Choosing the right armour

In the first of a two-part series, body armour expert Cathriona Frawley examines what needs to be considered by police forces when choosing such essential equipment

When the time has come to change your body armour, it is critical to ensure that you are fully armed with all the necessary information to enable your choice of armour to be fully fit for purpose and future proofed for the needs of your officers.


Decisions need to be made around:
✔ Protection required
✔ Suitability of the armour system in terms of comfort, weight & practicality
✔ Interaction of the body armour with existing (or future) uniforms and equipment
✔ Fit for purpose for both male and female officers

History has shown Forces choose to adopt the ‘same’ protection levels as previously used, which can be an erroneous decision.
When deciding what protection level and style of carrier required, the following questions must be asked, and decisions made, and adoption of new armour must be evidence based.

From historical data based on the last 10 years, what are the threats that your officers are witnessing in terms of weapons used against them, confiscated items and also intelligence on what may be out on the streets?

You will need to assess your own weapons and ammunition (and those of any partner forces who may be involved in joint exercises) and also take into account any plans to change these weapons and ammunition in the foreseeable future.

Consider if you can purchase a system which can be upgraded at a later date to cover the protection of specialised roles/units, taking into consideration their own unique threats.

In summary, your armour must be fit for purpose for all units and be able to stop any existing and any known upcoming threats.

International Body Armour Standards
International armour standards are always in a state of change. On average these standards change every five to seven years to adapt to new threats or new technology in terms of testing, which can be used to guarantee the suitability of any armour system as being fit for purpose.

Unfortunately, when the standards change, all too often the manufacturers will see (and flag) flaws in terms of how the testing is conducted regarding the equipment involved and gradually the test authorities will change or adapt their standards on advice and eventual evidence accrued. This gradual change being ‘after the fact’, can leave end users in a state of limbo, with over engineered armour which needs to be heavier and more cumbersome in order to meet the necessary legislation.

As an example, the UK standard operated by CAST (Home Office Research and Development Branch) was changed in 2017 but manufacturers and armour designers have uncovered many flaws in this new standard which are unnecessarily adding both weight and bulk to armour systems. In addition, manufacturers have concerns around critical issues such as the suitability of surrogate bullets chosen by CAST to use in testing – consistency being the main problem.

Carrying Systems/Carriers
All too often carrier design and its practicality are overlooked in terms of the importance of its role in an armour system. A good carrier design is vital for the proper use of armour and also for the ability of an officer to carry out their role safely, effectively and efficiently.
The following questions therefore need to be asked when deciding on the carrier design:
• What has been learned from the suitability of the existing armour carrier in terms of being fit for purpose?
• What equipment does the officer need to wear/operate and can carriage of equipment be distributed better between the belt and the carrier itself?
• Are there any upcoming changes in the equipment being used?
• Does the carrier material need to be flame retardant?
• Is there a need for high visibility?
• In terms of current armour, what are the areas of the carrier which have been shown to take the most abuse in respect of abrasion etc?
• Have there been any major concerns raised in terms of heat stress with the current system?
• Can you replace the front or back of a carrier independently? (to reduce costs)

Cathriona Frawley is a Police and Military clothing and body armour specialist. She is Principal Consultant of SCOPE ITR

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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