Survival and protective equipment designer and manufacturer BCB International is testing out prototypes for a new type of body armour that inflates when it comes into contact with water.
The idea is that if a soldier were to be shot or injured in the line of duty and fell into a heavy body of water, such as a lake or the sea, the Wales-based firm's Inflatable Body Armour System would automatically inflate within seconds of coming into contact with water.
There are other existing body armour products on the market that can also inflate but they tend to do so outside the armour and run the risk of being damaged if a soldier is attacked by gunfire.
The BCB Inflatable Body Armour System is the first in the world able to handle 275 Newtons of buoyancy, meaning that even if a soldier is carrying lots of heavy gear, the armour will still keep them afloat.
This is achieved by having the armour open at the sides and under the arms. The armour is also self-righting, meaning if a soldier fell into the water face first, the armour will right itself, thus freeing the soldier's airways.
The armour has been ballistics certified to NIJ 0101.06 Level 3A, while the up-armour plates have been certified to NIJ level 4.
A previous version of the inflatable body armour is able to handle 175 Newtons of buoyancy and is currently in use by the Ecuador Navy.
"Body armour weighs 4.5kg [on its own]. If you put the ballistic plates in, for example if the plates weight 4kg, then it weighs 8.5kg. Magazines, which weigh 1kg each, a radio, the weight of sodden clothes – all the different equipment the soldier is carrying adds up and you need that kind of weight force to keep the soldier afloat," Chris Lewis, a designer in the R&D department for BCB International told IBTimes UK.
This new version is designed for personnel serving in the Navy, coastguards, maritime law enforcement agencies and private security guards onboard commercial ships.