Protecting those who serve
Phalanx Defense Systems provides lifesaving gear for military and law enforcement
Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 2, 2012 at 7:03 p.m.
On Feb. 16, Detective Matt Hanlin of the Clay County Sheriff's Office was shot through the upper arm while Detective David White was killed investigating a meth lab in Middleburg. The bullet that struck Hanlin passed through his arm — severing his brachial artery — and struck his side where it was stopped from piercing his torso by body armor.
While in the hospital, he received a visit from James Coats, who two weeks earlier had provided the body armor, and John Perkins — two Gainesville residents who design protective gear for the military and law enforcement.
"It was at that point that we said we're going to do this and create a company that creates lifesaving technologies," Coats said.
The company is Phalanx Defense Systems, which opened in October in the former Federal Aviation Administration Flight Service Station at Gainesville Regional Airport.
Coats, CEO/applied sciences for Phalanx, is also an advanced development engineer for BAE Systems in Jacksonville, which makes defense and security products sold globally. Perkins, who serves as chief technology officer, has designed bullet-resistant equipment through his company Basic Black since 2002.
They design Phalanx's shields, body armor, holsters and armored vehicles.
Another partner, chief operating officer and general counsel Justin Mowitz, is a lawyer and former helicopter crew chief for the U.S. Marines.
Phalanx also carries a device invented by Hanlin, a pole to break windows with spikes to pull curtains out of the way and hang the device from the frame, with pegs to climb in.
Including the partners, the company has six employees.
Phalanx surprised Hanlin with its first White-Hanlin Award during an open house Oct. 26. Coats said they plan to give the award to people whose lives are saved by their products.
Phalanx's business model is to provide superior products that stop larger rounds than those offered by the large companies in the industry at the same price or less, Coats said.
Phalanx also is working on a body armor recertification program to inspect and guarantee old body armor at one-tenth the replacement cost.
Coats said they likely have dozens of customers, including several that have been waiting on their holsters.
Coats has long been a tinkerer — taking things apart, figuring out how they work and why they break, and making them better, he said.
He was previously an "illusionary scientist" — engineering illusions for performing magicians and putting out instructional videos on pickpocketing for performers and an educational show for kids about magic.
He was hired by BAE about six years ago after selling the rights to inventions that included digital camouflage for clothes, body armor and vehicles. Through a series of chemical reactions and electronics, the camouflage gradually changes colors to blend into the environment.
Perkins was a professional water skier at SeaWorld and had designed and produced hangar doors and automatic door operators. As a Boy Scout leader, he started designing armor for former Scouts who were deployed in the Middle East.
Coats said Phalanx brings together the work they had been doing individually.
Mowitz said he knew Coats from their children's school and birthday circuit, where they would joke about doing something different and starting their own company.
He said his background as a Marine comes in handy.
"I bring some of that perspective to this having worn some of this gear and having done some of this stuff," he said.
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