Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Smart, stylish … and bulletproof

Idex 2013: Alongside the fighter jets, tanks and serious weaponry being displayed at Idex are a host of items that can also be used by the average consumer. John Henzell samples some of the unusual items for sale at the Middle East¿s biggest defence exhibition.
Stewart Liddell from Jack Ellis Body Protection, a Scottish company, shows a waistcoat that will "not only stop a spike, a knife and a 9mm round fired at close range, but looks entirely unobtrusive". Jaime Puebla / The National
Stewart Liddell from Jack Ellis Body Protection, a Scottish company, shows a waistcoat that will "not only stop a spike, a knife and a 9mm round fired at close range, but looks entirely unobtrusive". Jaime Puebla / The National

Alongside the fighter jets, armoured troop carriers and serious weaponry being displayed at the Middle East's biggest defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi is a host of items that can also be used by the average, albeit security-conscious, consumer. John Henzell tries some for size

If you're in the market for a bulletproof kandura, the Colombians are able to help.

If you want an armoured Toyota Corolla, you should try the Omanis.

And if you have your heart set on a stylish tweed waistcoat capable of withstanding an ice pick, then you should call on the Scots.

Those are just some of the wild, wonderful and just plain weird options available at some of the smaller stalls at Idex in Abu Dhabi, where the intended customers are individual security-conscious consumers rather than the world's biggest militaries.

For the Miguel Caballero clothing range, one of its marketing points was that their customers no longer had to choose between being stylish and being safe from assassins. Their repertoire includes fashion for men and women and - since the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut - a special line for children.

But at Idex this week it was the bulletproof kandura, tailored in the UAE style, that was gaining most of the attention from passers by.

Dr Sharif Abdunnur, managing director of the Middle East and North Africa offshoot of the Colombian company, said the kandura came with a US$10 million (Dh36.7m) guarantee that it would withstand a would-be assassin's bullet.

The guarantee is common to all the company's range of clothing, which has been tested on the mean streets of Colombia back in the worst days of the rampant narcotics wars.

"We have a $10m insurance policy on each vest. We've had zero failures in the past 25 years," he said.

"In the past, they had two shootings every minute in Colombia. That's why the inventor came up with this.

"At university, everyone had to wear a bulletproof vest. He was a student and he was wearing an old vest that weighed about 5 kilograms so he invented a new fabric."

The company's website even includes a club de sobrevivientes (survivor's club) with a series of accounts from users of how the protective clothing saved their lives.

Dr Abdunnur can verify this himself, having been shot six times - for demonstration purposes - while wearing the company's products.

The armour is waterproof and fireproof but also highly flexible, allowing it to appear relatively unobtrusive even in a free-flowing garment such as a kandura or in more figure-hugging designs like polo and business shirts. The result looks more as if the wearer had eaten a few too many shawarma than if they were wearing armoured clothing.

Dr Abdunnur said it spreads the force of a gunshot across a broader area and deflects some of it back out, meaning there is less risk of broken ribs than with other bulletproof vests. He said it can also withstand two shots to the same part of the vest.

But the precise secret of the protective layer is kept secret by the company's eponymous inventor, even from Abdunnur: "He said if he explained more he'd have to bury me in Colombia. And when you're there, you can believe that."

Krystle Abdunnur, the company's head of media and public relations, said the other item that had attracted a lot of attention was a fashionably cut leather jacket.

"Everyone likes the style of the leather jacket. And it'll stop a 9mm, and covers the torso," she said.

"This is our first year at Idex. A lot of people have been coming to us."

One of their most popular items has been a leather motorcycling jacket that provides protection both from falling off the bike and from gunfire.

It's one thing to have a stylish yet protective kandura. But anyone with the security concerns that would prompt them to buy bulletproof traditional dress will need a set of wheels too, and that's where Ahmed Al Saqri comes in.

Since blending in helps with security, his recently launched company in Oman, Armor Global, can provide you with an armoured Toyota Corolla that is almost indistinguishable from the original.

"It's common in South America to use Toyota Corollas or Toyota Crowns. Obviously there are modifications that will go into the engine and suspension and brakes," he said.

"But it will look the same. You don't want to advertise that you're [in] an armoured vehicle."

The cars his company usually modifies are Range Rovers such as the one he was displaying at Idex this week.

Apart from subtly changed bulletproof windows, there is no real hint that under the standard body panels are 6.5-millimetre plates of armoured steel, extending from the engine firewall back to the rear of the car.

The top spec B7 protection will halt an armour-piercing round.

"We're a new company - we've been in operation for just under a year," he said.

"We're looking at any conflict area in nearby countries but we don't have any specific target.

"We base everything on the region and the threat level. Someone in Yemen would have different requirements from someone in India. In Yemen, you have AK47s more available. In India, there are different weapons."

It's not every day a tweed waistcoat requires an end-user certificate and the approval of the UK Home Office for its sale.

But then again, the Scottish company Jack Ellis Body Protection does not manufacture everyday tweed waistcoats.

The one on sale at Idex would look entirely at home in any country hostelry in Britain, but when you pay £600 (Dh3,421) for a waistcoat, you want to know it's harpoon-proof.

Stewart Liddell, Jack Ellis's sales and marketing director, says the waistcoat will not only stop a spike, a knife and a 9mm round fired at close range, but looks entirely unobtrusive.

"We've aimed this at the private sector where someone wants to be completely covert," he said.

"This is in tweed but we can cover anything. If someone is getting a suit made, if they give us some of the same fabric, we'll make the waistcoat. It'll be the same cut and the same shade."

The covert appearance of the waistcoat does not compromise its effectiveness. This is as strong as the standard bulletproof vests the company provides to reporters for British networks ITN, BSkyB and the BBC.

"This is UK Home Office certified armour. It'll stop a 9mm round - but it'll hurt like hell," Mr Liddell said.

Protecting against gunfire is actually easier than against knifes and spikes, such as a harpoon or an ice pick. Rasputin "missed out big time" by not having a waistcoat like this, he quipped.

"The knife cuts the fibre as it goes in. If we can stop a knife, ballistics are almost a given.

"A lot of people don't have knife protection. For domestic use, if someone is going to use a knife or an ice pick, this will work. It'll protect the five major organs."

The nature of the waistcoat is why an end-user certificate is required for sales overseas, just as it is for any other kind of weaponry.

"We're in the same classification as weapons. The UK wants to know who we're selling it to," Mr Liddell said.

Some of the company's products have recently been declassified but also still require an end-user certificate from the UK government, such as a car cover that not only keeps your car clean but also hides it from both thermal-detection cameras and satellites equipped with synthetic aperture radar.

"Satellites are looking. SAR picks up everything. But the beam goes into the fabric and reflects everywhere.

"You can't hide anything completely but it doesn't know what's there. This fabric was classified. Now it's unclassified."




Updated: February 20, 2013 04:00 AM