Throughout history protective clothing worn by people in combat has always been specialized according to the threat faced by the wearer.
Leather armor was sufficient for early striking weapons, but it was woefully inadequate for slashing weapons and puncturing weapons. Medieval knights knew that chain mail could protect them from slashing attacks from swords, but it was nearly useless against arrows.
The medieval solution to the problem of arrows and crossbow bolts was to wear heavy metal plates; the suit of armor that we now associate with the term "knight" was the result. Metal plate armor was beyond uncomfortable. A knight fully suited in the stuff couldn't move very well. If he got knocked off his horse, he was in real trouble, especially if the enemy knew the weak points, the "chinks" in his armor.
The medieval arms race was between gun and crossbow makers and the metallurgists who sought material for armor that were hard enough to stop a bullet or a bolt.
Body armor has come a long way since the days of knights. But even in today's police and military operations, the armor is specialized according to the user's need.
Tactical body armor is very different than the concealable ballistic vests that you wear daily on patrol. First of all, it's a lot heavier; second, it's bigger, covering more vulnerabilities. The trade-off as always is comfort vs. protection. If you had to wear tactical armor all day, every day, the weight and bulk would make it difficult for you to do your job.
Your concealable body armor is designed to protect you from the most likely threat you face on patrol, a handgun. Tactical body armor is designed to protect and aid an officer during an engagement that is likely to involve heavier firearms. It can hold heavy ceramic plates to protect against rifle fire.
It also doubles as an equipment carrier. Since the tac armor is worn over the user's clothes, it usually has pouches for weapons, ammo, and other tools necessary to do the job. Some tac armor even has a specialized drag strap on the rear that officers can use to pull a wounded comrade out of the line of fire.
The following is a look at the latest in tactical body armor designs. It includes the newest tac vests shown at last month's IACP show.
Armor Express: Wolverine DM
Putting on a traditional tactical vest can be a two-officer operation. But a number of vest manufacturers are working to make donning a tac vest a much easier task. Armor Express' Wolverine DM is attached with a side opening cummerbund system that allows the wearer to easily don and doff the vest. The vest has all the usual features of contemporary tac armor. It offers NIJ Level IIIA protection, incorporates an optional MOLLE or snap-grid system for attaching equipment pouches, and has a built-in mic guideline. The Wolverine DM also has a metal rifle sling retention system built into the shoulder. Like most current tac vests, the Wolverine DM is modular. Users can buy optional arm, groin, and leg protectors.
ArmorShield's claim to fame is its Trauma-Lite blunt trauma shield. The blunt trauma shield, which the company says is 270 percent larger than traditional blunt trauma shields, is designed to work with the armor to mitigate deadly effects of blunt trauma from bullet impacts. Trauma-Lite is thinner and lighter than conventional blunt trauma padding, yet ArmorShield says it reduces blunt trauma by 70 percent. Other features of the Grizzly tac vest include a side open design and waterproof ballistic pouches so that the ballistic material cannot be degraded by moisture. The system is modular, and neck, thorax, and bicep protectors are available. Up to three rows of MOLLE attachment webbing can be added to the basic carrier.
Bodyguard: "S" Street Vest
Camarillo, Calif.-based Bodyguard is a relative newcomer in the body armor market, but it makes several high-quality tac vests, including the "C" Street Vest and the "S" Street Vest. The "S" Street Vest is the company's top-of-the-line tac model, and it offers some interesting and unusual features. But first let's get the usual stuff out of the way. The vest is NIJ Level IIIA, modular, side opening with a cummerbund system, and it offers a MOLLE webbing attachment system both front and rear. OK. That's done. So let's talk about some of the more interesting stuff. The "S" Street features an expandable front plate pocket. That may not seem exciting, but it makes the vest more comfortable as the addition of a plate doesn't make the vest tighten against the wearer's chest. Another cool feature on the "S" Street Vest is the 3D, non-slip rifle butt retention on the shoulders. The material has special ridges that are designed to grip a standard butt stock. The "S" Street Vest also has an internal lumbar support system.
Diamondback Tactical: Predator OTV
Diamondback Tactical's Predator OTV tac armor is available in three different ballistic packages, each NIJ Level IIIA. Like many current tactical vests, the Predator OTV offers a full MOLLE system for attachments. The vest features a side-opening design with a fully adjustable cummerbund. The internal cummerbund is adjustable in one-inch increments for a precise fit that can be easily adjusted to match the wearer's load of gear. It also has pockets for front and back plates. The pockets open and close with hook-and-pile fasteners. Optional neck, arm, leg, and groin protectors are available.
First Choice: Vortex
Officers who are looking for a vest that can be removed quickly should check out First Choice's Vortex. The company says that its new Integrated Quick Release System (IQRIS) allows the user to remove the vest in less than four seconds. It can be reassembled in less than a minute and no tools are required. The Vortex is an NIJ Level IIIA vest with a MOLLE attachment system, adjustable shoulders, adjustable side closures, and adjustable front and rear plate pockets. Options include groin, throat, and arm protection.
Gator Hawk: Tac 30
Gator Hawk is one of several body armor manufacturers that will customize tactical body armor to meet the needs of the buyer. The company's TAC 30 series is available in snap-grid and MOLLE versions. NIJ Level IIIA, the vest can be fitted with optional neck, groin, leg, or arm protection. Buyers can choose side-open or front-open versions of the TAC 30. The vest is available in black, navy, O.D. green, desert camo, and woodland camo.
MSA Paraclete: Releasable Modular Vest
The primary life-saving capability of a tactical vest is that it stops bullets and fragments. MSA Paraclete's Releasable Modular Vest can do that with the best of them. It offers NIJ Level IIIA protection and plate pockets for when things really get hairy. Yet the most unusual, potentially life-saving feature of the Releasable Modular Vest is that it can be removed in seconds by medical personnel or by the wearer. When the wearer or medical personnel pulls the patented single point release, the vest will essentially fall off. This can save critical seconds when medics are working on trauma wounds, and it has been credited with saving lives in Iraq. Other features of the Releasable Modular Vest include: full MOLLE webbing for attaching pouches, adjustable internal and external cummerbunds, and a zip-off back panel for changing the rear configuration of the vest. And as the name implies, the Releasable Modular Vest is modular; arm, neck, leg, and groin protection can be added to the basic vest.
Adjustability is the watch word for PACA's SVII tac armor system. Just about everything on this vest is adjustable. The shoulder straps are easily adjusted and connect directly to the front and rear carrier panels through Velcro fasteners. The side closure system offers overlapping side protection and an adjustable secure fit. The adjustable ballistic collar is designed to allow the wearer a better helmet interface. The vest fastens with an adjustable internal cummerbund. It opens at the side and closes via eight-inch elastic straps and a snap and grid closure that can be fully adjusted to the wearer's body. Other features include dual wire channels for communications, PACA's Grid Lock webbing system, a fully integrated drag strap, and non-skid material on the shoulders to aid in stabilizing a rifle butt.
Point Blank: SWAT Cert Plus
Buying a basic vest and adding on additional protection is pretty common in the tac armor sector these days. Point Blank's SWAT Cert Plus tac vest is modular, but it also offers a pretty comprehensive armor system out of the box. The basic vest has a built-in neck protector, a groin protector, and biceps protection. Throat, knee, and elbow protection are optional. The SWAT Cert Plus is a side-open vest with an internal cummerbund system for a secure fit. For comfort, the ballistics are evenly distributed to eliminate pressure points at protruding locations like hip bones and shoulders. The carrier has a full MOLLE system for attaching pouches, a flex cuff compartment, and it accommodates all Point Blank NIJ Level IIIA ballistic systems.
Protective Products: Spartan
The Spartan is part of Protective Products' Urban Assault Vest line. Each Urban Assault Vest model is designed to aid tactical officers in moving with stealth, moving quickly, and, of course, surviving an attack. The vests are designed to eliminate bunching and constriction when aiming a long gun. Protective Products says its most popular Urban Assault Vest is the Spartan. The Spartan features a two-point emergency release system that allows the wearer to doff the vest very quickly. Fully MOLLE compatible, the Spartan is a modular vest that accommodates optional collar, throat, biceps, groin, and lower back protection. The cummerbund features a kangaroo pouch for documents or a holster.
Protech: Titan Assault Vest
One of the first things you'll notice about Protech's Titan Assault Vest is its front plate pocket. While most tac vests have top-loading plate pockets, the Titan Assault Vest has a side-load plate pocket. This design makes it easier for the wearer to add hard armor during an operation. Other features include a PAL 360-degree MOLLE system, a contoured cut for improved comfort and easier long gun operation, and a non-slip shoulder rest for rifle butts. The vest is a side-open design that features a four-inch-wide cummerbund with a rigid skeleton to prevent sagging. Options include neck protection, bicep protection, and groin protection.
RBR Tactical Armor: 700 DTAC-MRV Tactical Vest
The 700 DTAC-MRV Tactical Vest is made of NIJ Level IIIA aramid armor. The vest, which has been approved for use by federal agents, is a side-open system with front to back overlapping side protection. The company says it features 20 percent more MOLLE webbing than similar models. Options include neck, leg, arm, and groin protection.
Southwest Armor Technology: Desert Fury
Market newcomer Southwest Armor Technology (SWAT Armor) scored a major coup when its Desert Fury tac vest was tapped by the Drug Enforcement Agency for its agents. One Desert Fury feature that likely attracted the DEA's attention was the ability to precisely adjust the vest's fit. Two sizing points allow the wearer to fine-tune the vest's fit by raising or lowering the NIJ Level IIIA ballistic panels and by adjusting chest size as needed. The patent-pending internal suspension system prevents the ballistic panels from sagging. SWAT Armor has also applied for patents on the vest's side-entry system and the bellowed pocket on the rear of the vest that provides access to the optional Camelbak Hydration System. Options include a flip-down groin protector, ballistic shoulder and neck protectors. The vest design incorporates MOLLE webbing attachment systems both front and rear.
U.S. Armor: Tactical Assault Armor
The side-opening Tactical Assault Vest (T.A.V.) is one of the most popular tac vests in the U.S. Armor line. It comes in three ballistic configurations: Enforcer with air-entangled DuPont Kevlar; Enforcer XLT with DuPont Kevlar Comfort XLT and Honeywell GoldFlex; and Terminal Velocity with both DuPont Kevlar and Honeywell GoldFlex-Spectra Shield Plus. All configurations are designed to maximize officer mobility and balanced ballistic coverage. Standard features include U.S. Armor's patented helmet friendly collar, an internal flex cuff sleeve, and internally stowed groin protection. Options include throat and bicep connection. The vest's carrier is available in DuPont Nomex fire-retardant fabric. It comes in black, navy, O.D. green, tan, woodland camo, desert camo, and digital camo.