Strategy Page on the armor

More Body Armor and Lower Casualties

fullarmor.jpgStrategy Page weighs in (pun intended) on the body armor issue. Read the whole thing, but I want to point this bit out:

The weight problem is an old one, and only gets a lot of attention when there’s a war on. This time around it’s worse, because there is finally body armor that will stop rifle bullets. [emphasis mine]

This is a point that’s often lost on folks. There’s been body armor for a long, long time. It just didn’t work at all against the firearms in use. Only recently have we been able to field a workable system. Before the early 1990s, it just wasn’t feasible to armor an entire army effectively against standard weapons.

The Vietnam-era flak jackets weighed 25 pounds, not to mention that they didn’t provide protection against standard weapons. The flak jacket was, well, a flak jacket. It would have provided a fair amount of protection against IEDs, for instance. But against even the AK-47 it was next to worthless.

The Interceptor doesn’t weigh a lot less (depending on how many plates you’re wearing) but, while far from perfect, has performed splendidly in Iraq against the weapons of the enemy. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of deaths have been prevented. And the faith that US troops have in their armor has allowed them to carry the fight to the enemy when previously they might have had to keep under cover. And the best defense is a good offense. Better body armor that stops more shots would save some lives, but killing more enemy fighters before they shoot will save many more.

One thing we need to keep in mind is that we will not always be fighting half-trained insurgents with hand-me-down AKs and ammo that’s been stored in a mud hut for ten years. Although the anti-gun crowd likes to pretend that the AK-47 is an ultimate killing machine to be feared above all else (unless it’s in the hands of a Communist rebel, in which case it’s a romantic symbol of the common man), the typical AK is really only a medium-powered assault rifle with generally poor performance. It’s designed loose to always work in all conditions and in the hands of ill-trained conscripts and peasants (which it does quite well), but to get there many compromises had to be made. Good armor-piercing capability is a characteristic of neither the AK-47 nor the 7.62×39 Russian ammunition that it fires. When we go up against better-equipped and trained enemy forces, we will discover that it doesn’t matter how many ceramic plates you have in your vest.

Hopefully, by that time, new technology will be available to keep us ahead in the game. Nanotech stuff, maybe. Or the long-sought powered battle suit. If not, you will see the armor ditched just like the suits of steel plate and mail were ditched with the advent of firearms.

Anyway, go read the whole Strategy Page post and be sure to check out the pictures of full body armor. I posted a small version of one in this post. Can you imagine troops going into combat wearing that? Especially in 120 degree weather? Never mind the fact that they would also need all the rest of their gear and ammo. They’d have to triple their water load just to survive a foot patrol. Yet that’s the armor critics are saying the troops need.


  1. The criticism of troop armor is, IMO a valid one, though not really in the way it is being offered. More armor reduces mobility and decreases infantry ‘range’ and ‘endurance’. Lighter armor (less coverage) is going to mean more the the above, but less surviabilty in many situations. The problems is that there is no IDEAL amount with current armor quality. Any setup will be a compromise. The solution, is to specialize and to adapt to the needs of soldier. Rather then focus on having a single ‘infantry’ setup, we need to have ‘heavy armor infantry’ and ‘light armor infantry’. Each setups, less armor or more armor is going to have pro’s and cons. Being virtually invunerable to ground fire is going to mean less supplies and ammo and lower endurance. There are going to be tactical sitations where this is going to have higher succuess and surviabilty rates. On the other hand, for a 10 mile hike/raid you are going to have to carry water instead of armor. Weather that added weight is going to work for you or against you depends on the tactical situation. There are a lot of mature technologies out there- military tactics and support technologies always lag developmets. It took time to learn think of things for aircraft to do- and for armies to accept the maintance burden. In the same way it will take time for armies to learn to take advantage of ‘heavy armor infantry’ rather than just try to use it like light/no armor infantry (what we have been stuck with for the past few hundred years). Not just tactics, but to support and cater to the disadvanteges presented by them as well.

  2. Whoa, Murdoc, get it right: the old M1952 armor vests used in Korea and Vietnam didn’t weigh any 25 pounds. They only weighed 9 pounds or so. Even at that they were hot, heavy and cumbersome, and we usually left them in the base camp except on short-range security patrols. I can’t imagine how today’s soldiers manage 25-lb SAPI vests in the heat of Iraq. They must be in a lot better shape than we were. In any case, a prerequisite for anyone wanting to enter this discussion is to read S.L.A. Marshall’s booklet on The Soldier’s Load.

  3. Bill: Thanks for the tip. The 25 pound figure has been used a lot for the Vietnam flak vests, and not just since this latest debate began. But you are right on the money. The 25 pound figure, I think, really refers to the PASG-V/IASPO combination that was the previous top-of-the-line getup. I am going to post on it shortly (and will probably toss it up at Defense Tech as well, in order to get the word out more widely). I thank you for straightening me out.