More Investigation on Snipers and Body Armor

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

I have fairly extensively covered (links below) the newly-engineered Modular Tactical Vest (MTV) to be in use with Marines early in 2007, replacing the Interceptor body armor system. Now, enter the main stream media, with what can only be characterized as feel-good, softball coverage that creates more questions than it answers and stirs the pot without adding anything to the state of knowledge of the body armor situation. CBS News recently had an article entited “For Marines, ‘MTV’ Means Something New.” David Martin begins his article telling us why he began investigating the story.

One of the things that made October such a bloody month for American troops was a dramatic increase in sniper attacks. The U.S. military refuses to say exactly how many sniper attacks there were or how successful they were on the ground; that is information the enemy could use.

Let’s pause here for a moment. In my article Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops, using information taken directly from MSM reports, I discussed how snipers in Iraq (and mainly in the Anbar Province) were becoming seasoned enough to aim for gaps in the body armor of Marines, particularly the arm pits where there were gaps in side SAPI plate coverage. This is widely known within the military, and modifications in body armor have been targeted to ameliorate these weaknesses. So one would naturally assume that the improvements of the MTV over the Interceptor at least in part pertain to this issue. And one would naturally assume that a media article would discuss this. Right? Continuing:

But this will give you some idea: There were more sniper attacks in the first 10 days of October than in the entire month of September. There are insurgent videos on the Internet that show American soldiers being killed, along with an interview with a guy who claims to be the commander of the Baghdad sniper brigade. Boasting of his accomplishments, he says a book called “The Ultimate Sniper,” produced by a former U.S. Army major and distributed by a U.S.-based publishing house, “is one of the main books we use to train our snipers.”

I was looking into all of this, and as part of that story, went down to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va. to see a new body armor vest that will be issued to Marines heading to Iraq early next year.

The idea was to try on the body armor to see how protective it is against sniper fire. The Marine vest shields the torso against 7.62 millimeter ammunition (which is what an AK-47 fires) and below, but the head and the neck are still exposed. The helmet will stop shrapnel but not a round from a high-powered sniper rifle.

The Marines who were showing us the equipment said the Corps is spending $33 million for 60,000 of the new vests and that most of the improvements had come from ideas submitted by Marines fighting in Iraq.

The vest is officially called the Modular Tactical Vest and so, not surprisingly, there were “I Want My MTV” headlines about it in the Marine Times.

What did surprise me, though, was the Army’s interest in the story. I couldn’t figure out why the Army had such an interest in a story about Marine Corps body armor until I saw a letter to the editor in Stars and Stripes, an independent newspaper widely read by troops overseas.

The letter’s author complained that an article about the MTV “implied the Marine Corps’ new [body armor] is superior to the Army’s. … This is a disservice to soldiers wearing [the Army's body armor].” So, that was why the Army was so interested in my story; they thought that it would create the impression that Marines were wearing better body armor than Army soldiers.

For the record, the MTV uses the same ballistic shields as the Army body armor. The differences have to do with the way it fits on your body and the way it allows a Marine to carry all his combat gear.

To me, the Marine vest felt more comfortable because it distributes the 30-pound weight over your entire torso instead of having the weight hanging on your shoulders. But it still leaves some very vital parts of your body exposed to a sniper.

As for that former U.S. Army major who produced “The Ultimate Sniper” — he’s not returning phone calls.

This is interesting for a main stream media report. Martin’s piece suddenly leaves the arena of the investigative and Martin becomes a mouthpiece for a byline to assuage concerns over body armor: “For the record, the MTV uses the same ballistic shields as the Army body armor. The differences have to do with the way it fits on your body …”

I have been told this too in response to my articles on body armor. The fact is that this statement is both true and totally incomplete. It paints the wrong picture, and those who traffic in such statements know it.

The Strategy Page helps in our understanding of the MTV, saying that “The U.S. Marine Corps is reequipping with new body armor. The Modular Tactical Vests protect more of the upper torso, while providing more freedom of movement. While weighing the same as the current vest, the new vest feels lighter because the weight is distributed more efficiently.”

Stars and Stripes is perhaps even more direct and informative, saying that “The new vests, which the Corps was expected to discuss Monday, are designed to provide added protection to the side of the torso, the lower back and the kidney area, Capt. Jeff Landis said in a Thursday e-mail to Stars and Stripes.”

The fact is that the MTV is designed to provide better protection against well-aimed rounds from snipers, giving more SAPI plate coverage for the Marine or Soldier. So why would there be a “byline” to begin with? The Stars and Stripes article gives us a hint as to why:

He said the Marine Corps believes the MTVs offer the best protection possible for Marines.

In addition to improved protection, the MTVs also have a Velcro attachment that allow rifle butts to fit better against a Marine’s shoulder to ensure accuracy, Landis said.

Soldiers will likely not get their new body armor until fiscal 2010 or 2012.

But the Army is looking at whether it can send the body armor component of the Future Force Warrior system downrange early, said Dutch DeGay, an equipment specialist at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts.

“Our body armor, that we call the chassis, the U.S. Army Infantry School is drafting a capability production document on that body armor, on that design to see if it would be possible to build that early before 2010 or ’12 to get that in the field,? DeGay said.

He could not say when the report will be completed.

The body armor is a component of a much larger package of equipment for U.S. soldiers known as the Future Force Warrior system.

The other parts of the system include a new helmet, electronic equipment and uniform.

The body armor component would have up to six ceramic ballistic plates, compared with the two plates that are part of current body armor, DeGay said.

The plates themselves are 12 percent larger than current Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI) and are shaped to provide more protection along the spine and cut down on gaps between the front, back and side protection, Natick officials said.

Once again, it may be true that the SAPI plates are manufactured to the same specifications in both the MTV and the Interceptor. But this isn’t the same thing as saying that the SAPI plate coverage is equivalent. What we do learn, however, is that the Army has a different plan. This plan includes modification of the body armor system as a subset of the a total package that includes much more than body armor, and this system will not be available until several years down the road. The Marines are suffering sniper attacks in the Anbar province, and need something now. The Army feels that they can wait.

Is this acceptable? Should monies be made available for an MTV-like solution for the Army in addition to the more complete warrior system of the future? Should the system of the future be brought on line sooner at the expense of certain elements so that the soldier can have more SAPI plate coverage? Should monies be made available by congress for both the Marines and Army to bring on line better body armor, without regard to how these monies are obtained (i.e., politics notwithstanding)?

These and other questions are salient, and deserve discussion and debate. Silly statements like “For the record, the MTV uses the same ballistic shields as the Army body armor,” and emotionally charged letters to the editor of Stars and Stripes add nothing to the discussion.

It is statements just like these that cause Marines, Soldiers and military parents and spouses to be suspicious of the so-called “military industrial complex.” Honest discussion is always accepted, even if there is disagreement. Subterfuge always causes suspicion. And powder puff reporting by the MSM is as always, irrelevant.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Military Equipment,Technology and was published January 4th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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