Army to test body armor made from spider silk

Kraig Biocraft Laboratories has announced that it has delivered ballistic panels made of spider silk to the U.S. Army for testing as body armor.

91a86719-690b-41ef-acb2-61bbf965111c

The panels, constructed out of the companies proprietary Dragon Silk, will be evaluated for their ability to stop bullets and other ballistic threats like shrapnel.

Dragon Silk is a genetically engineered material, which is produced by silkworms but can mimic the strength and flexibility of spider silk. Kraig Biocraft claims that the genetically modified worms can be included in the infrastructure used by the standard silk industry.

“After years of research and investment, developing this ground-breaking technology, we are very excited to now see it in the hands of the U.S. Army,” COO Jon Rice said in a statement.

Spider silk is extraordinarily strong and is theorized to provide ballistic protection with much less weight and better flexibility than conventional armor like Kevlar. The silk will be produced at the company’s facility in Indiana.

Spider silk has long been known to have superior strength, flexibility and ballistic protection, but raising spider colonies for production proved to be impossible, since the spiders would often eat each other. Genetically engineered silkworms are more practical and allow for much greater production of the material, Kraig Biocraft said.

Layered weave spider silk is much stronger than steel. The company says that is has patented a large number of genetic proteins which were then implanted in domestic silkworms for body armor production.

The material has special implications for ballistic underwear, providing protection for the groin region, which has proven difficult to protect. Previous efforts, such as Vietnam-era Kevlar shorts, and modern alternatives such as dangling Kevlar flaps have proven to be cumbersome and unpopular.

The Army received samples of the material in May and indicated that it wants more for development. The Kraig Biocrafts contract could reach $900,000 for sample delivery. The system is not in full-rate production and it could be some time before any is fielded, the Army said.

 By Stephen Carlson