Armor Suit To Protect Troops

Looks fine until a soldier has to dismount and a 40 pound armor suit will certainly slow you down.

June 06, 2005

Suiting up against IEDs
New air-conditioned armor has 40 pounds of plating, padding to protect turret gunners

By Matthew Cox
Times staff writer

Some turret gunners in Iraq will soon don suits of armor designed to counter an emerging trend in insurgent bombings — blast injuries.

The Cupola Protective Ensemble weighs 40 pounds and includes its own air-conditioning unit.

body armor experts say the CPE is an essential piece of gear for protecting soldiers and Marines riding in turrets from having their limbs blown off from the blast force of improvised explosive devices.

Troops in Iraq have suffered blast-injury rates that far surpass those of past conflicts, said Karl Masters, the lead engineer on the CPE for Project Manager Soldier Equipment.

“Blast injury has been running 2 to 3 percent in past wars, but with this one we are looking at 60 percent,” he said.

Of particular recent concern, he said, is the insurgency’s increasing use of car bombs, which suicide attackers often steer into U.S. Army vehicles.

“When you are talking about a vehicle full of explosives the blast overpressure can cause extreme injury,” he said.

Body armor officials began developing the CPE in August 2004 after senior commanders in Iraq expressed concern about soldiers and Marinesmanning crew-served weapons in turrets mounted on Humvees, supply trucks and other vehicles. Turret gunners were suffering horrific injuries from car bomb attacks.

“We looked at autopsy reports to do a trend analysis of IEDinjuries. “What we found in that analysis was that traumatic amputation is a significant trend of IED attack.”

While these injuries are not limited to turret gunners, the soldiers and Marines that perform this duty atop trucks and Humvees are the most exposed to the threat, Masters said. The CPE was fashioned to protect against that.

To help counter this trend, the Army recently shipped 188 of thearmored suits to Iraq and plans to issue at least 2,000 to soldiers and Marines in the combat zone by this fall.

The first 188 suits in Iraq will go through a “proof of concept” assessment for about 60 days to determine if any minor improvements are still needed, Masters said.

“The assessment will look at further refinements that the users want, and then we will start kicking these things out the door,” he said.

Turret gunners from “gun truck” units in Iraq tested the first prototype of the suit in October 2004. While it needed improvements, the troops said they wanted it, Masters said.

The suit consists of a thick jacket, pants and neck flap that is combined with a clear face shield that connects to the standard issue, combat helmet.

The jacket has eight blast plates — two in each arm, one front, one back and one on each side. The pants have no plates, since the legs usually aren’t as exposed in the turret as the upper half of the body.

The see-through face shield is double layered. The first layer is designed to absorb the blast energy and break up, leaving the second layer for additional threats.

The face shield is designed to work with the jacket’s collar to protect against “traumatic brain injury” that often follows the jarring force of an IED detonation. The two help absorb impact to the neck and head that occurs when the wearer is propelled against another object during an explosion.

And the CPE’s Kevlar and Nomex material is designed to further protect troops against flying shrapnel and burns caused by liquid flame sometimes found in IEDs.

Heavy, but not hot

But the CPE isn’t for everyone. It’s far too heavy for soldiers to wear on dismounted missions, Masters said.

The jacket and neck collar weight 26 pounds — on top of the 16-pound Interceptor vest and ballistic plates soldiers still wear underneath. Add another 11 pounds for the pants, 3 pounds for the face shield and about a pound for the neck shield.

Although it’s heavy, it isn’t hot. Troops wear a liquid coolant vest next to the body.

A special compressor stowed aboard the vehicle pumps chilled liquid water through the thin tubing that lines the vest. The system keep keeps the temperature inside the CPE at 65 degrees.

Shucks in seconds

The biggest concern among soldiers testing the suit in Iraq back in October was there was no way to get out of the CPE quickly.

“If I’m in a vehicle, I need a quick release on everything, so I can shuck this thing and become a dismount,” Masters said, describing soldier comments.

That’s now been fixed. The current version has two toggle handles on the jacket. The wearer pulls the one to detach the first Velcro-secured flap in front and expose the second toggle. Upon pulling the second toggle, the jacket comes open and can be shrugged off in under four seconds, Masters said.

The suit’s pants are breakaway style with Velcro all the way up the sides for quick exit. They are modular, so they can be worn as shorts, depending on the risk, Masters said.

Counters IEDs

Despite all the data that has been compiled on IEDs, it is still a challenge to find out what individual soldiers were doing in each individual attack, Masters said.

The medical community is currently setting up a Joint Trauma Registry where this type of information can be used to determine who is suffering the worst injuries in these attacks, he said.

“One of the primary reasons for getting [the CPE] done is to have a base line — hey, does this help us in reducing casualties,” Masters said, explaining the CPE will be examined to see if it helps reduce the number of severe injuries suffered in IED attacks.

The prevalence of homemade bomb attacks in Iraq prompted the Army to set up a Joint IED Defeat Task Force in October 2003. Since then, senior Army officials have credited the task force for significantly reducing the number of U.S. casualties suffered in roadside bomb attacks.

“Casualties have gone down 40 percent since we started this,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody said March 17 at a roundtable discussion with reporters.

“By the way, that’s not good enough. We know that,” Cody added. “We are working against a very adaptable, and a very innovative and a very insidious enemy.”

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