Army Explores Stronger, Lighter, Cheaper Protection
Rocky Research didn’t set out to create a new type of armor—far from it. When the new material first slid out of the company’s production oven, it caused considerable consternation. A worker responsible for cutting the material into usable shapes for a high-tech heat dissipation system found that it couldn’t be cut with ordinary tools.

Wondering just how strong this new material was, he took it to a shooting range and discovered that bullets couldn’t pierce it, either. The material proved so durable that “we had to laser-cut it,” said Uwe Rockenfeller, president and CEO of Nevada-based Rocky Research. “That’s when the concept of using it as armor came about.”

The company called the material COMBAM, for Coordinative Molecular Bond Armor Material. Using a high-temperature process to grow metal inorganic crystals on the fibers in a woven fabric, Rocky Research scientists invented an exceedingly tough textile. They had set out to make material tough enough to prevent heat from deforming the heat exchangers in special refrigeration systems. Difficulty in processing the material led to the serendipitous creation of COMBAM as a ballistic material.