• Russia says its new Sotnik combat system for infantry and special forces troops will incorporate body armor capable of stopping a .50-caliber bullet.
  • The claim is sure to raise eyebrows in the world of body armor.
  • While stopping such a big bullet is theoretically possible, the armor would be so bulky that it would be unusable.

    A new Russian program to modernize the country’s ground forces is promising big advances in body armor technology. And we mean big: The Russian military equipment manufacturer Rostec promises the armor will be able to stop the bullet from a .50-caliber machine gun.

    Whether a soldier will ever be able to waddle to the front line, however, is a different story.

    naval infantry unit in military training in russia's far east

    A Russian naval infantryman wearing body armor aims an anti-tank rocket launcher, 2017.

    Yuri SmityukGetty Images

    Russia’s Ground Forces plans to distribute its upcoming Sotnik (“Centurion”) soldier equipment system to troops sometime in 2025, per Task & Purpose. Sotnik will supplement and eventually replace the current Ratnik equipment set, which includes everything from body armor to uniforms and even flashlights. (You can even buy Ratnik equipment direct from Russia on eBay.)

    The future tech objectives for Sotnik are … ambitious, to say the least:

    “The third-generation soldier’s personal equipment system will feature a number of innovations, including anti-mine boots, an anti-thermal suit to “hide” soldiers from enemy detection, and an anti-radar element. The Sotnik will also integrate the wearer of the system with automated command and control and “micro-drones,” allowing gathered images to be transmitted in real time to the helmet visor or safety glasses.”

    Still, the wildest claim about the new system is that the armor will be able to stop a .50-caliber bullet using metal and plastic. From Task & Purpose:

    “[T]he fourth-generation Sotnik armor will consist of lightweight polyethylene fiber and armor plating that is engineered to withstand a direct shot from a .50 caliber M2 Browning.”

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    Polyethylene is, of course, plastic. And like all plastics, it’s virtually everywhere. You’re almost certainly no more than a few feet from a consumer product made of polyethylene at this moment.

    Polyethylene armor, which is real, uses a common fault found with plastics as a feature: it melts. As a hot bullet impacts the armor, it melts the plastic. This causes the molten plastic to adhere to the bullet and slows it down. With enough plastic in its path, the bullet grinds to a complete stop.

    fgwarrolling323rl––03232003––iraq––a humvee with a 50 caliber machine gun mounted on top rol

    A .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a U.S. Army Humvee, 2003. This gives a pretty good idea of the size and power of the machine gun Russian engineers think they can stop with polyethylene armor.

    Rick LoomisGetty Images

    Russia’s polyethylene armor is called “Superthread,” and Russian state media claims it’s lighter than Israeli and American body armors while offering superior protection.


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    Could a polyethylene/armor plate armor stop a .50-caliber bullet? Well, sure. Enough polyethylene and metal will stop anything. But making it lightweight enough for a soldier to comfortably wear is the balancing consideration.

    Consider this: Current U.S. Level III body armor will stop a 150-grain, 7.62-millimeter (.308 Winchester) bullet imparting 1,878 foot pounds of energy on the target. A .50-caliber bullet, however, weighs more than four times as much, and imparts 11,070 foot pounds of energy on a target.

    michael spencer, a new equipment trainer from project manager soldier protection individual equipment at fort bragg, nc, demonstrates how to transfer ballistic plates from the modular scalable vest msv to a plate carrier configuration enclosed within the msv, during the final round of field testing of the vest at fort carson, colo, oct 18, 2017 once this evaluation is complete, the vest will go into production and is expected to reach soldiers in the field by summer of next year us army photo by staff sgt lance pounds, 71st ordnance group eod, public affairs

    The U.S. Army’s new Modular Scalable Vest armor plate.

    U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Lance Pounds/DVIDS

    The U.S. Army’s Modular Scalable Vest is capable of stopping 7.62-millimeter rounds, but weighs a total of 22.6 pounds. About one and a quarter inch of AR500-grade steel plate will stop a .50 caliber bullet but steel is extremely heavy. The amount of plastic that would be needed to stop a .50-caliber bullet is hard to say, but a plastic armor designed to stop rounds four to five times heavier and more powerful than 7.62 could be downright uncomfortable, even if the material is more efficient at stopping bullets.

    One possibility is that Russia could use titanium instead of steel. Titanium is lighter and stronger than steel, and the Soviet Union manufactured body armor made of titanium during the Cold War.

    Let’s say Russian engineers do pull this off and produce a body armor that reliably stops a .50-caliber round. Even then, getting hit in the armor won’t feel like a love tap. Being struck by an object with more than 11,000 pounds of force behind it will probably rank as one of the most unpleasant things imaginable.

    Want proof? Here’s a video of a .50-caliber Browning machine gun punching holes in a cinder block wall.

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