Transparent Polycrystalline Ceramics vs. 50 Caliber Bullet

It’s not steel, really. SURMET calls the bulletproof (yes proof) material Transparent Aluminum (a.k.a., Transparent Polycrystalline Ceramics). If this test is to be believed, TA’s advantage over glass laminate is transparent. Of course there’s glass laminate and there’s glass laminate. And how many people need to shield themselves against 50 cal.? At what cost? You can have some basic 9mm protection for cheap. Situational awareness is not so spendy either. Still, your tax dollars hard at work.


About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

71 Responses to Transparent Polycrystalline Ceramics vs. 50 Caliber Bullet

  1. avatarPeter says:

    “Hello, Computer…”

  2. avatarGunracer1958 says:

    I bet Montgomery Scott was involved in this process…………

  3. avatarpwrserge says:

    This material has been on the market for quite a few years. Along with synthetic sapphire and other cool transparent materials. Depends what you’re looking for and how much you have to spend.

  4. avatarKirk says:

    I’m thinking we know what’s going into the limos of the Ruling Class.

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:


      But is it Stinger-proof?

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      So… Shoot the metal instead.

      It always amazes me in a movie or T.V. programme when someone gets locked into a room, garage et cetera nd cannot get out ’cause the door is too ough.

      In most cases, the walls are gypboard. One good kick, and you are outta there.

      Ah, well. Someone has to think of this stuff.

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      So… Shoot the metal parts instead.

      It always amazes me in a movie or a television programme when someone is locked into a room, garage et cetera and can’t escape ’cause the door’s too tough.

      The walls are usually plasterboard; one good kick and he’d be outta there.

      Ah, well; someone’s gotta think of this stuff.

      BTW, this is the second post in this line; ‘twould appear that the word “g¥pboard” isn’t acceptable to the censors, as the first syllable could be construed as a sleight upon the Rom. Meh.

      • avatarCarlosT says:

        Out with you, Russ, and take your racist synonyms for drywall with you! ;)

      • avatarMartin says:

        Depends on where you live. Around here (central Europe), vast majority of buildings was built using reinforced concrete and/or bricks; even cinderblocks are considered an inferior building material.

        This approach has its disadvantages, of course, but on the bright side, overpenetration is much less of a threat during home defence situations.

  5. avatarTom in Oregon says:

    Great stuff. Y’all beat me to it!

  6. avatarRich Grise says:

    Yabbut, is it actually strong enough to wall off a Klingon cargo bay full of sea water and two humpback whales?

    • avatarpwrserge says:

      Only if you make it at least one inch thick.

    • avatarHal says:

      I’d say your real problem is that the communications officer and the tactical officer are the ones trying to figure out how to regenerate the bird of prey’s dilithium. No offense, but MAYBE Mr. Scott’s talents would be put to better use working on THAT instead of building a f*cking fish tank. Just sayin’

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      Yeah – that was silly.

      Use steel. By what ridiculous imperative must one be able to look INTO the thing? It’d hold water, and that’s all that matters.

  7. avatarJay Wolf says:

    Give me a shot at this stuff and we will see how bullet proof it is.

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      Now a titanium-casing around a phosphorus-copper core — a mini-ROG as ’twere — might have an effect.

      Corundum is tough, but 4000° copper might be tougher.

      A sapphire crystal on a wtch is a wonderful thing, but imagining it shatter-proof thanks to no cleavages… wow. I wonder how they beat refraction to keep it from looking like snow?

      So – Star Trek IV is at least partially not fiction.

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        Edit: mini-RPG. Fu¢king Apple.

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        Edit: mini-RPG. Fu<king iPad.

        Note:spelling the Anglo Saxxon for fornicating with a ¢ doesn't work.

        • avatarRich Grise says:

          I can see them both just fine here, with SeaMonkey 2.17.1 on Windows XP Service Pack 3..

          In Linux discussion groups, they use the name of the “file systems check” program, fsck.

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        Edit: mini-RPG. dad burned iPad.

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        Edit: mini-RPG.

        • avatarmiserylovescompany says:

          I think you just need to shoot your Apple, iPad, or whatever censor’s driving you up the wall. You’ll feel better already :)

        • avatarRuss Bixby says:

          And the TTAG comment system; event the last one didn’t show for a half hour.


  8. avatarensitue says:

    And Sometimes it’s just better to Feel Bulletproof

  9. avatarJay Wolf says:

    I contacted them to purchase a panel for testing. We will see just what this stuff can stop.

    Jay Wolf
    Elite Ammunition

  10. avatarDaniel says:

    Still not enough to stop a single Chuck Norris round-house kick.

  11. avatarTommy Knocker says:

    RF worth a post on up-armoring your house or at least a safe room. Window films, kevlar wall board, even brick or sprayed on concrete, locks, etc. Good for defense or natures fury equally.

    • avataroopsdidisaythatoutloud says:

      Be careful about asking questions like that. I sent an mail to box of truth about testing exterior walls and came home to a swat standoff half a block down the next day.

  12. avatarSixpack70 says:

    That is pretty impressive.

  13. avatarRandallOfLegend says:

    I work in an industry that benefits from Surmet’s different materials. One of the big drivers for these projects is to make the vehicle windows lighter to save gas. I saw a presentation where they fired at the windows until they failed. One window was able to absorb 2 direct hits from a 50 BMG, the 3rd passed. I forgot the other calibers, but it was an obscene number of 5.56, as well as 7.62×39. Either way the “scientists” enjoyed themselves.

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      3 .50BMG rounds is the footpoundage of about 12 7.62x54R rounds – in doses of four per.

      That’s — impressive.

    • avatarAdam says:

      The problem with these materials is that, just like plain old glass, they are damaged by non-ballistic impacts: a thrown brick, the old smash & grab, etc. While none of these impacts will penetrate transparent armour (what with the backing and all), they do entail replacement of a very costly panel. I’m assuming the Secret Service doesn’t care if Barry-O’s limo gets a stone chip–they just put it on the U.S.$1B annual security tab. But this disqualifies such materials for lower-end armouring. Most of the costs of preparing AlON, sapphire, magnesium aluminum spinel are actually polishing the material, since it comes out of the hot isostatic press all bumpy, rough and opaque. There are cheaper materials, like chemically toughened lithium disilicate glass, but they still have the breakage problems all of these products suffer–drop your Gorilla Glass-faced iPhone on the sidewalk, and see what happens.

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        I dunno. GG is scratch resistant, not break proof.

        This would appear to be the latter, likely due to the absence of cleavages – rather akin to OSB. But while OSB can delaminate, I doubt that’s a problem here.


      • avatar16V says:

        Do try to catch up, you’re stuck in the 80s Adam.

        • avatarAdam says:

          Again, any of these transparent ceramics cost $$$ more than soda-lime glass, or glass ceramics. Most of the cost is not HIP, but polishing. ALON is cheaper in larger sizes than sapphire, because of its particular crystalline structure (note that the SMALL sapphire crystals on things like watches and supermarket barcode scanners only cost a couple of bucks). And all of these materials are vulnerable to breakage. This is why, for example, you don’t see police faceshields in anything other than acrylic/polycarbonate laminates, and the like. The primary uses will still be things like vision blocks, or very high-end transparent armour (e.g., the U.S. Presidential limo), where the costs are outweighed by extreme requirements.

        • avatar16V says:

          As noted, do try to catch up.

          ALON hasn’t been cutting edge for quite awhile. Ergo, shooting it down is like issuing a treatise on the fallibility of carbs – in 1980.

          Please scroll down and read about what was publicly released about a year ago.

      • avatar16V says:

        And the brand name is “ALON”, not “AlON”…

  14. avatarTommy Knocker says:

    I think these guys are going to get sued in court. Anyone who is old enough to remember Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (with a VERY perky Barbara Eden may I add) recalls the transparent bow panels on the Seaview. These were made of “X-tempered Herculite” and Admiral Nelson owns the patent !

  15. avatarA. Nuran says:

    I wanna see this on The Box O’ Truth

  16. avatarRuss Bixby says:

    Sintered sapphire. Wow.

  17. avatarHal says:


  18. avatarSteveO says:

    …and what about the followup shot penetration on the stationary plate. Will the manny head be touched then?

  19. avatarPete says:

    I’m SO glad this is called Transparent Aluminum! OMG yes, and only like 25-30 years after Scotty would have given it to us!

  20. avatarJay Wolf says:

    Guys the 50 cal is easier to stop due to frontal area. Think about the 120mm SABOT from the M1A2 tank. The barrel is 120mm BUT the high speed needle it shoots is around 20mm in diameter. I am thinking some sort of long for caliber high speed needle.

    • avatarCA.Ben says:

      If you’re getting shot at by a M1A2 then I think you have bigger problems than the type of glass you bought. You really need to be bugging the hell outta there.

      As far as small arms go, which is what this glass in intended for, the .50 BMG is about as big as they get. Although I would love to see this tested against the higher velocity, smaller frontal area, .416 Barrett.

      • avatarJay Wolf says:

        Bingo now your thinking what I am thinking. My first gen Dev penetrated a current spec up armored Humvee windshield from the pistol at 10 feet. My current is faster, has a sharper point and is made of a harder material. Really interested to see what it will do.

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        I believe he was suggesting a high mass needle – say platinum with a tungsten tip – in a sabot round. Same weight as a .50BMG, but longer and narrower.

        It’s an idea.

  21. avatarAdam says:

    This is NOT ‘transparent aluminum,’ any more than carbon dioxide is ‘gaseous diamond’–you trekkies can stop quoting film lines, now. AlON is similar to the aluminum oxide (sapphire) used in other ceramic transparent ballistic armours, but modified to an isotropic spinel phase with the addition of nitrogen. The advantage over sapphire is ease of manufacturing larger panels. There is also a magnesium aluminium spinel ceramic that is manufactured for transparent armour (search Youtube for dramatic .50 BMG torture testing), and has similar properties. All of these things cost MUCH more than plain old soda-lime glass-faced transparent armour, and are difficult to produce in large pieces, hence are mostly seen in things like tank vision blocks, rather than windshields. And, like plain old glass, they are still very vulnerable to non-ballistic damage (e.g., rocks, being dropped). And all of them are backed with an anti-spall layer (usually polycarbonate, though there is a polyurethane material available), since splinters of the stuff aren’t easy on the eyes.

  22. Wow, that is extremely impressive.

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