Made in gainesville: creating the armor that protects our troops

John Perkins is developing new types of armor to protect military and police.

When his special ops liason gives him a ring, he calls John Perkins “Q.” You know, like James Bond’s gadget outfitter and all-around problem solver.

“I’m the little guy who solves problems that aren’t mainline problems,” explains Perkins, who owns ERC—Engineering, Research and Consulting—and develops armor and personal protection equipment through a company called Basic Black.

Right now, he’s consulting on projects in war zones, for which he’s been asked to create stronger armored roofs for buildings. Structures such as offices and housing modules near battle areas are typically protected by reinforced walls and sand-bagged roofs, but mortars can penetrate the sand bags. Components of his ballistic-resistant design are also being used stateside for a local hotel.

The thickness of a decent sandwich, the roofing material he works with is buttressed with V-shaped supports between two thicker slabs of metal. It seems light, but Perkins, an engineer and former army brat who’s lived “all over,” says he’s tested it and it’ll take the heat.

Some of the personal armor that Basic Black manufactures.

When he’s not working on roofs, Perkins develops personal protection armor for both law enforcement and the military. He conducts research and builds prototypes with two full-time employees in Gainesville and works with about five sub-contractors. Welding is also done in Gainesville, but manufacturing happens in Clearwater. The products are then shipped to Gainesville for final detailing and assembly.

His products range from large riot shields to armor plates to inconspicuous backpacks loaded with a lightweight aramid (a gold-colored weave) plate. He also has a clipboard that can stop a rifle round.

Recently, Perkins developed a titanium carrier for flash-bang grenades after one that accidentally went off in a vehicle killed a Jacksonville Swat officer. (“Flash-bangs” are used as distractions when police officers enter a building, creating a flash and a lot of noise.) Perkins’ Bang Safe™ shields the officers’ bodies and legs by directing the blast away from the body if the flash-bang accidentally explodes.


Perkins’ wife, Susan, who is his partner in the company, says this new product illustrates his attitude. He’s always looking for something new to help people.

“You’ve got to have a kid’s mentality,” says Perkins, who has dozens of projects going and several patents pending. “You’ve just got to not know ‘no.’”

And that’s a thread that’s run through Perkin’s entire professional life.

From Hangar Doors to Armor

Perkins came to Gainesville from South Florida, where he designed and manufactured hanger doors and automatic door operators.

A 2006 Pentagon study showed that more than 80 percent of Marines killed in Iraq died from wounds to the shoulder or upper back. To protect the vulnerable shoulder area, Perkins has created armor plates that fit into a soldier’s shoulder pocket.

In the 1990s, he’d begun to dabble in lightweight armor that could be attached to the bellies of helicopters. He got into his current business through his volunteer work as a Boy Scout troop leader.

First, a scout’s dad, who was in law enforcement, asked Perkins to create armor for vehicles out on patrol. Then he started getting requests from some of his former scouts, who by then were serving in the armed forces in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. They asked him to create armor that could provide some extra protection.

So Perkins went to work. He created The SPARTA™, an armored plate that fits in soldiers’ shoulder pockets to protect them from insurgent fire aimed at the U.S. flags or shoulder patches. In return for supplying the armor, he got in-the-field research and development. Whether the plates needed to be shorter, wider, lighter or come in two sizes, “his boys” and a few others let Perkins know.

“The feedback I get is incredible,” he says. “That’s the collaborating that’s made my products better for the people who buy them and ultimately for the military.”

Using the soldiers’ information—as well as the vast resources at the University of Florida —Perkins is honing his product while word-of-mouth is spreading news about it.

Perkins sees a real need for the product he’s providing and says his armor has tested way beyond National Institute of Justice and military standards. While at this point he does not have a contract with the military for his armor, he expects one in the future.

“I don’t have ‘big Army,’” he says, referring to a large-scale, official contract. “I have that niche market—the
front-line people.”

He adds, “I’m not money-driven when it comes to those things, but, you know, if you come up with something unique, at the end of the tunnel, it’s there,” he adds.

While John says part of his motivation comes from the satisfaction of creating something that works, at the end of the day, it’s more protecting the people who protect us.

“You save one life; you’ve done a lot,” he says.

Hand-to-Hand Protection

Along with Basic Black, which creates armor to protect people, John and Susan Perkins have partnered with Edmund Tee to develop Basic White, a company that teaches personal protection techniques to law enforcement, military and even families and women.

This is personal protection for the real world, says Tee, who is also Basic White’s trainer. “Martial arts are great for workouts, great sports and great art, but they are governed by rules,” he explains. “When someone is assaulting you, they are not going to hold to any rules.”

Last month, Tee trained one police officer, one Marine and two Air Force pilots who were about to be deployed overseas. Basic White training sessions are held in Gainesville and open to the public.
(For more information, visit

Susan, who spearheads Basic White for Women, says that the program really stems from the core of what all their businesses are about: protecting people.


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