Body armour, suitable for every occasion?

#1
I have searched out a lot of ARRSE discussion related to the design and carry of the kit, but this corespondent raises an interesting point, which I think is worth repeating. Who should decide what to wear and when to wear it.

Taking a Risk on Protective Clothing

David Benest examines the issue of risk and protective clothing and asks who should make the final call on what to wear?
Date: 08 Apr 2010

Much has been made in recent years of shortages of essential personal protective equipment in both Iraq and Afghanistan, most usually the lack of body armour or its perceived inadequacy. This is understandable and reflects a highly charged political arena, where the accusation that 'our boys' have been let down through personal equipment shortages is raised on all too frequent occasions. Yet this is a very recent concern and was largely absent from previous campaigns. Something has changed in our collective perceptions of the management of risk to life and limb.

Take the wearing of helmets in counterinsurgency (COIN) and internal security (IS) situations. Even a cursory study of Britain's own experience indicates that the helmet was seen as a necessary adjunct for but a few situations, such as the early days in Northern Ireland where almost daily mass rioting was the norm.

There were good reasons for the absence of helmets: they were of World War 2 vintage and designed to protect under intense shell fire, very uncomfortable to wear and very hot when the internal wool liner was fitted. The elastic strap ensured that it ‘bounced’, especially when running. Only the parachute helmet, with its leather inner, close-to-skull design and mouth retaining strap was considered fit for purpose and was the envy of non-para units.

In most previous COIN/IS situations, especially in the hot dry (Cyprus, Kenya, Aden, Dhofar) or humid (Malaya) environments, the helmet was considered an unnecessary encumbrance and far better replaced with a beret, shemagh or jungle hat. Those who claim that the intensity of combat in these operational environments was so low as not to merit the wearing of helmets would do well to examine the statistics for 'incomers' in, for example, the Dhofar campaign. At Sarfait, on the border with the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, even in the closing phase of a war that lasted almost 15 years, 403 'incomers' were recorded in a single week in January 1976. Yet as the photographic records show, there was not a helmet in sight.
"Only in more recent conflicts has body armour assumed the level of 'essential'".

It is also worth remembering that the compulsory wearing of helmets on the streets of Belfast in Northern Ireland only took effect from the hot summer of 1989 until the 1994 ceasefire, with berets being the norm for the previous 20 years, unless on riot duty.

The use of body armour was similarly slow in coming. There was none at all in the pre-Northern Ireland COIN campaigns and none was issued for the Falklands war of 1982.

Even were it available, the weight of essential kit - weapons, ammunition, water, food, some dry clothing if lucky - would probably have precluded its use. Only in more recent conflicts, notably Iraq and Afghanistan, has body armour assumed the level of 'essential' as opposed to 'optional' protection. Yet commanders at the tactical level of operations have on several occasions felt that their advice to the chain of command on the practicalities of wearing of body armour and helmets has been cursorily ignored.

Take the experience of 4 Rifles Battle Group in Basra in May to November 2007, where according to its commanding officer (CO) his soldiers were required to carry kit weighing 80lb in temperatures of 50°C, which rose to 72°C inside the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Not surprisingly, heat exhaustion was prevalent among vehicle crews.

Another CO made a similar comment concerning the Osprey body armour in Afghanistan being 'of little practical value, but weighed 30lb'.

The tendency for the MoD chain of command to dictate 'best practice' regardless of the actual situation being faced is disturbing. In 2006, Stuart Tootal, the former CO of 3 Para, said: "By the end of 2007 the red tape surrounding the conduct of operations had grown significantly and a different approach to risk was being enforced. Heavy body armour and standard-issue infantry helmets became compulsory and we were not allowed to train wearing the lighter armour and para helmets we had previously worn.
"In conflict it is impossible to mitigate all risk. Every soldier knows this."

"The standard-issue kit offered better ballistic protection, but it was heavy, ill-fitting and impeded mobility. Troops could not adopt proper fire positions wearing it and it also slowed them down and reduced their endurance; all critical factors in avoiding enemy fire and killing your opponent before he can kill you. However, the policy makers were adamant that we should wear it and banned soldiers from wearing lighter, improved ballistic protection even though they were prepared to buy it themselves."

In part, these developments reflect a litigious compensation culture that is all too evident in wider society - the notion that somebody else must be held accountable for every failure, especially where lives are lost or serious injury sustained. But in conflict it is impossible to mitigate all risk. Every soldier knows this.

The COs cited above were well aware that managing risk was at the core of their business and the responsibility is indeed awesome, for when things go wrong, every CO knows the buck stops with them. In an alleged era of 'mission command' it is high time that responsibility in matters such as these is delegated where it belongs, to those in command on the front line.
http://www.army-technology.com/features/feature81027/
 
#2
In days gone by we did not have the option of body armour, but if it can be prooven to save life then it must be used even with the weight , I for one, would not be writing this had it not been for a Northern Ireland Flak jacket
 

the_boy_syrup

LE
Book Reviewer
#3
tropper66 said:
In days gone by we did not have the option of body armour, but if it can be prooven to save life then it must be used even with the weight , I for one, would not be writing this had it not been for a Northern Ireland Flak jacket
Is there a tale to that I never heard you mention it
Something happen?

IIRC Fally stated after 3 Paras tour there were occasions when they ditched the body armour due to the weight to get more speed and freedom of movement
 
#4
you could also make the argument that it could cost lives, through lack of mobility and speed, and guys being switched off due to being chin-strapped. Its a tight judgement call. I think the author of the report is ex 2 Para sigs officer from Op Corporate era, out of interest.
 
#5
para-dox said:
you could also make the argument that it could cost lives, through lack of mobility and speed, and guys being switched off due to being chin-strapped. Its a tight judgement call. I think the author of the report is ex 2 Para sigs officer from Op Corporate era, out of interest.
Very true, I was on a static check point, and I think that is an occasion when there are a good thing, but you infantry people know more about fire and movment, night recce, ect and all that kind of thing than I do. its a decision that can only be made in situ
 
#6
In these days of vicarious liability, the CoC would be foolish to advocate not wearing body armour. I suspect that it may be written into AuSOPs (if they still exist), that when issued, body armour must be worn. I know that we did dispense with ours, when need dictated it.
 
#7
Its really a very old question going back to when the first bronze age warrior put on a helmet, most of the French knights a Azincourt lived through the arrow storm, although there horses didn't,only to be killed by un armoured Archers with daggers and poleaxes, if you need agility its a problem, but if your going to get shot or blown up it must be an asset to survival
 
#8
Poacher said:
In these days of vicarious liability, the CoC would be foolish to advocate not wearing body armour. I suspect that it may be written into AuSOPs (if they still exist), that when issued, body armour must be worn. I know that we did dispense with ours, when need dictated it.
To my mind we're getting to a point where the infantry can not conduct it's primary mission. To wit. To close with and destroy the enemy.

Watching any footage of infantry on patrol is like watching 3 Para tabbing to Goose Green. Every movement is like watching people wade through snow, 5 minutes hard work and 20 minutes inhaling O2 thro your ring piece.

Watching any footage of combat is like watching a rhino try and body slam a mouse.

If "Mitigating the risk" has evolved to the point that a Section Commander can pretty much forget most of Brecon cos theres' no way in hell he can maneuver fast enough to pin down the enemy and close to the attack then we're setting ourseleves up for a Royal f**king from a clever enemy.

Just hit something interesting. The William Frederick Institute in Germany did some research on load carrying and it's effect on soldiers in the late 19th Century. One interesting point pops up. Regardless of the amount and quality of any training or conditioning the weight that can be carried before phsyical distress starts to appear is 69lbs. British research in the 1920's recommanded a limit of 40-45lbs. USMC research in the 1950's recommanded 40lbs for combat and 55lbs marching. In the 1970's a combined US Army/USMC Team came up with similar figures.

So, We have over 100 years of research into the subject of load carrying and yet we're still overburdened.
 
#9
David Benest served on Corporate and was also a CO in NI. He makes the valid point that decisions on risk management should as far as possible be in the hands of the tactical commanders, however in the case of body armour/helmets etc I am certain that, at present, it would make no difference because everybody would wear it anyway. Dozens, possibly even hundreds of lives have been saved by body armour in Afghanistan and I strongly doubt that any CO would authorise ops without it even if given the choice.

He quotes Stuart Tootal but the situation has changed dramatically since 2006, specifically the frequency of contact IEDs. The degradation/mobility v protection argument is now very much weighted towards protection, particularly now that attitudes towards the deaths of soldiers in combat have changed considerably, even since Corporate. The enemy can now create a strategic effect by inflicting (in some cases at least) just a single death.

Kitmarlowe - the infantry's mission is now the slightly more fluffy 'defeat the enemy through close combat'.
 

RP578

LE
Book Reviewer
#10
Kitmarlowe said:
To my mind we're getting to a point where the infantry can not conduct it's primary mission. To wit. To close with and destroy the enemy.

Watching any footage of infantry on patrol is like watching 3 Para tabbing to Goose Green. Every movement is like watching people wade through snow, 5 minutes hard work and 20 minutes inhaling O2 thro your ring piece.

Watching any footage of combat is like watching a rhino try and body slam a mouse.

If "Mitigating the risk" has evolved to the point that a Section Commander can pretty much forget most of Brecon cos theres' no way in hell he can maneuver fast enough to pin down the enemy and close to the attack then we're setting ourseleves up for a Royal f**king from a clever enemy.
But it's not just the weight that mitigates tactical maneuvering, is it? Having to stick to the BARMA lane even when under small arms contact, in fact especially when under small arms fire (the Taliban know good cover positions as well as we do and habitually rig them with IEDs in the hope that we would dive into them), jars every instinct that has been beaten into you since CIC.

In fact many of the Holy of Holies have been reversed: Not bunching up takes a back seat to staying within the 'bubble'; movement in depth is often ditched in favour of sections leap frogging through each other to keep to a cleared path whilst one of them goes in overwatch.

We could always best them in a small arms contact, but all bets were off when it came to IEDs, so that was the threat that we tailored our tactics around. Writing all, this I'm fully aware that situations and tactics change by the month and that the lads starting their tour on H112 now, will be fighting a war that will have evolved from a year ago.
 
#11
Maybe this could be answer in a few years time
 
#12
As soneone who has been recently involved in the design process of a new Dyneema Molle System for SF, i can tell you that there are a great many UK/US/European reports on the subjects that are raised here. The under pinning issue is i think the extra weight, reduced movement change in core temp (in any temp), vs the usability of said armour.

I once went to a RUSI lecture about Light Infantry (not the LI, the concept) and some very interesting ideas were raised as to possible efficiency of less kit, more action, but this does pose more questions than answers and often relies more then on logistical support to troops that work "light" but strike hard.

My own personal opinion is that body armour is here to stay, but its developement must echo its requirement and be made to "fit in" more to the user. Molle is a step in the right design direction; as would a fitted "Dragon Skin" concept, if it could be proven. For those that did not know, as far as i am aware, Dragon Skin has been withdrawn do to some legal issues with the tests carried out and has not been resurfaced in any new designs.
 
#14
Having to wear the jackets with front and rear plates fitted while in Kosovo while driving plant vehicles was a serious balls ache.

The Plant cabs on certain vehicles were never really designed to take a Sapper wearing bulky body armour, and trying to clamber in or out of said vehicle with rifle and webbing was an exercise in futility.....nevermind trying to exit the vehicle in an emergency.

When seated, the armour pushed you up into a semi-crouched stance with your ribs resting on the steering wheel and the front plate sat on top of the wheel and pushing up against your lower jaw....very likely to smash your own jaw or teeth out when hitting a bump.

In this case, the armour was counter productive.
 
#15
We once got an order to take all our Mk6a into stores to get them replaced by Mk6. The Mk6a were being sent to another part of the unit. The boss quite rightly told them to shove it.

There is some sense to the whole "lighter = faster" thought, but lets not forget, "chest wound = dead". If cuts are needed, they can be had elsewhere.

I'm a bit of a racing snake, and I had no problems with kit weight, despite having a more well-stocked grab bag than some others in my plt.
 
#16
Rantallion said:
We once got an order to take all our Mk6a into stores to get them replaced by Mk6. The Mk6a were being sent to another part of the unit. The boss quite rightly told them to shove it.

There is some sense to the whole "lighter = faster" thought, but lets not forget, "chest wound = dead". If cuts are needed, they can be had elsewhere.

I'm a bit of a racing snake, and I had no problems with kit weight, despite having a more well-stocked grab bag than some others in my plt.
Plate armour used in history for stoping sword thrusts and arrows, went out of fashion for the same reason you state, chest wounds,but when bullets could penatrate the armour it was no longer used,
 
#17
Back to protection vs mobility. I agree with those above who say that body armour is here to stay, along with a bunch of other heavy stuff that adds considerably to the section's load.

You can make the argument that the amount of protective equipment we now carry amounts to a self fulfilling prophesy - the weight often constrains us to predictable tracks and routes and reduces endurance and patrol length. All of which makes us more predictable and easier to attack with IEDs and small arms; so we carry more stuff to protect ourselves and so on.

That said, it is an interesting thought experiement to think about how differently we might be operating had HERRICK been taking place in the '50s and '60s and whether we would have been any more successful, or would the casualty levels been greater or less.
 
#18
the_boy_syrup said:
tropper66 said:
In days gone by we did not have the option of body armour, but if it can be prooven to save life then it must be used even with the weight , I for one, would not be writing this had it not been for a Northern Ireland Flak jacket
Is there a tale to that I never heard you mention it
Something happen?

IIRC Fally stated after 3 Paras tour there were occasions when they ditched the body armour due to the weight to get more speed and freedom of movement


My bold.

Yeah mate he did. On Herrick IV in 2006, I believe they ditched body armour in favour of being lighter/faster on there feet for a particular Op.

At the time they also were wearing Para Helmets. This was under the command of Lt Col Stuart Tootal and I believe there is a bit about it in the book 3 PARA by Patrick Bishop.

Obviuosly a completely different situation now with the amount of IED's kicking around. That said, I think there has to be a balance between protection and mobility.
 
#19
The only answer to this question, keeping in mind the current body Armour materials, is 'it depends'. There is a lot of work being done, and has been done, trying to quantify the speed, lethality, protection trade offs.

One particular platoon level trial issued Armour that weighed 900 grams a plate, it would not stop the rounds but in the virtual OA phase it was assumed that the Armour would stop Osprey levels of threat. This allowed an assessment of what benefits could be found if industry could drastically reduce the weight of Armour.

I can't go into details suffice to say that there are some benefits to moving faster in some circumstances and some benefits to being more protected. What falls on a lot of deaf ears is the fact that in many circumstances no matter how fast you move and how lethal you are you will absolutely get hit; hence the need for Armour.

As to what that level is depends on the situation. The USMC issue a Armour Protection level, just like a CBRN dress state, that is the basis for all commanders assessments of the threat, APL 0 is a plate carrier, APL 4 is full coverage including throat protection. If the heat goes up they can modify the Armour level, this seems like a sensible way forward.

Oh ya, I don't want to get caught up in a Para v the rest war but trust me when I say that wearing Para helmets in Iraq and Afghanistan was not based on a rational threat assessment.
 
#20
Richard_Hannay said:
Back to protection vs mobility. I agree with those above who say that body armour is here to stay, along with a bunch of other heavy stuff that adds considerably to the section's load.

You can make the argument that the amount of protective equipment we now carry amounts to a self fulfilling prophesy - the weight often constrains us to predictable tracks and routes and reduces endurance and patrol length. All of which makes us more predictable and easier to attack with IEDs and small arms; so we carry more stuff to protect ourselves and so on.

That said, it is an interesting thought experiement to think about how differently we might be operating had HERRICK been taking place in the '50s and '60s and whether we would have been any more successful, or would the casualty levels been greater or less.
Some very interesting points. Not just in the above post but in Kit Monsters too!
The USMC are using a lighter, smaller armour set than the rest of their army. Their standard MTV is replaced in Afghanistan with scaleable armour protection.
In many ways we have the same. Our infantry units have Osprey assault, Rear are using "old" Osprey; then SF are using their stuff.
The Osprey Assault has improved comfort from the original Osprey immesurably.
SF will have risk assessed the threat level they are under and scaled their armour to suit.
That then brings out the question - do different sections require different levels of protection?
Sniper?
Recce?
Mounted?
Foot Patrol?
Day/night?
Checkpoint/VCP?
I think the USMC method is probably the best - but bear in mind we only just got Osprey Assault from a UOR!
There was the Blackhawk Plate Carrier; I personally think that PC with 6 x 6 side plates and a level III Cummerbund would have been much better for foot patrols than wearing all the soft armour under the Hard Protection that is worn now with Osprey Assault. We were getting close there and it vanished!
Load bearing gear needs a better re design as well. There is no way that a standard belt and yoke works with full armour. You can get away with "Under Armour" yokes if you are wearing a shorter in the body Plate Carrier.
Daysacks and Bergens need a long hard look too. The present ones are not set up for wearing over armour. The padded portions of the shoulder straps need to be at least 30cm longer; and probably the top of the straps need to be pushed apart 10cm. People in Armour are bigger!

By the way - One company in the US has just produced lightweight SAPI at 4 pounds weight for a mid sized plate!
 

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