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Sunday, June 27, 1999 Published at 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK


Silk vests beat the bullets

The best-dressed police will be wearing silk this year

Police in Thailand have come up with an alternative form of body armour that not only beats the bullets of the most determined criminals but also will not break the bank.

Instead of high-cost Kevlar vests, researchers have discovered that armour made from traditional Thai silk offers similar levels of protection.

[ image: Thai silk is already famous in the world of fashion]
Thai silk is already famous in the world of fashion
Tests show that a speeding 9mm bullet can be stopped dead by just 16 thin layers of silk.

Use of silk to protect against injury is not a new development. Medieval Asian soldiers often wore armour made from silk to protect them from the swords and arrows of their enemies.

Neither is the idea of using silk to stop bullets an entirely new concept: US military scientists have been studying the silk that a species of Black Widow spider uses to produce its web which is even stronger than Kevlar.

Testing times

[ image: Just a few layers of silk can stop a bullet]
Just a few layers of silk can stop a bullet
But so far they have not collected enough of the spider silk to produce an actual vest.

However, silk is widely produced in Thailand and researchers at the Rajamangala Institute of Technology have already made and tested a number of vests.

The vests have been proven to give protection from shots fired from a .22 calibre handgun, high-velocity rifle shots as well as the .38 special round-nose lead bullet which is classified as threat level one by the US National Institute of Justice.

Rising crime

[ image: Thailand's police force has felt the pinch of the economic crisis]
Thailand's police force has felt the pinch of the economic crisis
With the Thai police force facing budget cutbacks resulting from Asia's economic crisis, and a rising tide of violent drug-related crime, the scientists say the silk vest could provide much needed low-cost protection for all of Thailand's officers.

At the moment, government budgets will only run to equipping that country's military and police special forces with body armour.

But Professor Somprasong Phasaprathed says he is confident the new soft vest can be produced for just $150 - less than half the price of imported Kevlar armour.

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