Early designs of modern body-armour mainly protected the front and back of the torso. The shoulder region often only had straps that joined the two halves. The underarm area was also often open. If you consider the posture of a man firing a shoulder-arm it should be apparent that the shoulders and upper arms are areas likely to be hit by counter fire. The positioning of the arms also exposes the sides of the torso. Numerous casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in the introduction of pauldrons and improvements in protection for the side of the torso. The use of pauldrons was proposed by Ralph Zumbro and myself before the Iraq and Afghan conflicts started.
The use of body-armour involves certain compromises. As protection increases so too does mass. Increases in mass slow the soldier down. Moving slower increases the likelihood of being targeted and fired upon. This creates a dynamic of diminishing returns. A lightly-armoured soldier can sprint the distance of a few metres between cover in under a second, so the likelihood of hitting him is effectively random chance. The heavily-armoured soldier will take several seconds to cross the same distance. Not only can he be fired upon several times but there is time to direct shots to his more vulnerable areas. The lightly-encumbered soldier can more readily alternate between sprinting and crawling to exploit any available cover or concealment.
Various studies have confirmed that it is counter-productive to burden a soldier with more than a third of his body weight. The fighting load of a soldier should be considerably less than this if he is to sprint across open ground or climb over obstacles.
When selecting body-armour, the usual defining criteria has been protection level. Armour must be able to stop so many rounds of a certain type at a certain range.
If you have ever been trained to handle radioactive materials you may recall being told that protection from radiation is determined by the combination of TDS, Time, Distance and Shielding. These same criteria can be applied to other threats. For example, you want to minimize the time you are exposed to enemy fire, maximize the distance between you and the enemy, and use any shielding or cover available.
Shielding obviously includes body-armour but also recognizes that other means can be used. Minimizing exposure and increasing distance is obviously related to soldier-mobility, which is decreased by soldier-encumbrance.
Suppose that we make mass rather than protection level our limiting factor for selecting body-armour. Obviously, we will select the best protection level that can be had within this limit. Making mass our limiting factor will inevitably require compromises in protection level. Hopefully this compromises will be offset by the increase in soldier-mobility and reductions in hit probability.
For purposes of illustration, let us assume that a torso protection of around 9 kg/20 lbs overall mass has been decided. Most soft-armour plate carriers weigh under 3.5 kg and give protection against 9mm rounds and projectiles or fragments of lesser momentum. A hard-plate to protect the front of the torso is a logical next step. Reinforcement of other torso areas needs to be decided by consideration of both vulnerability and criticality. It is probably more mass-effective to increase protection on the shoulder and underarm areas than the back or lower body. We will have to accept that the dismounted soldiers body-armour will not be likely to stop hits from armour-piercing rifle bullets at a few metres range.
Current hard-plates are only rated for three such hits anyway. A prudent approach may be to use a 7.62x51mm M80 proof plate for the chest and a new intermediate level of 7.62x39mm M1943-rated plates for the shoulders and sides. This should offer a good level of protection against most battlefield threats at realistic engagement ranges.
Armour with higher-rated levels of protection may be used for less mobile troops such as vehicle or helicopter gunners. As I suggest in this article, some elements of a platoon may use lower levels of protection than the assault elements.
The lighter protective vest is complimented by several other ideas.
The head is obviously a very vulnerable area and one that is often exposed when looking or firing around or over cover. Many current models of combat helmet are only fragment or handgun-round resistant. An increased level of protection for these items is highly desirable. In the short term this may be achieved by an add-on plate that reinforces the front of the helmet.
A soft-armour aventail or havelock to further protect the back of the neck may be a good feature.
The provision of a bevor (left) that can be mounted on helmet would greatly reduce facial injuries. This should have a snowplough shape to deflect projectiles and permit the wearing of a respirator or smoke hood. Correctly designed this would provide additional protection to the throat when in a firing posture.
A hand-mirror mounted on a selfie stick is a low-tech solution to observation without injury.
Historically, many types of infantry did not make great use of body-armour because they carried large shields. A shield some distance from the body provided better protection against most attacks and was a more comfortable option in hot climates.
Large ballistic shields are used by many SWAT teams. Some models are even designed to serve as ladders to cross obstacles. Israeli troops have been photographed using free-standing shields in urban operations. Used with supporting fire and appropriate tactics large shields may have a role in some dismounted infantry operations. Modern lightweight audio-visual technology may allow the vision slot to be replaced with multiple optic pick-ups. When not in use such shields are hung on the sides of the transport vehicle, providing additional protection.
Angled gunshields for dismounted infantry are another avenue worth investigating. Giving every rifle a gunshield may not be practical. A gunshield for relatively static weapons such as GPMGs and snipers may be more useful. For sections tasked with CQB assault, a shield on the weapon of the pointman may be prudent, providing an additional layer of protection to the hands, chest and face.
By the Author of the Scrapboard :
Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence
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