Tuesday, March 23, 2010

US Military Body Armor: A Worthwhile Debate

The 1991 Persian Gulf War was the first major conflict in which all US troops were provided body armor. Soldiers were issued torso-covering Kevlar vests capable of stopping shell and grenade fragments and, when fitted with ceramic plates, bullets. However, the fully loaded vests weighed close to 25 pounds making them undesirable to your average soldier.

Since the beginning of 2001, body armor with ceramic plates has been standard issue for every US soldier in both Afghanistan and Iraq, mainly due to advancements which have brought average body armor weight down to an effectively distributed 16 pounds. You can see from the picture (right) the newest additions include a layer of neck protection and two protective flaps, one for the backside and one for the goods (frontside). Heavy-duty shoulder and neck flaps are also available for soldiers guarding Entry Control Points (ECPs) and driving combat vehicles. And, appropriately, the heaviest protection goes to those soldiers who play with bombs, the initial testing of which left some non-Muslim livestock wondering what happened to their cousins.

US military issue body armor, like everything in life, is not without its debates, one of the more interesting ones being whether the use of body armor by US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq hurts the COIN effort. It is rather perspective changing to stop and think about what goes through a civilian Iraqi and Afghani's mind when an armored US Humvee with a mounted .50 Cal stops at the end of their street and four or five US soldiers step out wearing head-to-toe blast and bullet resistance armor carrying big guns. I venture to say I'd probably be wary of these armored foreigners myself.

The future of US military issue body armor is very exciting, with some pretty cool new stuff in the works. However, the current image of the future soldier doesn't really solve this issue; actually, he/she complicates it.

There is a very cool altern
ative route, straight out of Columbia, which probably will have more applicability in the other sectors, not the military necessarily. With that said, it would be interesting if the US military could apply some of the concepts of this alternative to its future personal protective equipment (PPE) to make a more receivable future soldier.

This is a important debate with merits on both sides and implications for the future of the entire US military. It is in our best interest to take the time and devote the resources to get it right.


Anonymous said...

As a former Patterson student, don't take me as a blog troll...just wanted to interject. This debate has been going on since shortly after the "Mission Accomplished" speech. My primary concern with discarding the body armor would be the first few weeks or months after doing so. In the long run, the idea of a "less protected" soldier may create less fear in the citizenry, but would it be worth the initial cost associated with the advantage remaining insurgent elements would take. Small IEDs become extremely lethal without this PPE...just a thought. The Middle East understands violence, and defending oneself against. Hence the reason they arm themselves like our founding fathers believed reasonable. I never met an Iraqi on the street, or a Sheik in his home that questioned body armor. And they would do so quite boldly.

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