Scale mail in the modern age

Schmoe

Explorer
I saw a very interesting show on the Military Channel last night (Future Weapons). One of the segments was highlighting the latest in modern body armor. The armor is called Dragon Skin, and it's essentially scale armor made from ceramic-composite plates. The scale design mitigates the drawbacks of ceramic-composite plate armor by spreading the impact over a large area, reducing impact damage to the armor and to the body behind the armor. It's pretty remarkable, really.

For reference, on the show I watched them fire 7.62 steel-core rounds at the armor from point blank range. These rounds punch through 1/2 inch steel armor like it isn't even there (as was demonstrated on the show). The Dragon Skin survived multiple hits without any noticeable damage.

I also caught parts of a show on the History Channel (don't remember which one) that described the transition from heavy plate armor on knights to armorless soldiers with the advent of firearms.

Watching the two shows together made me think that armor really has come full-circle. It took a while for the technology to catch up with the ability to stop armor-piercing rounds. But now it seems that the technology is accessible once again. The difference today is the sociology of modern armies. Whereas in medieval times it was acceptable to have heavily armored, socially priveleged knights with heavy armor, yet have masses of troops that were poorly equipped, in modern day armies of democratic nations such a division of privelege is less palatable. That makes the economics of protecting troops a more difficult issue.

Anyway, the two shows were very eye-opening and thought-provoking, and I thought I would share.
 

Thornir Alekeg

Albatross!
Schmoe said:
Watching the two shows together made me think that armor really has come full-circle. It took a while for the technology to catch up with the ability to stop armor-piercing rounds. But now it seems that the technology is accessible once again. The difference today is the sociology of modern armies. Whereas in medieval times it was acceptable to have heavily armored, socially priveleged knights with heavy armor, yet have masses of troops that were poorly equipped, in modern day armies of democratic nations such a division of privelege is less palatable. That makes the economics of protecting troops a more difficult issue.
But I would argue that the economics really aren't that difficult. In medieval times the poorly equipped troops were mostly levied peasants who were also poorly trained. It wasn't worth spending money on protective equipment for them. Modern armies on the other hand spend a lot more on the training of their troops, therefore the cost of protecting those troops is a much better investment.

Looks like really cool armor. Looking at their website, there are a bunch of other comments I could make about it and its current availability, but it would lead into the political realm, so I'll just leave it at, "Cool, thanks for the link."
 

Phlebas

Visitor
Schmoe said:
.............
The difference today is the sociology of modern armies. Whereas in medieval times it was acceptable to have heavily armored, socially priveleged knights with heavy armor, yet have masses of troops that were poorly equipped, in modern day armies of democratic nations such a division of privelege is less palatable. That makes the economics of protecting troops a more difficult issue.
...
There seems to be a fairly large division between Special Forces and your average grunt in todays forces at the moment - this level of technology might just add to it

As an aside, I remember watching a documentary about a Police squad training against some Viking / Saxon enthusiasts to learn how to use shield walls properly. Now I just wonder if they'll introduce jousting as part of boot camp?
 

Thornir Alekeg

Albatross!
Phlebas said:
As an aside, I remember watching a documentary about a Police squad training against some Viking / Saxon enthusiasts to learn how to use shield walls properly. Now I just wonder if they'll introduce jousting as part of boot camp?
Only for police mounted on horses or motorcycles.
 

redwing

Visitor
What exactly was the transition from heavily armoured knights to armourless soldiers like? I would believe that the first firearms would not pack that much power to pierce through a plate of metal. Did matchlock guns really pack that much "oompf?" I understand the need to disengage from melee to a more ranged combat, and therefore possibly not needing extra personal protection. But did primitive firearms really puncture armour?
 
redwing said:
What exactly was the transition from heavily armoured knights to armourless soldiers like? I would believe that the first firearms would not pack that much power to pierce through a plate of metal. Did matchlock guns really pack that much "oompf?" I understand the need to disengage from melee to a more ranged combat, and therefore possibly not needing extra personal protection. But did primitive firearms really puncture armour?
The main reason for the transition was not the power of firearms, it was the ease.

In terms of economics, a group of full trained longbowmen is actually quite expensive. While they are no mounted knight division, it could take many years to get a full group ready to go. However, a group of longbowman was superior to your early musketeers.

However, you can have a group of fully trained musketeers ready in a month. With such an ease of training, armies were able to have fields of these guys. And if you lost a bunch of them you could replace them quickly.

So lets say you have a division of knights vs 5 divisions of muskets (no where near accurate, but just as an example). That division of knights might ultimately win the day because they were the elite powerhouse of the times. However, a king could replace those 5 divisions of muskets faster than all the dead knights. Eventually the economy of war favored the musket.

However, the knight really did not leave the field until the prescence of repeating weapons. Once a gun could fire multiple times without reloading, it truely became the ultimate weapon, completely replacing the longbow.

Mounted Combat would make a reappearance with the prescence of mounted riflemen, who had the same advantage. And then....the appearance of the machinegun.

With a machinegun on the field, the speed of calvary is negated. The main defense against a machinegun is good cover, and infantry can gain cover far better than a man on a horse.
 

mmadsen

Visitor
redwing said:
What exactly was the transition from heavily armoured knights to armourless soldiers like? I would believe that the first firearms would not pack that much power to pierce through a plate of metal. Did matchlock guns really pack that much "oompf?" I understand the need to disengage from melee to a more ranged combat, and therefore possibly not needing extra personal protection. But did primitive firearms really puncture armour?
Primitive firearms could definitely puncture the armor of the day -- which is why armor evolved to be thicker and heavier. Such armor of proof was more expensive and less practical. Soon, it evolved into a single thick breastplate, or cuirass, and knights evolved into cuirassiers, the heavy cavalry of the blackpowder era.
 

mmadsen

Visitor
Schmoe said:
The armor is called Dragon Skin, and it's essentially scale armor made from ceramic-composite plates.
There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the Dragon Skin body armor:
The Dragon Skin became the subject of controversy with the U.S. Army[8] over testing it against its Interceptor body armor. The Army claimed Pinnacle's body armor was not proven to be effective and that some failed an Air Force test and were recalled.

Pinnacle Armor put out a press release stating that Dragon Skin "did not fail any written contract specifications with the Air Force" although it admitted they did "return the vests to Pinnacle following testing ... to address a manufacturing issue, but that issue did not affect the vests' performance during testing."[9] Defense Review said they saw the test results and that they exceeded that of the Army's Interceptor vest.[10] The Pentagon said the test results are classified and neither side could agree to terms on another, more comprehensive test. The Army wanted to hold and inspect the vests for 1-2 weeks before shooting at them, and Pinnacle wanted them shot at right away from out of the box because they said they feared the Army tampering with them in order to save their currently cheaper body armor program.​
 

Phlebas

Visitor
redwing said:
What exactly was the transition from heavily armoured knights to armourless soldiers like? I would believe that the first firearms would not pack that much power to pierce through a plate of metal. Did matchlock guns really pack that much "oompf?" I understand the need to disengage from melee to a more ranged combat, and therefore possibly not needing extra personal protection. But did primitive firearms really puncture armour?
Cavlalry were wearing cuirass's still into the early 20th century, and it was certainly common in napoleonic times. Cannon was used as early as the battle of bosworth against full blown knights, and it only took another century for full armour to be used more for jousting than combat. as firearms improved the best defense became speed so cavalry used lighter, faster breeds of horses and cut down the weight

i've seen a candle fired from a musket that went through plywood and 2 rows of bricks - even if an early lead shot didn't penetrate top of the range armour it would certainly knock you backwards (and potentially off the back of a horse)

funnily enough - the first use of cavalry was as mounted archers, then they were used to take infantry into the right position, then they grew large enough to be used in direct combat, larger still for heavy armour, then lighter for speed, now only used for transporting infantry from place to place... funny how things go around
 
Phlebas said:
i've seen a candle fired from a musket that went through plywood and 2 rows of bricks - even if an early lead shot didn't penetrate top of the range armour it would certainly knock you backwards (and potentially off the back of a horse)
Nonsense. It would only knock you backward if the recoil from the musket was so great, the shooter was knocked back as well.
 

Yair

Community Supporter
Pretty impressive. I didn't get how much this things weighs, but it seems fairly light and with impressive stopping power.

The capability to do damage still outstrips our ability to protect from damage, broadly speaking. Not even a tank can withstand a high-quality explosive charge or missile. But still, this personal armor affords a high level of defense. I wonder if a "full armor" suit of this nature wouldn't allow soldiers to be virtually immune to any small-arms, grenades, and similar explosives; they'd be like little gods of war, vulnerable only to heavy machine guns (very clumsy and heavy), missiles (hard to aim at a person), directed charges (need to be set up in advance), and heavy bombs and cannons (not at all personal equipment).

I find myself wondering whether a mesh of nanotubes wouldn't be more effective than ceramics. Perhaps in a few more years.


Regarding the sociology of the matter - as was said, this will probably simply go to the Special Forces instead of the regular grunts. It's well established you can't protect anyone equally, there is no social problem here. Although if the armor does prove itself there would indeed be pressure to purchase it for the grunts too, I suppose.
 
Unfortunately, Dragon Skin is much heavier than the currently fielded Interceptor body armor with -- at least based on the Army's 2006 tests -- less effective protection, particularly under extreme temperature conditions. But there will be another round of testing this year, and I'm sure the product will continue to develop. There's certainly potential.

In the armor-antiarmor race, though, there's always a more dangerous projectile. The challenge with body armor is to get sufficient protection for the most probable threats without hampering mobility and stamina. Give troops effective enough weapons, and the armor will start to come off as it did in the 1700s, as the protection isn't worth the sacrifice in mobility if eveery opposing weapon can punch through it.
 

Phlebas

Visitor
green slime said:
Nonsense. It would only knock you backward if the recoil from the musket was so great, the shooter was knocked back as well.
Shooters braced and prepared, target is surprised and depending on angle of impact unable to be braced.

The point was that the force involved is quite impressive even if it doesn't penetrate - armour spreads the load but you still hear of broken bones underneath kevlar armour
 
Phlebas said:
Shooters braced and prepared, target is surprised and depending on angle of impact unable to be braced.

The point was that the force involved is quite impressive even if it doesn't penetrate - armour spreads the load but you still hear of broken bones underneath kevlar armour
Watch footage of people being shot. They do not recoil backwards as in hollywood movies. They crumple.
 

Yair

Community Supporter
Olgar Shiverstone said:
Unfortunately, Dragon Skin is much heavier than the currently fielded Interceptor body armor with -- at least based on the Army's 2006 tests -- less effective protection, particularly under extreme temperature conditions.
That is most unfortunate. :(
 

mmadsen

Visitor
Phlebas said:
The point was that the force involved is quite impressive even if it doesn't penetrate - armour spreads the load but you still hear of broken bones underneath kevlar armour
This piece on Infantry Missile Weapons in the Renaissance is instructive -- even though it has a significant error in it.

An early matchlock firearm, an arquebus, shot a 45-gram projectile at 300 meters per second. (The article drops a zero and says 30 m/s, which is just 60 mph.)

A crossbow might shoot a 125-gram bolt at 45 m/s.

Thus the arquebus round has almost two-and-a-half times the momentum of the crossbow bolt -- which sounds impressive untile you realize that a modern 800-gram javelin can be thrown at 70 mph (about 35 m/s), for about twice the momentum of that lead ball.

So a gunshot should be able to knock someone over about as well as a javelin, if we're generous. The real difference is that the small, fast bullet has much more kinetic energy than slower weapons, so it has more destructive power.
 

mmadsen

Visitor
Yair said:
I wonder if a "full armor" suit of this nature wouldn't allow soldiers to be virtually immune to any small-arms, grenades, and similar explosives; they'd be like little gods of war, vulnerable only to heavy machine guns (very clumsy and heavy), missiles (hard to aim at a person), directed charges (need to be set up in advance), and heavy bombs and cannons (not at all personal equipment).
Some people are already arguing that the RPG is the primary weapon of insurgents, and assault rifles are merely support weapons, so I think heavily armored infantry would quickly go up in smoke -- if they didn't overheat before they even got into combat.

Mobility and perception are very, very important in modern warfare.
 

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