Army to Test ‘Dragon Silk’ Armor for Soldiers

Kraig's transgenic silkworms-turned-moths. (Photo courtesy Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc.)Kraig's transgenic silkworms-turned-moths. (Photo courtesy Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc.)

The U.S. Army is moving forward with plans to test a product called “Dragon Silk” for potential use in ballistic vests for soldiers, according to the product’s manufacturer.

Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc., based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently received a contract potentially worth $1 million from the service to “deliver ballistic shoot packs constructed from its proprietary Dragon Silk material for performance testing,” according to a press release from the company.

The product is made from silkworms who have been genetically modified with spider DNA to weave stronger silk. Spiders spin incredibly strong silk — an order of magnitude stronger than that of silkworms — but they won’t do so in colonies because many are cannibalistic, according to an article by Laura Geggel, a senior writer for Live Science.

“Dragon Silk scores very highly in tensile strength and elasticity, which makes it one of the toughest fibers known to man and the ideal material for many applications,” Jon Rice, the company’s chief operating officer, said in the release.

Kraig's transgenic spider silk cocoons. (Photo courtesy Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc.)

Kraig’s transgenic spider silk cocoons. (Photo courtesy Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc.)

“Providing material for this ballistic shoot pack initiative is an important next step for Kraig and spider silk,” he added. “This contract reinforces the many significant potential applications for recombinant spider silk.”

Chief Executive Officer Kim Thompson said the 10-month agreement — the company’s first with the Defense Department — “will provide Kraig Labs with the opportunity to validate our longstanding belief that spider silk technology has … incredible potential for protective and life-saving materials.”

The Pentagon is always searching for new products to better protect troops from battlefield injuries. In recent years, it awarded contracts to develop blast-resistant underwear featuring silk and Kevlar-like material after hundreds of service members incurred genital-related injuries from improvised explosive devices in combat zones.

The Defense Department’s Trauma Registry reported that 1,378 male service members incurred injuries to the genitals and other parts of the genitourinary tract between 2001 and 2013 while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kraig's spider silk hanks. (Photo courtesy Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc.)

Kraig’s spider silk hanks. (Photo courtesy Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc.)

Of 965 cases examined, 65 had severe injury to the penis or amputation, Dr. Jean Orman of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research and the Joint Trauma System reported in December 2014 at the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

Perhaps Dragon Silk will eventually help prevent these types of injuries and others.

— Bryant Jordan contributed to this report.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.