Friday, December 01, 2006

New British body armour causing more than a little grief

British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are being issued new body armour and they are anything but happy about it.

New body armour issued to British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is so bulky that many are forced to take it off to fire their weapons, the Daily Mail can reveal.

Soldiers cannot fit their assault rifles to their shoulders or look through the sights properly when wearing the kit.
This isn't the first time body armour has been an issue with British troops. Sgt Stephen "TC" Roberts was killed in Iraq after being ordered to hand in the plates from his body armour because there wasn't enough to go around. The resultant furor put Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon on the hotseat and underscored deficiencies in the quantity and quality of British kit.

One Marine told the Mail: "We've had situations where as soon as we've got into a contact [firefight with enemy], guys are pulling out the plates and throwing them away. That's what I did.

"It's hard to run for cover wearing Osprey. They're heavy, but more importantly they're so bulky you can't even bend down.

"Worst of all you can't fit your weapon to your shoulder. The front plate is so thick and in just the wrong place so the rifle butt slips off the edge, and you can't get your eye to the sight.

"So you've got an infantryman who can't hold his rifle correctly or aim properly.

"Who designed this thing? Someone behind a desk?

"They're clearly worried about casualties, which is fine, but it's as though someone who's never been on the ground has decided to push this stuff out to all the lads."
It's an argument that's been going on in armies for millenia. Protection versus mobility.

The problem with the bulky, heavy armour is that it slows down the wearer. Contact drills carried out by soldiers and marines require running for cover and laying-down accurate fire. Being bullet-proof doesn't help if the soldier or marine can't fight effectively.

The Osprey Improved Combat Body Armour is supposed to be for normal operations. A special kit, Kestrel Enhanced Protection Body Armour was designed for top-cover sentries (the poor prick with his body out of the hatch of a vehicle), since mobility is not the top priority. Descriptions of the Osprey gear suggest it is more suitable for top-cover use.

Some other problems with the Osprey gear that has come to light:

- It is designed to be used as both armour and webbing. However, the magazine pouches that come with it will not hold 3 magazines.

- The weight is causing wearers to suffer arm numbness.

- The straps intended to hold personal combat load equipment are so cheap they snap off.

- The wearer cannot get a bergen pack or day pack to stay on because of the shape of the shoulders on the armour.

There are rumours that the design criteria was centred around blast protection. The loss of mobility and the inability to sight a weapon was considered acceptable.

I suppose.

The impact will be declining morale and people ditching the plates from their armour just to be able to perform standard infantry tasks.

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