Armed Forces News

Modern body armor deserves credit for improving the odds of surviving an attack, according the authors of an April 23 report. However, the armor extracts a toll of its own upon the service members who wear it, wrote Lauren Fish and Paul Scharre in the white paper, published by the Center for New American Security — a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Among the findings:

* Body armor provides effective ballistic protection.

* In doing so, however, body armor weight has increased significantly.

* By nature, designers try to incorporate as much protection as possible in body armor design. In some instances, it is “overdesigned.” The authors believe that there are “opportunities” to eliminate weight and overdesign while still affording necessary protection.

* Even with its clear benefits, body armor does little or nothing to protect wearers from head and brain injuries, which are all too prevalent in today’s combat scenario.

The authors described how armor has evolved since its ancient origins, to a system of both hard ceramic and soft flexible components. They also mentioned other soft systems, geared toward protecting groin, neck and upper-arm areas, and Kevlar helmets that can deflect pistol rounds. Because of recent improvements, the ratio of wounded to dead improved during the war on terror that began with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and at the Pentagon — up from 3.2 percent during the Persian Gulf War.

“Modern body armor, in concert with other technologies such as improved medical care, has dramatically improved solder survivability,” the authors wrote.

They added, however, that body armor weight has nearly doubled in the past 15 years. Two years ago, wearers had to carry roughly 27 pounds of armor. They acknowledge that the Army has taken steps to reduce the load by eight to 14 pounds for plates and a 26-percent decrease in vest weight.

The service wants to realize a five-percent drop in the Kevlar helmet  now weighing three pounds. The planned Soldier Protection System helmet also would provide greater protection from blunt impact and hearing loss.

A greater understanding of blast pressure waves generated by heavy weapons and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) could help designers develop better armor protection as well, they wrote.

“Some experimental modeling indicates that the Army’s current combat helmet modestly mitigates blast pressure inside the skull. This suggests that there are opportunities to improve blast protection through modified designs,” they wrote.