The material choices applied in armor have come a long way from the earlier metals to the modern high-performance bulletproof materials. If you have handled body armor before, you probably know the two primary choices of ballistic plates that you have; hard and soft armor plates. Among the hard plates are ceramic armor plates.
Ceramic armor plates are used in protective vests and armored vehicles for their attenuative properties. Ceramic materials offer projectile resistance due to their compressive strength and extreme hardness. The most commonly used ceramics in armor plates are alumina, silicon carbide, boron carbide, titanium diboride, and synthetic diamond composite (Syndite). Other ceramics can be utilized, as well.
The Ceramic Armor Plate Designs
There is a variety of designs for ceramic armor. They range from monolithic plating to complex designs utilizing three-dimensional matrices. The common theme among most of the ceramic armor designs is the application of a ceramic-based unit with a backing made of non-armor dedicated alloy.
Most of the three-dimensional designs incorporate systems with spherical, cylindrical or hexagonal ceramic pieces. The monolithic ceramic armor plate comprises of sole plates of an advanced ceramic placed in a conventional ballistic vest.
How They Work
Ceramic armor plates are typically placed on the outer layer of armor vests. There may be double plates, one on the front and the other at the back. Some armor vests allow for the use of small plates at the sides for extra protection.
Hard ceramic materials offer protection against kinetic energy projectiles by shattering them into pieces. This mechanism significantly decreases the penetration ability of the projectiles. If a bullet hits the armor plate, the ceramic breaks up the bullet, and the plate, reinforced with a backing material such as Kevlar, catches the pieces.
In case HEAT rounds are involved, where the shaped charge generates a metal jet, the geometry of this jet is destroyed by the shattered ceramic fragments. This diminishes the penetration greatly.
The Pros of Ceramic Armor Plates
Ceramic armor plates have some notable advantages over conventional metal plates. The most notable advantage is weight. Ceramic plates are much lighter than metal plates.
This is a very important factor, especially in combat situations where speed and fatigue may mean the difference between life and death. Ceramic also provides high-performance armor protection.
The Cons of Ceramic Armor Plates
The main disadvantage of ceramic armor plates is that they cannot take precision shots to the same spot multiple times. Since they are designed to break upon impact, the hit location cannot stop any further rounds. The fragility of the plates also means that they can crack when handled incorrectly, thus reducing their combat effectiveness.