Non-Destructive Delamination and Crack Detection Solution for USMC Hard Armor Plates

Navy SBIR 23.2 - Topic N232-082
MCSC - Marine Corps Systems Command
Pre-release 4/19/23   Opens to accept proposals 5/17/23   Closes 6/14/23 12:00pm ET    [ View Q&A ]

N232-082 TITLE: Non-Destructive Delamination and Crack Detection Solution for USMC Hard Armor Plates


The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop a low cost, portable solution to detect cracks and delamination in Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert (ESAPI) and Lightweight Plate (LWP) hard armor plate systems.

DESCRIPTION: Currently the USMC fields two different body armor protective plate solutions. Both body armor plate systems are comprised of a polyethylene backer (made of several consolidated layers of polyethylene material) and a ceramic strikeface. The specific material makeup and the number of polyethylene layers provide the ballistic and fragmentation protective properties of the body armor plates. There are generally two primary defect modes that can take a plate out of service by significantly reducing its protection capabilities; cracking of the ceramic layer and or delamination within the polyethylene layers or between the polyethylene backer and ceramic interface. It is imperative to Marine safety to ensure the plates do not contain either defect before issuing the plate for use. Currently the USMC checks the hard armor plates on a regular basis before and after Marines use the plate in a combat or training environment. Cracking of the ceramic layer is detected using an x-ray machine while delamination is detected through a manual tap test. The tap test is performed by tapping the back face of the armor plate with a metal rod. If a plate is in good condition, the noise reflected off of the plate sounds like a chime, however a delaminated plate produces a thud sound. While the sound difference in the legacy USMC plate is audibly distinctly different between a delaminated and non-delaminated plate, the newest plate fielded by the USMC does not produce an easily identifiable sound difference between good and bad plate conditions. Another alternative to detecting both cracks and delamination is to CT scan the hard armor plates. This method is extremely expensive and requires highly trained personnel. For these reasons, the USMC seeks to fund an SBIR effort that produces a solution to regularly survey both legacy and new USMC hard armor for cracks and delamination defects. The desired prototype should represent a solution that is low cost and easy to operate such that any person without any special skills could be quickly trained. The solution should allow operators to perform plate surveillance at a throughput rate of 2-5 plates/minute. If possible, the solution should also be portable.

In summary, the crack and delamination detection system should be easy to use and understand, and accurately identify whether a hard armor plate contains a crack or delamination defect. The solution will identify the type of defect and notify operators of the plate’s status (cracked vs. delaminated). The solution will also inform the operator if the plate is without defects. The solution shall not be a technology that becomes affixed to a plate.

PHASE I: Develop concepts for a non-destructive crack and delamination detection solution for USMC hard armor plates. Demonstrate and evaluate their technical feasibility. Generate a prototype to demonstrate accurate defect detection; 70-80% accurate with a plan to improve/optimize.

PHASE II: Optimize the prototype for accuracy (90% accurate with a 90% confidence level) and to include an easy-to-use user interface based on USMC feedback and data collected on hard armor plates. Demonstrate the ability to replicate the solution for a total of at least 12 detection systems.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Two systems would go to each of the six USMC gear issuing facilities across the world. Personnel at the issuing facilities who are responsible for monitoring hard armor before re-issuing the gear to Marines would use the products to test each hard armor plate for defects.

Presently, law enforcement does not monitor hard armor plates in the same way the military does. Instead, law enforcement bases the serviceability of a plate based on its recommended shelf life. If a relatively low-cost solution was created to detect cracks and delamination, law enforcement including SWAT teams (or others that employ hard armor solutions) may be interested in re-evaluating their plate surveillance methods.


  1. Product Management Infantry Combat Equipment (PdM ICE). "Marine Corps Tap and Torque Tests for ESAPI plates." Youtube,
  2. Testing of Body Armor Materials Phase III (2012)
  3. Defect Classification Tables
  4. Table with legacy ESAPI LWP dimensions and weights -

KEYWORDS: Armor; body amor; delamination; ceramic; cracks; non-destructive; Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, ESAPI; materials; Lightweight Plate; LWP


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the Navy Topics in the DoD 23.2 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

The DoD issued its Navy 23.2 SBIR Topics pre-release on April 19, 2023 which opens to receive proposals on May 17, 2023, and closes June 14, 2023 (12:00pm ET).

Direct Contact with Topic Authors: During the pre-release period (April 19, 2023 through May 16, 2023) proposing firms have an opportunity to directly contact the Technical Point of Contact (TPOC) to ask technical questions about the specific BAA topic. Once DoD begins accepting proposals on May 17, 2023 no further direct contact between proposers and topic authors is allowed unless the Topic Author is responding to a question submitted during the Pre-release period.

SITIS Q&A System: After the pre-release period, until May 31, (at 12:00 PM ET), proposers may submit written questions through SITIS (SBIR/STTR Interactive Topic Information System) at by logging in and following instructions. In SITIS, the questioner and respondent remain anonymous but all questions and answers are posted for general viewing.

Topics Search Engine: Visit the DoD Topic Search Tool at to find topics by keyword across all DoD Components participating in this BAA.

Help: If you have general questions about the DoD SBIR program, please contact the DoD SBIR Help Desk via email at [email protected]

Topic Q & A

5/22/23  Q. 1. Are panels to be inspected in the vest or outside of the vest (dismantled)?
2. What is the target price range for a single unit? 12 functional samples capable of 90% efficacy in phase 2 indicates some degree of cost sensitivity.
   A. 1. Plates will be inspected outside of the plate carrier.
2. There is no specific cost target or threshold. Because the company that made our current units is out of business there is no lifecycle replacement cost that we can use as a benchmark. There are X-ray/CT scan capabilities in the market that are below our throughput goals and cost upwards of $1M per unit – this is well above a realistic unit cost.
5/15/23  Q. Can you tell the thickness of the ceramic and composite material?
   A. The Government solicits body armor via performance based specifications not detailed design specifications; meaning we do not tell the manufacturers “how” to build the body armor, just “what” it needs to do from a performance perspective. This means that each body armor vendor will potentially have a different “recipe” to meet the performance requirements (type of materials, thickness of materials, manufacturing process etc.) so the Gov cannot say what the thickness of the ceramic and composite component layers are. The overall threshold max thickness for the ESAPI plate is 1.00” and the overall threshold max thickness for the USMC LWP is 0.75”.
5/11/23  Q. Can the dimensions of the plates and their areal density or weight be provided?
   A. Yes, please follow this link to a table with legacy ESAPI LWP dimensions and weights -
5/3/23  Q. 1. Are the ESAPI and LWP plates serialized for individual traceability?
2. What level of portability for the solution system is desired? Should it be portable just within the confines of a USMC gear issuing facility, or portable enough to go outside of the facility?
   A. 1. Yes. They are serialized.
2. Ideally, portable enough to be transported to another facility if needed (i.e. loaded onto/into a vehicle)
5/3/23  Q. 1. Is it required to have the ITAR number by Dep of States to submit the proposal or after selection as awardee?
2. Which companies are currently produce new light-weight plates (LWP)? We understand confidentiality of LWP technology.
3. How to define a "portable solution"?
   A. 1. Compliance with ITAR will be reviewed at proposal selection, prior to award.
2. Here is a link to an article with publicly available information on the production of new LWP -
3. Portable is ideally (at minimum/threshold) something that could be transported between locations (either by air or ground) in order to support the mission should one facility’s equipment go down and need repairs or a location have an influx of volume requiring additional thru-put support. Solutions that are highly portable (i.e. small form factor, hand held etc.) are also acceptable.
4/28/23  Q. 1. The description mentions two types of plates, "legacy" and "newest", and states that the tap test is ineffective on the newest version. Can more details be provided on the two versions (name, materials)?
2. Will plates be made available by the government for testing during Phase I, and if not, are equivalent plates of the "newest" version available commercially?
3. Are there minimum detectability requirements for crack and delamination dimensions? Are there known crack and delamination detection thresholds for the current methods to use as a benchmark?
4. Is the primary objective to replace the tap test for delamination detection or to replace both the tap test and the X-ray for crack and delamination detection?
   A. 1. The “legacy” plate is the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert (ESAPI) and the “newest” plate is the USMC Lightweight Plate (LWP). I cannot elaborate specifically on materials used for these plates as these items are designed based on a performance specification, meaning we do not dictate design or materials to be used, as long as our performance requirements are met; this makes the specific plate design proprietary to each manufacturer. What I can say is that generally rifle level threat protection body armor plates are comprised of a ceramic strikeface and a composite ballistic backer material – there are different types of ceramic and different types of backers that are commonly used.
2. U.S. Government/Military body armor is not available commercially. We will plan to provide body armor test articles to awardees.
3. There is a defect classification table which details the dimensions of defects and how to classify such defects based on size and prevalence for the ESAPI and LWP.
Here is a link to the defect classification tables for both ESAPI and LWP in a PDF The dimensions in the defect tables can be used as a minimum detection threshold benchmark.
4. The primary objective is to identify a non-destructive delamination and crack detection solution for USMC hard armor plates.

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