DuPont Kevlar fiber looks to its second half-century

The dynamic nature of Kevlar is evident in the development of new and emerging material solutions for military use

DuPont Kevlar fiber looks to its second half-century

Modular Interceptor Body Armor system (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army PEO Soldier)

It surprises some people to learn that DuPont Kevlar fiber will be 50 years old in 2015. Yet over those five decades the novel material approach provided by Kevlar has grown from being the first high performance fiber used in bullet-resistant vests to become a ubiquitous element in myriad military products; from combat platforms to head to toe survivability solutions for Warfighters around the globe.

As it approaches its 50th birthday, the dynamic nature of Kevlar is evident in the development of new and emerging material solutions that could be applied to military helmets, ballistic vests and other protection designs for the future.

Kevlar and the Warfighter

In the case of military body armor, for example, Kevlar is lightweight and comfortable enough to provide Warfighter mobility, while the fiber itself – five times stronger than steel on an equal-weight basis – can be layered and integrated to provide protection against fragmentation and ballistic threats.

In the US Army’s Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV), which is part of the modular Interceptor Body Armor system, Kevlar KM2 and KM2 Plus technology help provide protection from conventional fragmentation and multiple hits from 9mm handguns. Additional inserts for the body armor further increase individual protection levels against increasingly lethal threats.

Other military-grade protection equipment featuring Kevlar technology includes the Improved Modular Tactical Vest (IMTV), attachable throat and groin protectors, and the Deltoid Auxiliary Protection System (DAPS).

“We’re in the vests and we’re also in military helmets,” said Julie Eaton, North American business director for protection technologies at DuPont. “And we’re in the spall protection liners in MRAP vehicles and other light tactical vehicles as well.”

New Kevlar innovations

Pointing to a range of performance applications under the company’s current “Dare Bigger” brand platform, Eaton noted that Kevlar applications “continue to push the boundaries and ‘protect our protectors’ when they have extraordinary jobs that they do.”

“We are consistently looking for ways to expand and innovate,” she said, pointing to recently introduced innovations like DuPont’s new Kevlar AS450X and Kevlar XP S104.

“AS450X was developed to protect against multiple threats, including bullets, knives, spikes and blunt objects,” she explained. “In the past we would have protection in the vest that might have been more bullet resistant but not as good against spikes and puncture – or we might have had spike and puncture protection but maybe not bullet resistance. But this new product brings those together.”

“The Kevlar XP S104 is a water-repellant fabric that offers enhanced bullet stopping power and reduced backspace deformation,” she continued. “So when you think about the hot and wet climates that our Warfighters have been in and may go into, this product would be aimed at protecting them better in those environments.”

“It’s designed to be a water resistant fabric,” she elaborated. “So today, as the Kevlar fiber goes through the weaving process and into the final vest, some of the ‘value chain’ [of body armor manufacturers] may add material to the IOTV to give it some inherent properties. But this is the first time that we have a DuPont Kevlar product that is a woven total solution product with the inherent water repellency in it.”

Asked about the possible introduction of the new fibers into vest designs, Eaton pointed to “constant contact with DLA [Defense Logistics Agency], PEO [US Army Program Executive Office] – Soldier, sharing with them our most recent inventions.”

She added that one goal of this collaboration would be the development of specifications that could allow DuPont to introduce the new products into the portfolio, “So that our war heroes can ‘Dare Bigger’ and be protected out there in these extreme jobs.”

Looking to the future

In addition to coordination with DLA and PEO Soldier on the latest available products, the company is also looking at longer-range technologies in coordination with places like the US Army’s Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center.

“We keep in contact with Natick in our long term innovation pipeline,” she said, acknowledging, “We are working right now with them on some future innovations.”

Although the presence of non-disclosure agreements precluded descriptions of the specific nature of those innovations at this time, she identified them as “very new,” adding, “We are constantly reaching out to [Natick] to make sure that we understand the requirements for the Soldiers in the field and that we are bringing our DuPont Kevlar innovations to the table in a way that continues to protect our Soldiers in the future.”