To (Dragon) Skin a Cat

Apparently the never-ending saga of Dragon Skin body armor is going into a new chapter.

According to Soldiers for Truth, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will probably give Dragon Skin a Type III protection rating. The NIJ is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the DOJ. This means the armor will be rated effective at stopping AK-47 fire making it good enough for most law enforcement duties. Type III is, however, insufficient to stop armor piercing munitions, a DOD talking point and required for achieving the next level of protection status. (And, IIRC, not reached with existing forms of armor issued by the DOD. But what do I know?)

While it is unclear whether even perfect body armor for American troops in Iraq would be a catchall improvement, the back and forth between late-night pundits, the military industrial complex, and the privately owned Pinnicle Armor Inc. (the makers of Dragon Skin) has made for interesting reading.

Why won’t a new body armor help that much? According to a number of Washington Post articles, the latest of which can be found here, the most dangerous type of injury being reported from Iraq is not the penetration of shrapnel or bullets, but injuries caused by blast shock waves leading to vascular overpressure and bursting blood vessels causing brain damage and massive internal traumas. Body armor, Dragon Skin or any other kind,  doesn’t prevent this kind of damage. The second most common type of injuries are to extremities (arms and legs), areas not usually protected by most kinds of body armor. (I have to trust my memory on this, since I can’t find an online reference.) Thus, despite some well publicized complaints by late-night pundits, the old, heavy, inadequate body armor is even now doing it’s job.

But is the current Vietnam era body armor good enough or would Dragon Skin be better? Well as opposed to the water-cooled “alien spacesuits,” cluster-fuck personal coffins, protective suits the DOD sent to Iraq earlier this year, Dragon Skin is both light and flexible. In 40°C (140°F), weight is very important even if the saved weight is replaced with water rations. Even though the ‘protective suit’ was water cooled, it had an even more critical problem; wearing it was like being in a suit of medieval armor with the wearer next to immobile. (The wearer also looked silly but that’s beside the point.) The immobility is perhaps the more important factor. In modern combat, mobility is everything and that’s where Dragon Skin comes in; flexibility allows mobility.

For an example of what the discussion is (and isn’t), take a look at the comments over at the DefenseTech post where the pros (and cons, i.e. negatives, not felon types) are weighing in.

How will all this end up? I have no idea. But just like a cat has nine lives, this story isn’t dead yet; and the cat hasn’t been ‘skinned.

Hat Tip: DefenseTech 

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