The effectiveness of ceramic armour was demonstrated in Desert Storm, where not a single British Army Challenger tank was lost to enemy tank fire. However, one was destroyed by friendly fire on March 25, 2003 killing two crew members after a HESH round detonated on the commander's hatch causing high velocity fragments to enter the turret. Chobham-type armour is currently in its third generation and is used on modern western tanks such as the British Challenger 2 and the American M1 Abrams.
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Hard ceramic materials defeat the kinetic energy projectile by shattering it into pieces, decreasing the penetration ability of projectile. In case of HEAT rounds the shattered ceramic fragments destroy the geometry of the metal jet generated by the shaped charge, greatly diminishing the penetration. Ceramic materials cannot be used as a stand alone for armour applications because of its shattering effect due to their inherent nature of brittleness. Therefore, in order prevent the shattered ceramic and projectile pieces from further damaging the protected system, ceramic materials should always be supported by a ductile backing with metallic or polymeric composite materials. Another advantage of using backing material is to improve the ballistic performance of ceramics by preventing its premature failure.
Ceramic plates (also known as trauma plates) are commonly used as inserts in soft ballistic vests. Most ceramic plates used in body armor provide National Institute of Justice Type III protection, allowing them to stop rifle bullets. Ceramic plates are a form of composite armor. Insert plates may also be manufactured from steel or ultra high molecular weight polyethylene.
A ceramic plate is usually slipped into the outer layer of a soft armor vest. There may be two plates, one in the front and one in the back, or one universal plate on either front or back. Some vests permit the usage of small plates on the sides for additional protection.
The approximate weight for one NIJ Type III plate is 4 to 8 pounds (1.8–3.6 kg) for the typical size of 10" by 12". There are other types of plates that come in different sizes and offer different levels of protection. For example, the MC-Plate (maximum coverage plate) offers 19% more coverage than a standard ceramic plate.
Ceramic materials, materials processing and progress in ceramic penetration mechanics are significant areas of academic and industrial activity. This combined field of ceramics armor research is broad and is perhaps summarized best by The American Ceramics Society. ACerS has run an annual armor conference for a number of years and compiled a proceedings 2004–2007. An area of special activity pertaining to vests is the emerging use of small ceramic components. Large torso sized ceramic plates are complex to manufacture and are subject to cracking in use. Monolithic plates also have limited multi hit capacity as a result of their large impact fracture zone These are the motivations for new types of armor plate. These new designs use two and three dimensional arrays of ceramic elements that can be rigid, flexible or semi-flexible. Dragon Skin body armor is one these systems, although it has failed numerous tests performed by the US Army, and has been rejected. European developments in spherical and hexagonal arrays have resulted in products that have some flex and multi-hit performance. The manufacture of array type systems with flex, consistent ballistic performance at edges of ceramic elements is an active area of research. In addition advanced ceramic processing techniques arrays require adhesive assembly methods. One novel approach is use of hook and loop fasteners to assemble the ceramic arrays.
- "UK Ministry of Defence : Army Board of Inquiry Report" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- Wiley Advances in Ceramic Armor III ACS
- Tencate AresShield
- Foster Miller Last Armor.