BARC develops cheaper, lightweight bulletproof jackets

Safety matters:An officer of BARC displaying bulletproof jacket for the armed forces.Prashant Waydande  

The Bhabha Atomic Reseach Centre (BARC) has developed a next-generation bulletproof jacket for the Indian armed forces, which is not only cheaper but also much lighter.

Bhabha Kavach, named after nuclear physicist Dr. Homi J. Bhabha, the jacket was developed at BARC’s Trombay centre in response to a request from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Dr. Kinshuk Dasgupta, scientific officer at BARC’s materials group, told The Hindu that the jacket weighs just 6.6 kg in comparison to the 17-kg jackets in use, and has passed over 30 tests carried out by certified agencies. Bhabha Kavach is available in three variants as per the requirement of the armed forces.

A five-member BARC team worked for a year in 2015-16 to develop the jacket, which is being tested by a joint team of the CRPF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and the Central Industrial Security Force. The northern command of the Indian Army is also testing a variant of the jacket in Jammu and Kashmir.

The jacket is made using extremely hard boron carbide ceramics that is hot-pressed with carbon nano-tubes and composite polymer. BARC has been using boron carbide in the control rods of its nuclear reactors.

While the cost of a Bhabha Kavach is Rs. 70,000, jackets of similar strength are available in the range of Rs. 1.5 lakh and have to be imported. “The superior performance of the light weight jacket derives from advanced ceramics and advanced nano-composite tubes indigenously developed at BARC,” Dr. Dasgupta said.

Dr. Madangopal Krishnan, associate director, materials group, BARC, said presently, the forces use bulletproof jackets weighing over 10 kg and are made of jackal armour steel, alumina and silica. Jackets made using boron carbide are first in India, he said.

“Unfortunately, in certain incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, bulletproof jackets have failed to protect our jawans, as terrorists have resorted to Chinese-made hard steel core bullets capable of piercing the jackets,” he said. These specialised steel bullets were used in an attack in Pulwama on December 31, 2017, where five CRPF jawans were martyred during a gun battle with terrorists.

“Bhabha Kavach has been designed to protect our soldiers against AK-47 (hard steel bullets), SLR and INSUS weaponry,” Dr. Dasgupta said.

BARC has transferred the technology of Bhabha Kavach to Mishra Dhatu Nigam, Hyderabad, for its large-scale production. “It is estimated that about one lakh jackets will be required, per annum, for the next 10 years. The light jacket will surely save the government exchequer foreign exchange,” he said.

BARC is now trying to improvise Bhabha Kavach based on feedback from the forces. “On our part, we at BARC are looking at bringing down the cost to under Rs. 35,000 and make it even more lighter,” Dr. Krishnan said.