of a new product as well. I’m interested to see how it progresses.

  • I wonder how much of this is the non-newtonian fluid and how much is the kevlar. Level IIIA is rated for .44 Mag, and it’s supposed to be generally 24-28 layers of kevlar roughly 6mm thick, which is about as thick as Hailey’s composite pack of kevlar/NNF. So depending on exactly how much kevlar is in there, it might be able to stop the rounds they are testing without the NNF layers.

    • And of course keep in mind that the 24-28 layers of kevlar in IIIA are also there to meet the NIJ’s blunt force trauma spec. If you just need to prevent penetration, quite a bit less kevlar is required for standard, lead core pistol rounds.

      As I recall, the origami Kevlar police barricade from a few months back uses 12 layers kevlar. And in many armor tests that I’ve seen, the round is smashed flat in the first few layers of kevlar.

      • Twilight sparkle

        Sounds like they just reinvented the use of a trauma pad (in the form of a non Newtonian fluid) with soft armour.

    • valorius

      Exactly what i was thinking.

    • .45

      That was what I was thinking too. Stopping pistol rounds with kelvar isn’t exactly new or innovative.

  • Uhm

    Pistol ammo is WAY diffrent then RIFLE ammo… Good look stopping a thin 3000+fps steel or tungsten projectile….

    • Uhm

      Non-newtonian fluid may stop pistol rounds but has a lot of preoblems with Rifle ammo.

  • Patriot Gunner

    Why use 44 magnum as the benchmark? It has terrible hard barrier penetration characteristics. Plus, are there a lot of jihadis running around with S&W model 629’s?

    • Twilight sparkle

      For level IIIA protection
      More for police where they’re more likely to face someone with a handgun than someone with a long gun

      • Patriot Gunner

        Ah I see, thank you for the clarification. I would interested to see how many actual crimes are committed with a 44 mag outside of Alaska. I mean its not really that “gangsta”, doesn’t look nearly as cool pointed sideways.

        • Gary Kirk

          I can see it now, one gangstaaa goes to pull it sideways, and hits the cylinder release..

          • Patriot Gunner

            LOL 2 for 2 Gary

        • Twilight sparkle

          I can guarantee you that 44mags are rarely used in crimes. It’s just one of the standards they test against for the nij IIIA rating.

      • valorius

        It’s actually much harder to stop some civilian legal 9mm rounds than just about any .44 mag rounds.

        • Twilight sparkle

          That may be true but 44 has a lot more energy and brings backface deformation into play with soft body armour, that’s where a non Newtonian fluid could help. I don’t really see this armour concept going far enough to actually be adopted by anyone though. Traditional Kevlar is still the best option out there and the fact that this design required the use of Kevlar kinda shows that.

          • valorius

            I think carbon nanotube armor is the best option out there in soft body armor nowadays, not any type of liquid.

          • valorius

            BTW, it is absolutely true that you can buy off the shelf 9mm that is a far greater threat to traditional IIIA Armor than even .50 S&W or 3″ magnum solid copper .50 cal sabot slugs- ive tested it.

            Montana gold HP ammo loaded to +P+ 1400fps + velocity (buffalo bore used to sell this loading when there was a gold dot shortage about 5-6 years ago) will defeat several types of IIIA vests. The Montana gold HP has a brass jacket, a very, very shallow HP and is made of hard cast lead. Because of this it would also be an outstanding load for trail defense against bears. Box O Truth tested the stuff some years back and it displayed truly massive overpenetration in wet pack.

    • Klaus Von Schmitto

      Have you never heard of dirty hairy?

      • Patriot Gunner

        Is that what Jihadists are calling themselves now?

        • Gary Kirk

          Well.. They are dirty, and hairy..

          • Patriot Gunner

            LOL, hilarious.

      • john huscio

        Filthy mohammed……make my Eid al-fitr, infidel!

    • Christopher Wallace

      pakis are now arming goat harmers with taurus m92 clones in 44—you didnt know this????

    • valorius

      That’s what the NIJ standard uses.

  • El Duderino

    It’s going to be sad when body armor tastes better and is more nutritious than an MRE.

  • roguetechie

    While I am sure non Newtonian fluids will be here sooner than many people think, I am pretty certain that there’s other ways to skin this particular cat with some pretty standard materials already being used for body armor. Even some of the cheaper more economically attractive materials will work great for what I’m thinking about, it’s the production technology to produce such armors economically that’s the sticking point for the most part.

    Forgive the lack of specificity in my post, but a guy just kinda has to keep some stuff to himself if he wants to get ahead in this world!

    • Composite metal foam plates actually show better promise, when you take into account service life and conditions…

      • roguetechie

        Those are pretty exciting too yes…

        I tend to write excessively long posts though, so I deliberately left out some stuff.

        I was also attempting to keep it a like for like comparison.

  • Bierstadt54

    I read about this as the “next best thing” in body armor in a book. Published 15 years ago. I am sure the girl is a smart cookie, but I would be amazed if this was anything other than Air Force PR.

  • valorius

    Since when is a 1/4 plate that stops .44 magnum either A) anything new, or B) in any way relevant to what lvl IV ESAPI plates can and need to stop?

  • Ark

    I’ll believe it when it actually hits the market. ‘Member Dragon Skin?

    • And it survives MIL-STD EQT (Environmental Qualification Tests) and *still* performs to spec after the test pieces have all been through *all* the EQTs.

      Dragonskin failed, because the manufacturers didn’t actually test to standard. (The MIL-STD tests require testing after EQTs, to represent long term storage and transit through a variety of theaters before PVT Snuffy actually gets shot. Just like armor and other field gear ends up being treated in the real world.)

  • Raptor Fred

    Cornstarch and Kevlar, By Airforce

  • Al

    Go Tigers!

  • nonobaddog

    The most effective body armor isn’t light – it is really heavy – like 72 tons. They call it the Abrams M1A2.
    You don’t worry about the weight because you don’t have to hump it here and there, it is self-propelled so it humps you here and there.
    It has 100 percent coverage, not just a few vital bits in the torso.
    If you are attacked it can fight back.
    It has a built-in reading light.

  • Wm Reich

    Look around.. this story is simply… Like the Song Lyrics.. “I can do anything” Agenda driven Women in the Services propaganda. Nothing new… not news..

  • Max Müller

    Meh. The idea uf putting non-newtonian fluids into body armor (“liquid armor”) isn’t new by any means. Yes they might have optimised the cornstach to kevlar ratio, but oobleck or however you might call it is still not fast enough at thickening to stop a rifle round, as many youtube videos will show.
    The biggest advancement in “liquid” body armor are actually the hdpe plates (high density polyethylene) since plastic technically is a liquid with even less internal movement than cornstach-water.

  • Matthew Parmentier

    She did not “come up” with this idea. Using shear thickening fluids with kevlar has been tested multiple times already. I mean, you can find youtube videos that are like 10 years old for crying out loud! Giving credit where none is due is idiotic.