Archive for the 'Military Equipment' Category



Army (Exoskeleton) or Marines (V-22): Who Wins?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

The Captain’s Journal proudly stirs the pot and agitates yet another interservice kerfuffle over money – or rather, how it is spent.

We have a category for the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, and long ago strongly suspected that it would be an outstanding success in its debut deployment in Iraq.  It has been, but a recent analysis at the National Journal entitled Future Corps (an analysis which itself it worth protracted study time) points to larger problems with the aging Marine air fleet and the role of the V-22.

At the end of April, a squadron of the Marine Corps’s new V-22 Ospreys returned from the aircraft’s first overseas deployment, a seven-month tour in Iraq. The Corps trotted out pilots and ground crews to talk up the $67 million machine, a hybrid of helicopter and propeller plane whose revolutionary tilt-rotor technology took 25 years to develop and claimed 30 lives in crashes along the way.

Largely overlooked in the coverage and the controversy over the V-22 itself, however, is the fact that the aircraft was never meant to stand, or to fight, alone. The Osprey is simply the single most expensive element of an ambitious plan to re-equip the Marine Corps to execute a new kind of sea-based blitzkrieg.

Marine officers began to develop the concept, often called “operational maneuver from the sea,” a quarter-century ago at the height of the Cold War, when the rise of advanced anti-ship missiles was already threatening any fleet massed for a conventional, large-scale landing in the style of Iwo Jima. Today, the V-22 and key technologies like it are finally entering service in a world radically different from the one in which they were conceived–a world in which some of the weapons that the Soviets developed 25 years ago are now in the hands of guerrillas and terrorists in developing countries.

For the Marine Corps, looking forward to a large-scale pullback from Iraq even as it takes on a new mission in Afghanistan, the vision is not merely about new technology. It is about returning to the Corps’s historic role as a shipborne rapid-reaction force after five years of grueling ground warfare alongside the Army.

“We’re not a second land army,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Benes, the director of expeditionary warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations’ staff. “We can always be used to complement the [Army's] mission on the ground, and we don’t shy away from a fight,” he emphasized. “But our real traditional role of being a naval force is what we want to get back to.”

To carry out this old role in a new way with new equipment, however, will be expensive. Like the Army, the Marine Corps has worn out in Iraq much of its inventory of weapons, aircraft, and vehicles, most of which were bought during the Reagan-era buildup. Unlike the Army, which has packaged its main modernization programs into a single, high-profile, hard-to-explain and heavily criticized Future Combat System, Marine modernization is scattered across a half-dozen programs, some small enough to fly below most media and congressional radars. What’s more, because the future Marine force will be carried into battle on Navy ships built with Navy money, about a sixth of the total cost to realize the Corps’s vision will not be counted in the Corps’s budget …

“There were a lot of arguments for and against the V-22,” said Robert Work, a retired Marine colonel who is an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Five years ago, I was not a fan. But the bottom line is, now there really is no other option. The war has essentially worn out the Marine Corps helicopter fleet. The V-22 is the answer we’re going to make work” …

The Osprey’s speed and range are arguably overkill for Iraq, where most missions are short-range hops in and out of the many U.S. bases. Its aptitude for altitude, however, has already proven useful: Insurgents have shot down conventional U.S. helicopters with machine guns, but the V-22 can climb to 13,000 feet, too high to hit with small-arms fire. Insurgents have occasionally used shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which can reach higher targets, but flying higher than conventional helicopters gives Osprey pilots more reaction time to drop flares and evade.

A rumored deployment of V-22s to Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are spread thin over vast distances and at high altitudes, should be a better test of the V-22′s performance. But where the Osprey really shines is at even longer ranges. When the marines first deployed from their ships to Afghanistan in 2001, for example, they had to move in laborious stages from the Indian Ocean with the help of landing areas in Pakistan. With the V-22, the same force could have flown over Pakistani territory and hit the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in two hours.

And for the Army future combat system?  It includes things like the exoskeleton.

A complex interconnected array of computers, motors, servos, electronic feedback loops, load bearing members and batteries which deplete far too quickly, the exoskeleton is supposed to assist the Soldier in the field by amplifying human movements.

The Marines say “uh, huh.”  Batteries which wear out, a system that is heavy and bulky and uncomfortable, weeks or even months of training required to use it, the inability to perform mounted patrols, untold and yet to be determined equipment interference problems – where is the body armor, hydration system, backpack, weapon and ammunition going to go – and the likelihood that upon (the highly probable) malfunction it will be jettisoned in the field, and the Marines will probably respond: “The V-22 flies.  You might not like what we spent to get it there, but at least we didn’t throw money after that monstrosity.  Are you proud of yourselves?”

Why not spend the money on technology for lighter ballistic (SAPI) plates to decrease battlespace weight for the U.S. warrior?  We have previously said that this needs to be done.  Is anyone listening?

Body Armor Wars in the Marine Corps

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Foxnews is carrying an article on a dust-up over body armor within the Corps.

The Pentagon and Marine Corps authorized the purchase of 84,000 bulletproof vests in 2006 that not only are too heavy but are so impractical that some U.S. Marines are asking for their old vests back so they can remain agile enough to fight.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway wants to know who authorized the costly purchase of the nearly 30-pound flak jackets and has ordered the Marine procurement officers at the Quantico base in Virginia to halt the rest of an unfilled order, FOX News has learned.

“I’m not quite sure how we got to where we are, but what I do know is it is not a winner,” Conway told FOX News at the end of his recent trip to Iraq.

“I think it is foolish to buy more.”

Twenty-four thousand more vests were scheduled to be shipped to Iraq in the coming months, but Conway halted that order during his trip.

“I’ve asked them to tell me — to walk me through — the whole process … how it evolved,” Conway said.

“It goes back a couple of years. I think the vest has its advantages. It fits pretty well on the waist. The weight is distributed more evenly on the hips than shoulders, but Marines don’t like it. I didn’t like it when I put it on.”

The protective jackets, manufactured by Protective Products International in Sunrise, Fla., are known as Modular Tactical Vests, or MTVs. With heavy plates, known as sappis, on their sides, they provide more coverage than the older vests. That makes them much safer but also much heavier. The MTVs have more protection than the older “Interceptor,” made by Point Blank, and they distribute weight more evenly.

The new vests, weighing in at about 30 pounds each, are three lbs. more than previous regulation body armor. Marines, who are already carrying up to 95 lbs. depending on the mission, say they feel the difference.

It is frankly difficult to imagine that this issue could have become so confused to so many people.  Hopefully this article will be enlightening for the careful reader.  To begin with, it is necessary to show a picture of a Marine in Fallujah during Operation Alljah, wearing the IBA (Interceptor).  This picture comes to you courtesy of Bill Ardolino who embedded with the 2/6 Marines in 2007.

Take particular note of the thing hanging on the side of this Marine’s IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) vest.  It is called a side SAPI plate (small arms protective insert, or the enhanced version is ESAPI).  The side SAPIs are not used when Marines train stateside.  They are issued upon entry to the theater.  They are issued to the Marine whether he has the IBA or MTV (Modular Tactical Vest).  The 2/6 Marines were told that they would be issued the MTV prior to deployment, but delays made that impossible.  To compensate, many of the Marines went to TAG (Tactical Applications Group) in Jacksonville, N.C., right at Camp Lejeune, and purchased their own tactical vest, the Spartan 2, which is the commercially available version of the MTV.  This Marine didn’t get his before TAG ran out of the vests, so he took his IBA vest.  When 2/6 deployed to Iraq, they deployed with the vest, the front and rear SAPI plates, and the soft ballistic panels.  Some Marines from 2/6 deployed with their IBA, and had to have TAG send their back-ordered Spartan 2 to their home, and have their families send it to Iraq, since equipment vendors are not allowed to send packages directly to the theater.  But the Marines of 2/6, who regularly spent most of the day in their armor during training, wanted the Spartan 2 (MTV) so badly that some of them had their families send them to Iraq.

Take note also that the IBA doesn’t have the side SAPI integrated into the vest, so it hangs onto the IBA with Molle straps.  In fact, this particular Marine has his side SAPI hanging a full five or six inches below the rest of his vest (in the early days of the Anbar campaign, this gap under his arms was a favorite target for snipers, whereas the MTV solves this problem).  When this Marine was at Camp Lejeune, he didn’t have the side SAPIs hung onto the vest with Molle straps.  In fact, he didn’t have them at all.  Again, these SAPIs are issued upon entry to Iraq, and those side SAPI plates add quite a few pounds to the system.  Notice also that the rear SAPI is hiked up a bit in the back well above the lower part of his spine.  This is the way the IBA holds the SAPI plates.  Down in the front, high in the back, and side SAPIs hanging on by Molle, sagging down and exposing their ribs and lungs.

The IBA and the MTV are merely tactical outer vests to hold the soft panels (to protect against very small arms fire or shrapnel) and SAPI plates (to protect against up to a 7.62 mm round).  The body armor itself – front SAPI, rear SAPI, soft panels and side SAPIs – are exactly the same between the two body armor systems.  This point is critical to understanding the current dust-up.  Again, the weight between the two is the same.  The MTV does not weigh more than the IBA.  The MTV and IBA are vests, not armor.

There are a few changes made to the MTV that make it different than the IBA.  First, the front SAPI is raised a little and the rear SAPI is lowered a little to provide protection to the spine.  Second, a neck guard is provided for shrapnel, and third, a soft panel groin protector is provided.  The neck and groin protectors add little to the weight of the vest – no more than a pound or so.  Fourth, the MTV fully integrates the side SAPIs into the vest rather than hanging them onto the vest.  Finally, the MTV hugs the torso and places the weight on the hips, much like an internal frame backpack, as opposed to the IBA which places all of the weight on the shoulders.

Because of all of this, I commented on a post at the Small Wars Journal the following:

I have completely, absolutely, positively no idea whatsoever what this article is talking about. It makes absolutely no sense at all to me. The MTV is a carrier, not a new set of body armor. All of the weighty elements from the IBA – the front ESAPI plate, the rear ESAPI plate, and the side SAPIs, along with the soft panels placed inside the carrier – are still there with the MTV.

More precisely, the soft panels are taken out of the IBA along with the SAPI plates and placed in the new carrier. The soft panels had been inefficiently deployed in the shoulder area in the IBA, and now are fully utilized. One big difference in the MTV and the IBA is the fact that the IBA hung completely on the shoulders, and allowed no load bearing whatsoever on other parts of the body. The MTV hugs the torso, especially at the hips, and places the weight on the hips somewhat like an internal frame backpack.

This feature was so popular among the grunts with my son’s unit before they deployed to Iraq in 2007 (which happened to be prior to the point that the MTV had been issued) that most of the men went to TAGs (Tactical Applications Group) just outside Camp Lejeune and purchased the commercial version of the MTV, or the Spartan 2.

I have heard multiple Marines myself praise the MTV for its ability to take the load off of the shoulders and place it on the hips – and thus PREVENT BACK PROBLEMS, and have never once heard even the slightest complaint. I have also worn the IBA and Spartan 2, and know the difference first hand. I simply cannot account for the report in this article. The only possible explanation I have for it is that the complaints may not be coming from grunts who have to go on 20 mile “humps” with their armor on (along with ammunition, Camelback, carabineer to hold weapon, etc.). The MTV (or Spartan 2) was so popular among Marines at Camp Lejeune that, again, personal funds were spent purchasing it.

Compare this to the IBA which places the load on the shoulders, and again, I simply do not understand this article. Also, the IBA hangs the side SAPIs by Molle loops, so usually they sag (making good sniper targets under the arms of the wearer because of this sagging). The only real weight difference with the Spartan 2 / MTV and the IBA that I have seen is the existence of the front groin soft panel guard. This adds what – several ounces of weight?

Again, confused, and suspect there is more to this story than meets the eye.

As it turns out after reading the discussion thread on this post, I was right, and the Marines are complaining about the weight of the armor and not the design of the vest.  In other words, this is what is happening.  Marines who are not infantry have trained with their vests on less frequently and not as long in duration as Marines who are infantry, and when they do have them on, they only have the front and rear SAPI plates inserted.  The Marines of 2/6 trained with only their front and rear SAPI plates as well, but knew that they would receive side SAPIs upon deployment to Iraq because many of them were “salty” Marines; they had done this before, some more than once.  Marines who are complaining of heavier weight haven’t been properly briefed or trained to expect heavier loads due to the side SAPIs whether they wear the IBA or MTV.

So the complaints flow concerning weight, as if the weight is all about the MTV versus the IBA rather than the four SAPI plates themselves.  Just to make sure about this, I recently conversed with a senior Marine in whom I place the greatest confidence.  Here is what he told me.

“Sir, you need to understand that there is a difference between a garrison Marine and a grunt, and between a veteran and a combat veteran.  The IBA is good for nothing but back problems, and the people complaining about the MTV are Marines who don’t have to wear their armor 16 hours a day.  The Marines have done a fine job of saving our backs with the MTV.  We like ours and wouldn’t give them up.  Basically, sir, this isn’t about the difference in weights because they are the same.  This is about weight – period.  Sir, this all comes down to a fight between grunts and pogues.  The grunts do what they have to do, and the pogues complain.  Simple as that.”

Yes, the battle space weight is significant, with the armor, the hydration system, ammunition, firearm, radios and other equipment.  The debate is about the use of side SAPI plates, not the MTV or the IBA.  It had been previously considered to jettison the requirement to wear side SAPIs based on conditions in theater, but this is a situation-specific decision.  Weight must be reduced in order to save the health of our warriors, and this should be a goal of future warrior systems.  The MTV is a vest, not armor, and thus has nothing whatsoever to do with the debate about weight.  The MTV was an outstanding success, my Marine contact tells me.  The USMC should be proud of the equipment they have designed for armor.  It is the best available anywhere.

Prior:

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward

Body Armor Goes Political

A Call for Global Strategic Thinking

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

Having been a strong proponent of the wise and strategic use of air power in small wars, The Captain’s Journal continues to advocate both retooling and rethinking not only the Air Force proper, but air assets in the Navy, Army and Marines.  The order of the day seems to be small wars and counterinsurgency, and any air support of the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are bound to be highly visible.  The Air Force knows this, and the Multinational Force cooperates with the need to publicize the many accomplishments of air power in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  MNF press releases routinely include air power summaries, whether involving precision-guided munitions, A-10 engagements, helicopter gunship engagements, or flyovers to cause a “show of force.”

This advocacy for involvement in small wars on our part can be misconstrued, however, to intend the diminution of the Air Force proper, and some analysts have gone on record advocating not just the diminishing of the Air Force, but the complete reorganization of this branch into the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, in a role subservient to the needs of the specific branch to which the assets have been assigned.  But are these calls for busting up the Air Force really strategic, and if so, how forward reaching is the underlying strategy?

In terms of global strategic thinking, Pentagon senior leadership has bigger problems than what to do with the Air Force.  In a stark admission of what repeated and protracted (15 month) deployments have done to the Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen weighed in on his view of the current state of the ground forces: “Are the ground forces broken? Absolutely not,? Mullen told the audience at the Center for a New American Security here. “Are they breakable? They are. And I will do everything I can to prevent them from breaking.?

There are also the materiel problems associated with the heavy duty demanded of it in the two campaigns.  After his most recent visit to Iraq, Victor Davis Hanson observed:

The number of vehicles, arms, bases, and American infrastructure in Iraq is staggering. And the wear and tear on it all is evident everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised that 30% of our equipment is worn out to the degree that it wouldn’t make sense hauling it back, and would be better off left to help transition the Iraqis. Humvees have sprung doors, broken glass, missing pieces, well in addition to the wear from sand and heat. I think the American people should accept that after Iraq we have an enormous tab to pay to reequip the air force, marines, and army. When you ride in a Ch-46 Frog marine helicopter, or a chugging Humvee or see banged up looking semis, you get some idea of the huge refitting job awaiting us after this is over, I’d say $30-40 billion at least.

Yet in light of the hardship to both man and machine caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a tip of the hat to half-century old unrepentant cold war thinking, U.S. NATO Command is arguing for an increased troop presence in Europe.

U.S. military commanders have asked the Pentagon to keep more combat forces stationed in Europe to respond to a rising Russia and other potential threats, according to senior military officials.

Plans to cut the number of soldiers based in Europe will leave commanders with too few troops to protect and train with allies on the continent and to stand ready for deployment to hot spots elsewhere, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, said Gen. David McKiernan, head of Army forces in Europe.

“In this era of persistent conflict, we have some fault lines that are there in the European Command (area of responsibility) that we have to pay attention to,” McKiernan said on Thursday.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of a resurgent Russia,” he said in Washington.

For all of the magnificence of the A-10 – and it is indeed magnificent with its redundant controls, titanium bathtub around the pilot, ability to loiter over the battle space, forward mounted Gatling gun, durability and ability to support counterinsurgency as well as kill tanks – there is a big difference between domination of the local battle space and domination of the regional air space.  The former assists in winning wars, while the later makes the wars possible to begin with.  It is rightly said that the U.S. has enjoyed air superiority for so long that we have forgotten what it is like not to have this superiority on which to rely.

Upon Rumsfeld’s resignation, John Noonan of OpFor had what should go down as the most succinct, deadly accurate assessment of the Rumsfeld era in a large catalog of assessments throughout the military:

To some, his leadership was inspirational. To others, he was the guy who was single handedly dismantling a force that had barely survived eight years of Clinton-era defense cuts. The name for the pain was Transformation, Rumsfeld’s baby. The Pentagon’s “bridge to the 21st century.? And before September 11, it sounded and felt pretty slick. A lighter force, with emphasis on flexibility, technology, and force multiplication. Maximum effect, minimum loss cheered supporters.

In Afghanistan, Transformation was looking pretty good. A couple of hundred SPECOP warriors exploited our new, network-centric approach to warfighting and accomplished what the much-feared Soviet juggernaut could not. Who needs tanks? Who needs divisions? One foward air controller with a horse, a laptop, and a MILSTAR uplink to a B-52 could now do the heavy-lifting of an entire mechanized brigade.

And that’s when Transformation blasted off. The Air Force started delivering Raptors and Global Hawks while BRAC cut our fighter force by 20%. Money poured into the Army’s Future Combat Systems, the Marine led V-22 procurement, and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships. New tankers for the Air Force, new EELV heavy lift rockets to facilitate our budding space weapons program, a new class of aircraft carrier and a new class attack sub. All very useful weapon systems, but all very expensive weapon systems.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to get the Transformation concept over that final, sizable high-cost hurdle. Afghanistan was mostly asymmetric, fought almost exclusively at the platoon and company level. OIF was Transformation’s real test. State v. State conflict, a real army -albeit ill-equipped and poorly trained- to prove the mettle of the new force. And again, Transformation worked. Less troops, higher tech did the job. Mission accomplished.

And like a Shakespearean tragedy, Rumsfeld’s bold new vision for a brave new military collasped at the height of its success. The insurgency dug-in, and with each IED blast another hole was punched in the Transformation concept. Billion-dollar B2s flew helpless overhead as suicide bombers and roadside bombs took the lives of troops who lacked armor on their Humvees and on their bodies. 100 dollar bombs killed 100,000 dollar weapon systems. The highly touted, highly financed UAV force could only watch as car bombers exploded Iraqi marketplaces. What we needed was more troops. What we got was more gizmos.

Rumsfeld made a serious error in creating an armed forces modeled upon the notion that air power, special forces operators and high tech gadgets can win ground campaigns.  But it is a category error equally as serious to assume that Soldiers and Marines can control the sea and air.  The Russians are making no such errors, with plans for advanced submarine technology and plans to design and build a fighter superior to the F-22.  Ironically for U.S. forces in the European theater, we assume that their presence is a deterrent to a “resurgent Russia,” while Russia makes plans to construct more fighter aircraft.

When thinking seriously about the deployment of U.S. forces across the globe, the paradoxes abound.  The U.S. supports tens of thousands of troops to deploy in a region in which there is no war (Europe) and in which the best deterrent would probably be more air power, while Soldiers in Operation Iraqi freedom are in theater for fifteen months at a time.  Similarly, we position U.S. troops in South Korea allowing that country to pursue their  “sunshine diplomacy” with North Korea for half a century at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.  We promise Japan and Taiwan that they are under the umbrella of U.S. protection in order to dissuade them from the development of a nuclear program, while questions arise in the United States concerning the real value of the Air Force and Navy since they are not “contributing” to the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The thinking concerning the future of the Air Force cannot be seen in a vacuum.  It is a part of the larger penchant for empire building within the ranks, and paucity of global strategic thinking at the highest levels of the Pentagon.  It is the same kind of thinking that led to Paul Wolfowitz having the freedom to bully General Eric Shinseki out of his position when he argued for more troops for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  At its root it is a failure to listen and learn and think in an analytical, questioning and forward looking manner.  This root has omniscience as its arrogant presupposition.

The Armed Forces of the United Stated faces high hurdles and challenges to assure victory in the campaigns currently underway.  The long war is far from concluded, and it is predicted that it will require more than ten years in order for the Afghan forces to be fully capable of national security.  Additionally, these campaigns must be engaged while ameliorating and reversing the effects of aging and wear on existing arms and equipment.

These campaigns are part of more global strategic interests involving the air and sea, as well as expansion of the size of the Army and Marines, all of which requires the application and expenditure of wealth.  Given that it is unlikely that either this or the next Congress will allocate the funds necessary to meet the needs of every perceived armed forces program, moderation and wisdom will become valuable commodities.

Instead of the holy grail of the real-time satellite-connected warrior who knows the locations and engagements of all assets in his battle space, U.S. Joint Forces Command might have to settle for tactical solutions such as innovative adaptations on satellite patrols and better body armor including lighter SAPI plates that have a larger surface area or scalar armor; instead of the number of new destroyers that the Navy would like to have, they might have to settle for the number they need; the Air Force might have to sacrifice a few fighters to refit and refurbish more A-10s to support the current campaigns; the Army might have to realize that their new UAV program will not control the air space for the Persian Gulf; the European command might have to acquiesce to the idea that training with Iraqi troops is better than training with German troops and being deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or Qatar (the future home of CENTCOM) is more regionally and globally strategic than being deployed in Germany; and this will all have to be done while advancing weapons systems and programs in order to keep ahead of the various enemies of the state.

Empire building and self-preservation is the enemy of efficiency, and leadership, wisdom and foresight must come first from the highest levels of the Pentagon.  For the first time in history, military blogs are read and digested by professional military, and actually have a role to play concerning open communication over everything from global strategy to unit tactics and equipment.

Globally strategic thinking is required, smartly applied to a collection of complex, symbiotic organizations.  Thus far, the best that this community has been able to come up with is to bust up the Air Force and order them to report to the Army.  We are off to a sorry and pitiful start.

Related Sources:

Body Armor Goes Political, TCJ

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, TCJ

Time Slams the V-22 Osprey, TCJ

V-22 Osprey Deploys, TCJ

Faster Kill Chain, TCJ

A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency, TCJ

Air Power in Small Wars, TCJ

Can the Navy Afford the New Destroyers?, TCJ

Abolish the Air Force, The American Prospect

More on the Relevance of the U.S. Air Force, The Tank

Kill the Air Force, OpFor

Disband the DC Punditocracy, Aviation Week

Abolish the Air Force, Small Wars Council Discussion Thread

What is a Warrior’s Life Worth?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 12 months ago

The AP recently published an article on the subject of the cost of equipping U.S. soldiers and Marines (picked up later by Australia’s Herald Sun which printed a redacted version of the article).

As official Washington argues over the spiraling price of the war in Iraq, consider this: Outfitting a soldier for battle costs a hundred times more now than it did in World War II. It was $170 then, is about $17,500 now and could be an estimated $28,000 to $60,000 by the middle of the next decade.

“The ground soldier was perceived to be a relatively inexpensive instrument of war” in the past, said Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, head of the Army agency for developing and fielding soldier equipment.

Now, the Pentagon spends tens of billions of dollars annually to protect troops and make them more lethal on the battlefield.

In the 1940s, a GI went to war with little more than a uniform, weapon, helmet, bedroll and canteen. He carried some 35 pounds of gear that cost $170 in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars, according to Army figures.

That rose to about $1,100 by the 1970s as the military added a flak vest, new weapons and other equipment during the Vietnam War.

Today, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are outfitted with advanced armor and other protection, including high-tech vests, anti-ballistic eyewear, earplugs and fire-retardant gloves. Night-vision eyewear, thermal weapons sights and other gear makes them more deadly to the adversary.

In all, soldiers today are packing more than 80 items — weighing about 75 pounds — from socks to disposable handcuffs to a strap cutter for slashing open a seatbelt if they have to flee a burning vehicle.

Several items were added since 2002, when troops in Afghanistan complained that their equipment was outdated and not best suited to the new campaign.

I have not been able to recover the actual cost of an M1-Gerand which was predominantly in use in World War 2, but its predecessor Springfield had a cost of $42.50 in 1932.  Conservatively assuming no change in cost for the Gerand, this means that for approximately $130 the U.S. Army outfitted its troops with a backpack, helmet, shovel, ammunition belt, canteen, boots, socks, fatigues, cold weather gear, rain gear, overcoat, bayonet, etc. (the list above is gratuitously shortened).

This is a mistake, or at least, grossly exaggerated.  We prefer simply incorrect for whatever reason.  However, let’s stipulate the premise, i.e., that the costs associated with modern warfare have increased dramatically.  The corollary to this is that the lethality of modern warfare has increased nearly in proportion to its costs, as has the human costs of conducting that warfare decreased.  Equipment innovations (e.g., ceramic SAPI plates) and medical advances (among other things) have decreased both the battlefield dead and the ratio of dead to wounded.  As for battlefield weight, I have written extensively about the difficulty in movement added by 32 lbs of body armor (Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward), and also recommended that further technological advancements reduce that battlefield weight for the warrior (Body Armor Goes Political).  Ironically, the solution to heavy battlefield weight is the very thing that the author of the article seems to be arguing against – more spending and technological developments.

No Marine or Soldier wants to deploy to the theater with inferior body armor, as evidenced by Marines being adopted by veteran’s organizations to procure Spartan 2 body armor when it became apparent that the Modular Tacitical Vest would not become available in time for recent deployments.  Also, given the success of IEDs as a tactic of the enemy in Iraq, no Marine or Soldier wants to deploy in HMWVVs, even uparmored HMWVVs, in lieu of the MRAP, mine resistant ambush protected V-shape hull transport vehicle.

The Pentagon has argued for more funds to be transferred to the MRAP program (partly at the insistence of Secretary of Defense Gates), but even as this occurs, some Pentagon leadership wonders if the future of new weapons system is not being sold for better protection now.  It is also this thinking that caused the delay in the deployment of the program when it was learned that IEDs were so effective against U.S. forces.  More money spent now, so the thinking went, means less for the future.  Thus did Pentagon thinkers play the devil’s game, with the lives of American warriors hanging in the balance with roadside bombs and IEDs.

Rather than wonder about the morality of future weapons systems and the alleged high costs of outfitting Marines and Soldiers with body armor, ballistic goggles, night vision and tie wraps for detaining individuals, the author – as well as thinkers at the Pentagon – ought better to wonder about the morality of decision-making that sacrifices warrior’s lives for money that is easily raised and spent by the Department of Defense.  Where Congress is culpable, they ought to have the same watershed moral revelation.  When considering money for lives, the decision is simple, assuming that the decision-maker has a moral constitution to begin with.

As for the Marines who are soon to deploy?  The North County Times gives us their current perspective on equipment and preparedness.

When an estimated 11,000 Camp Pendleton troops head to Iraq soon, they’ll be taking a host of new equipment with them such as lighter helmets, better flak jackets and more heavily armored vehicles.

They’ll also be taking a wealth of experience from lessons learned during the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the multiple deployments in the nearly five years since.

That’s been evident at Camp Pendleton in recent weeks, where troops from private to major attend classes and train in the field as they prepare to replace the North Carolina-based II Marine Expeditionary Force in the Anbar province west of Baghdad.

The Pentagon announced in late July that three major Camp Pendleton units would be deployed beginning late this year and continuing into early 2008.

Class themes for the troops heading to the Middle East run the gamut, from how to spot roadside bombs to how to grasp parts of Iraqi culture and language.

In Counterinsurgency: Know Thine Enemy, I argued for just such language and culture training.  Continuing with the North County Times article:

The Camp Pendleton troops will be riding in some new hardware in Iraq, including the Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter, but it flies faster and like an airplane, using tilt-rotor propellers.

The first group of Ospreys, which can ferry troops to hot spots much faster than helicopters, reached Iraq last week. With a history of deadly crashes that has marred its development, the Osprey’s performance will be closely watched with keen attention paid to maintenance issues and how the lightly armed aircraft is able to respond to any ground attacks.

More important for the “ground pounders” is the latest generation of heavily armored vehicles, including the new “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected” or MRAP. The Pentagon is rushing as many of the V-shaped hulled vehicles as it can into Iraq in an attempt to reduce deaths and injuries from roadside bombs to older generation Humvees.

New flak jackets, with more protective gear around the head, neck and back, have also been issued, and the helmets are much lighter than the Marines wore in their first deployments (Editorial note: the flak that he refers to is the Modular Tactical Vest versus the Interceptor Body Armor).

“There’s no question the gear we’re going with is better,” Hughes said.

So agreed Cpl. Samuel Lott, a motor pool specialist heading to Iraq for the second time. He led an overview of the vehicles that will carry Marines around Iraq, pointing out that most have much better protection against small-arms and rocket fire as well as roadside bombs.

“I’m anxious to go back,” Lott said. “Very few of the Marines in my shop have combat experience, so I’m glad I’m going to be with them.”

Thankfully, those who would play “the devil’s game” have not successfully thwarted the expenditure of monies to outfit the Pendleton Marines soon to deploy.

There is no moral dilemma.  Here at The Captain’s Journal, we are in favor of spending now and spending later to equip the American warriors.  Those who are not are playing the devil’s game.

What is a Warrior’s Life Worth?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 12 months ago

The AP recently published an article on the subject of the cost of equipping U.S. soldiers and Marines (picked up later by Australia’s Herald Sun which printed a redacted version of the article).

As official Washington argues over the spiraling price of the war in Iraq, consider this: Outfitting a soldier for battle costs a hundred times more now than it did in World War II. It was $170 then, is about $17,500 now and could be an estimated $28,000 to $60,000 by the middle of the next decade.

“The ground soldier was perceived to be a relatively inexpensive instrument of war” in the past, said Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, head of the Army agency for developing and fielding soldier equipment.

Now, the Pentagon spends tens of billions of dollars annually to protect troops and make them more lethal on the battlefield.

In the 1940s, a GI went to war with little more than a uniform, weapon, helmet, bedroll and canteen. He carried some 35 pounds of gear that cost $170 in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars, according to Army figures.

That rose to about $1,100 by the 1970s as the military added a flak vest, new weapons and other equipment during the Vietnam War.

Today, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are outfitted with advanced armor and other protection, including high-tech vests, anti-ballistic eyewear, earplugs and fire-retardant gloves. Night-vision eyewear, thermal weapons sights and other gear makes them more deadly to the adversary.

In all, soldiers today are packing more than 80 items — weighing about 75 pounds — from socks to disposable handcuffs to a strap cutter for slashing open a seatbelt if they have to flee a burning vehicle.

Several items were added since 2002, when troops in Afghanistan complained that their equipment was outdated and not best suited to the new campaign.

I have not been able to recover the actual cost of an M1-Gerand which was predominantly in use in World War 2, but its predecessor Springfield had a cost of $42.50 in 1932.  Conservatively assuming no change in cost for the Gerand, this means that for approximately $130 the U.S. Army outfitted its troops with a backpack, helmet, shovel, ammunition belt, canteen, boots, socks, fatigues, cold weather gear, rain gear, overcoat, bayonet, etc. (the list above is gratuitously shortened).

This is a mistake, or at least, grossly exaggerated.  We prefer simply incorrect for whatever reason.  However, let’s stipulate the premise, i.e., that the costs associated with modern warfare have increased dramatically.  The corollary to this is that the lethality of modern warfare has increased nearly in proportion to its costs, as has the human costs of conducting that warfare decreased.  Equipment innovations (e.g., ceramic SAPI plates) and medical advances (among other things) have decreased both the battlefield dead and the ratio of dead to wounded.  As for battlefield weight, I have written extensively about the difficulty in movement added by 32 lbs of body armor (Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward), and also recommended that further technological advancements reduce that battlefield weight for the warrior (Body Armor Goes Political).  Ironically, the solution to heavy battlefield weight is the very thing that the author of the article seems to be arguing against – more spending and technological developments.

No Marine or Soldier wants to deploy to the theater with inferior body armor, as evidenced by Marines being adopted by veteran’s organizations to procure Spartan 2 body armor when it became apparent that the Modular Tacitical Vest would not become available in time for recent deployments.  Also, given the success of IEDs as a tactic of the enemy in Iraq, no Marine or Soldier wants to deploy in HMWVVs, even uparmored HMWVVs, in lieu of the MRAP, mine resistant ambush protected V-shape hull transport vehicle.

The Pentagon has argued for more funds to be transferred to the MRAP program (partly at the insistence of Secretary of Defense Gates), but even as this occurs, some Pentagon leadership wonders if the future of new weapons system is not being sold for better protection now.  It is also this thinking that caused the delay in the deployment of the program when it was learned that IEDs were so effective against U.S. forces.  More money spent now, so the thinking went, means less for the future.  Thus did Pentagon thinkers play the devil’s game, with the lives of American warriors hanging in the balance with roadside bombs and IEDs.

Rather than wonder about the morality of future weapons systems and the alleged high costs of outfitting Marines and Soldiers with body armor, ballistic goggles, night vision and tie wraps for detaining individuals, the author – as well as thinkers at the Pentagon – ought better to wonder about the morality of decision-making that sacrifices warrior’s lives for money that is easily raised and spent by the Department of Defense.  Where Congress is culpable, they ought to have the same watershed moral revelation.  When considering money for lives, the decision is simple, assuming that the decision-maker has a moral constitution to begin with.

As for the Marines who are soon to deploy?  The North County Times gives us their current perspective on equipment and preparedness.

When an estimated 11,000 Camp Pendleton troops head to Iraq soon, they’ll be taking a host of new equipment with them such as lighter helmets, better flak jackets and more heavily armored vehicles.

They’ll also be taking a wealth of experience from lessons learned during the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the multiple deployments in the nearly five years since.

That’s been evident at Camp Pendleton in recent weeks, where troops from private to major attend classes and train in the field as they prepare to replace the North Carolina-based II Marine Expeditionary Force in the Anbar province west of Baghdad.

The Pentagon announced in late July that three major Camp Pendleton units would be deployed beginning late this year and continuing into early 2008.

Class themes for the troops heading to the Middle East run the gamut, from how to spot roadside bombs to how to grasp parts of Iraqi culture and language.

In Counterinsurgency: Know Thine Enemy, I argued for just such language and culture training.  Continuing with the North County Times article:

The Camp Pendleton troops will be riding in some new hardware in Iraq, including the Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter, but it flies faster and like an airplane, using tilt-rotor propellers.

The first group of Ospreys, which can ferry troops to hot spots much faster than helicopters, reached Iraq last week. With a history of deadly crashes that has marred its development, the Osprey’s performance will be closely watched with keen attention paid to maintenance issues and how the lightly armed aircraft is able to respond to any ground attacks.

More important for the “ground pounders” is the latest generation of heavily armored vehicles, including the new “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected” or MRAP. The Pentagon is rushing as many of the V-shaped hulled vehicles as it can into Iraq in an attempt to reduce deaths and injuries from roadside bombs to older generation Humvees.

New flak jackets, with more protective gear around the head, neck and back, have also been issued, and the helmets are much lighter than the Marines wore in their first deployments (Editorial note: the flak that he refers to is the Modular Tactical Vest versus the Interceptor Body Armor).

“There’s no question the gear we’re going with is better,” Hughes said.

So agreed Cpl. Samuel Lott, a motor pool specialist heading to Iraq for the second time. He led an overview of the vehicles that will carry Marines around Iraq, pointing out that most have much better protection against small-arms and rocket fire as well as roadside bombs.

“I’m anxious to go back,” Lott said. “Very few of the Marines in my shop have combat experience, so I’m glad I’m going to be with them.”

Thankfully, those who would play “the devil’s game” have not successfully thwarted the expenditure of monies to outfit the Pendleton Marines soon to deploy.

There is no moral dilemma.  Here at The Captain’s Journal, we are in favor of spending now and spending later to equip the American warriors.  Those who are not are playing the devil’s game.

DoD Inefficiency and Unintended Consequences

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

The Strategy Page has a piece up on China ordering digital camouflage.

China is spending over a billion dollars to buy new combat uniforms for its troops. The new uniforms use a digital camouflage pattern similar to the one used by American soldiers and marines for the past four years.

Digital camouflage uses “pixels” (little square or round spots of color, like you will find on your computer monitor if you look very closely), instead of just splotches of different colors. Naturally, this was called “digital camouflage” when it was first invented three decades ago. This pattern proved considerably more effective at hiding troops than older methods. For example, in tests, it was found that soldiers wearing digital pattern uniforms were 50 percent more likely to escape detection by other troops. What made the digital pattern work was the way the human brain processed information. The small “pixels” of color on the cloth makes the human brain see vegetation and terrain, not people. One could provide a more technical explanation, but the “brain processing” one pretty much says it all.

Another advantage of the digital patterns is that they can also fool troops using night vision scopes. American troops are increasingly running up against opponents who have night optics, so wearing a camouflage pattern that looks like vegetation to someone with a night scope, is useful.

China will take two years to get nearly two million troops equipped with the new uniforms. There are four camouflage patterns (urban, forest, desert and ocean), although the woodland pattern  also works in urban areas, just not as well as the special urban pattern. The new uniforms have a lot of other improvements, based on feedback from the troops. The new uniforms are also sturdier, and are able to survive 700 washings, versus about 140 with the current uniforms.

The U.S. Army developed digital camouflage in the 1970s. Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R. O’Neill, a West Point professor of engineering psychology, had first noted the “digital camouflage effect.” It was never adopted for use in uniforms, but was used for a camouflage pattern on armored vehicles of the U.S. Army 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Europe from 1978 to the early 1980s. Why hadn’t the army adopted it for uniforms back in the 1970s? It seems that the key army people (uniformed and civilian) deciding such things in the 1970s could not grasp the concept of how digital camouflage worked on the human brain, and were not swayed by field tests. Strange, but true, and it’s happened before. In 2003, the U.S. Army decided to use digital camouflage patterns for their new field uniforms. A few years after that, China expressed an interest in the concept, for their new field uniforms.

More interesting than the article is a comment associated with the article.

I tend to be a little dubious about ‘the next big thing’ in camouflage patterns.  It’s been my experience that once you strap on all your gear and get covered in dust and mud, no one can see what your uniform looks like anyway.  Durability and more convenient pocket placement is far more important.

Here we have an interesting anecdotal piece of evidence for Department of Defense inefficiency.  The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and vice versa.  Below is a pitcure of Marines being outfitted with the new Modular Tactical Vest that I have covered in Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, and Body Armor Goes Political.

The intent of digital camies is to provide stealth.  The intent of body armor is to protect against penetration of deadly rounds.  The body armor outer tactical vest (the carrier for the soft ballistic panels and ESAPI plates) is not constructed of digital camouflage, and yet the system covers all of the upper torso (protecting the whole body organs) and some of the groin, thereby negating the effects of the digital camouflage blouse (and the picture above is not of desert camies which would be worse in comparison).

Commercial industry struggles with miscommunication and lack of coordination as well.  No one intends for this to happen, but the end result is that the body armor system and the digital camouflage are not compatible, in that the digital pattern of the camies (or more correctly the lack of pattern) is broken with the armor system.  The same is true of other gear, whether radios, carriers for ammunition drums for SAW gunners, or other things that the warrior needs to carry on his mission.

The solution for this disconnect involves two things: (a) more money for the DoD, and (b) better coordination among the planners, engineers and procurement specialists.

Infantry Belongs on Foot, Sir!

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

In the summer of 2005, fourteen Marines were tragically lost near Haditha while being transported in an Amphibious Assault Vehicle.  Soon after this event I had the opportunity to discuss it with a seasoned Marine Staff Sergeant, and I complained vigorously about the idea of running an Amphibious Assault Vehicle down a desert road in Iraq.  It lacked the armor for its mission, it wasn’t designed to do what was being demanded of it, and it is particularly susceptible to ordnance from the side (here is a picture of what this vehicle looked like after the IED attack).  The seasoned Sergeant waited patiently until I was finished and said, “Infantry belongs on foot, sir!”

The Strategy Page has an analysis of infantry, IEDs and travel on foot.

June 21, 2007:  Roadside bombs in Iraq now cause over 70 percent of the U.S. casualties. Moreover, most of the bomb casualties  now are combat troops, not the guys and gals who run the supply convoys up from Kuwait, and to dozens of bases in Iraq. Those routes are close watched and well patrolled. The danger comes when combat troops move into a n new area and have to patrol a lot of roads that are not closely watched for people setting up bombs. Not only are there more bombs to be encountered in these areas, but the troops naturally spend more time looking for them as they drive around on patrol. They should be looking for the bad guys and suspicious activity, but self-defense must come first.

To lower the bomb threat, many infantry commanders are resorting to an ancient practice; walking. This eliminates nearly all contact with roadside bombs. Troops can’t always accomplish their missions on foot, but many jobs can be done that way. If a raid is on a location a kilometer or so from the base, walking is no problem. Many such raids are usually carried out early in the morning, in order to take the suspects by surprise. Going in by foot in these situations is not a problem.

Another major activity, patrolling, is usually done in the vicinity of the base. You can see a lot more on foot, and have more opportunities to get information from the locals (who are increasingly willing to give it.) Even with all the heat, the troops appreciate the opportunity to amble about. Normally, the only work done on foot is frantic scrambling in combat, after dismounting from an armored vehicle. But whether the troops like to hike cross country or not, they all quickly come to appreciate the decline in roadside bomb casualties, or the anxiety that one may be just down the road.

This is the reason that Marines train to “hump” twenty miles at a time with full gear.  In an area the size of Fallujah, there isn’t any reason that foot transport cannot carry them from one side of the city to the other (and even South into the Euphrates River valley area).  Of course, heavy battlefield weight becomes a significant concern, an issue we have discussed in Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, and Body Armor Goes Political.  Battlefield weight must be reduced, an important aim of next generation technology for the warrior.

**** UPDATE ****

A few hours after I published this article, the L.A. Times published an extensive article on EFPs, walking and infantry.

U.S. troops working the streets of the capital fear one Iraqi weapon more than others — a copper-plated explosive that can penetrate armor and has proved devastating to Humvees and even capable of severely damaging tanks.

The power of what the military calls an EFP — for explosively formed penetrator, or projectile — to spray molten metal balls that punch through the armor on vehicles has some American troops rethinking their tactics. They are asking whether the U.S. should give up its reliance on making constant improvements to vehicle defenses.

Instead, these troops think, it is time to leave the armor behind — and get out and walk.

“In our area, the biggest threat for us is EFPs. When you are in the vehicles, you are a big target,” said Army Staff Sgt. Cavin Moskwa, 33, of Hawaii, who patrols Baghdad’s Zafraniya neighborhood with the Bravo Battery of the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment. “But when you are dismounted … you are a lot safer.”

In the last three days, 15 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, nine of them in two powerful roadside bomb blasts. The military does not publicly identify the kind of weapon used in improvised explosive attacks, but the deadly nature of the blasts Wednesday and Thursday suggested that EFPs may have been used.

Read the entire article by the L.A. Times.

Body Armor Goes Political

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

**** SCROLL FOR UPDATES **** 

Discussions on body armor for Soldiers and Marines can be highly technical, and most of them have been, right up until recently.  Senators are now winning political points by talking about body armor that will never be deployed because it is too heavy to wear on the battlefield; the Government Accountability Office is performing investigations that fail to address government accountability; the Army refuses even to consider assistance to its testing program by an independent engineering consultant; and all the while Marines are still being denied the equipment that they need.  Body armor has gone political.

Introduction & Background

In Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, we gave a primer on the features and characteristics of the currently deployed body armor (the Interceptor Body Armor and the Modular Tactical Vest, or Spartan 2 Assault Vest), and expanded the investigation into the claims and counterclaims of Pinnacle, and the Army, respectively, concerning the Dragon Skin body armor.  Finally, we outlined a way forward for all concerned parties, this way being the best solution for the Soldier and Marine irrespective of how other parties feel about it.  The recommendations included but were not limited to the development of analytical models of the body armor types, a re-examination of the testing protocol, a review of the test data and more testing as deemed appropriate, and real world input from Soldiers and Marines concerning ‘wearability’ and heavy battlefield weight.  This was to be led by an independent engineering consultant to the Department of Defense.

There were political machinations at work prior to our article on body armor wars, but these wars are becoming increasingly political and less oriented towards technical substance and reviewer independence.  Shrill voices who have never put on body armor are now weighing in, clearly attempting to gain political points.

Survey of the Debate

Below we catalog recent articles which bear on the issue of body armor and the Dragon Skin versus the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) / MTV (Modular Tactical Vest, or Spartan 2).

On April 26, 2007, the Government Accountability Office published their preliminary findings in Defense Logistics: Army and Marine Corps’s Individual Body Armor System Issues, as GAO-07-662R.  Other than standardization of test protocol for soft ballistic panels, the GAO reported a substantial amount of detail to Congress concerning their findings, none of which were worthy of mention as problems.  The study and report focused on meeting theater requirements and body armor availability, testing protocol, post-deployment inspections and information sharing between the Army and Marine Corps.  A comparison of the IBA/MTV with the Dragon Skin (or an assessment of claims made by Pinnacle) was not within the scope of the study.

On May 2, 2007, OpFor published the summary of the GAO’s investigation into the body armor testing, and reported “sorry Pinnacle, no government conspiracy.”  OpFor followed up this article with two more articles: May 21, 2007 and May 22, 2007, both of which were extremely critical of the Dragon Skin and the claims by Pinnacle.

On May 18, 2007, Senators Clinton and Webb issued a press release in which they “called on Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker to initiate a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation to reassess the body armor systems currently being issued by all the military services and the Special Operations Command for effectiveness and reliability against the threats facing U.S. troops in combat.”  Note that this press release recommends a different GAO investigation, one that focuses on the currently deployed systems versus the Dragon Skin.

On May 20, 2007, two days after Senators Clinton and Webb issued their press release, NBC published an article on the Dragon Skin body armor entitled Are U.S. Soldiers Wearing the Best Body Armor?  In addition to conducting their own tests after which they call into question the Army test results, they NBC slips in their summary statement up front, saying that “the Army’s Interceptor uses four rigid plates to stop the most lethal bullets, leaving some vital organs unprotected. Dragon Skin — with discs that interconnect like Medieval chainmail — can wrap most of a soldier’s torso, providing a greater area of maximum protection.”

Also on May 20, 2007, Jeff Huber of Pen and Sword published an article that was highly critical of the Army’s handling of the body armor situation.  The article at Pen and Sword presupposes the superiority of the Dragon Skin to the IBA/MTV.

On May 28, 2007, The Captain’s Journal published Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward.  In this article we sided with OpFor concerning battlefield weight, although we decidedly favored completely independent testing and analysis by a mechanical and forensic engineering firm, as well as review of all DoD testing protocols of body armor.  We provided a list of ten recommendations for such a project.  On the same day, Blackfive published a list of useful links to the body armor controversy, and concurred with our opinion regarding independent testing and analysis.

On June 5, 2007, DefenseTech published an article entitled The Dragon Skin Circus Begins.  Defense Tech received an advance copy of testimony before congress and supplied some technical analysis and criticism, and using an extensive history of coverage of this body armor issue, raised a number of technical issues associated with both the Dragon Skin testing and the testimony before Congress.

On June 6, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the controversy, and ranking member Duncan Hunter, whose son is a Marine who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, issued a statement both warning on the one hand of the necessity to test in high temperature conditions, and on the other of the need for retesting of the body armor systems.  Despite the requests, Army officials declined to retest the body armor systems under any other protocol than a new contract.  On June 7, 2007, DefenseTech published a post-mortem on the Dragon Skin Congressional hearing.

On June 7, 2007, Daily Kos weighed in with the most vitriolic and shrill article yet on body armor.  The article sees an evil administration at every turn, refusing to consider the safety of the troops.  This insightful comment sits at the end of the responses to the article for those readers patient enough to endure the beating: “Dragon Skin’s attempt to disguise lobbying as concern for the troops isn’t terribly creative.”

On June 11, Air Force contracting officials sought to prohibit Pinnacle Armor from signing new contracts with the U.S. Government, alleging false claims by Pinnacle to have met ballistic standards that in fact they did not.  On June 14, the Navy issued the same order that the Marines did, banning personally purchased body armor.

Even more recently, American Legion Post 735, which spent $6000 for Spartan 2 Vests (commercial equivalent to the Modular Tactical Vest) for Marines soon to be deployed to the Anbar province, have had their equipment retired and denied use by Marines due to Marine administrative order MARADMIN 262/07 that we discussed in Gear and Equipment Problems for the Marines.  Be careful not to confuse this with the debate about Dragon Skin body armor, since New York Congressman Brian Higgins, albeit with the best of intentions, has made this mistake and issued a press release asking for the same independent probe that Senators Clinton and Webb have requested.

Assessment & Evaluation

The chorus of voices discussing body armor has become so loud that clarity and precision are languishing … and body armor has gone political.  Senator Clinton, while standing to gain political points, is at least ignorant of body armor issues.  Senator Webb is not ignorant of body armor issues, and knows full well that the U.S. cannot put Soldiers and Marines in the Dragon Skin’s 48 lbs. of weight (compared to 32 for the Interceptor or MTV).  It must be remembered that the warrior carries not only his body armor, but a hydration system, weapon, ammunition, sometimes communication gear, and often other supplies.  The heavy battlefield weight has led to ankle and knee injuries that incapacitate fighters on the battlefield, thus endangering their lives.  There is currently a push by the Army and Marines to decrease battlefield weight, not increase it.  “Anecdotal evidence is streaming back from the battlefield about Marines breaking their ankles while jumping off of trucks because of the weight they are carrying … Maj. Gen. William D. Catto, commanding officer, Marine Corps Systems Command, during the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exhibition April 6, 2006, said that the “current body armor system is ‘too heavy’.  Catto went on to call for industry “pinheads? to help develop lighter armor because the “lightest guy in the platoon going across the line of departure is wearing 80 pounds of gear.?

Senator Webb knows this, and he is merely trying to gain political points.  In fact, the question should be considered how Pinnacle’s body armor system even justified testing by the Army given its heavy weight.  It cannot be deployed as is, and its weight must be reduced by a fraction of at least 32/48 = 0.667, or 2/3, before it can be considered equivalent to the currently deployed body armor, regardless of coverage area.  This is a nontrivial amount of weight.

Yet there are troubling issues.  Questions have arisen concerning the rigid restraint of the Dragon Skin during testing, the angle of incidence of the projectile, and other issues of testing protocol and interpretation of results.  This matters for one simple reason: proof of principle.  If flexible, full coverage body armor is to be in the future of the Army and Marines, these questions must be answered.  The Army is being profoundly unhelpful by refusing any independent consultative support for their testing and analysis engineering.

The Marines have their own problems.  The Modular Tactical Vest, which represents a substantial improvement over the IBA, was supposed to be deployed in February of this year, and all Marines deployed to Iraq were supposed to have this armor carrier (with the same ESAPI plates and soft armor panels – see Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, for an explanation of improved features of the new carrier).  Since it has been delayed in manufacture and deployment, it has become common practice for Marines at Camp LeJeune to drive down the road a mile or two to Tactical Applications Group and spend the money to purchase their own vest.  This is what American Legion Post 735 purchased for their adopted Marines, only to be denied its use by a field grade officer who is not being innovative and taking advantage of the fact that the Spartan 2 is the exact duplicate in form, fit and function as the Modular Tactical Vest.

Finally, the Government Accountability Office sent too many investigators to Quantico to talk to Marine Corps officers, and not enough to Camp LeJeune to talk to Lance Corporals who could have told them that talk of the MTV was a smoke screen and a ruse since the MTV has not yet been issued.  To be named the GAO, this office gives little confidence that there is much “accountability,” whether in the GAO or elsewhere.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Given the lack of confidence inspired by the federal government, independent consultative support is necessary to restore the public confidence in the system.  Support, that is, who doesn’t stand gain from whatever conclusions that are reached.  This is necessary for not only proof of principle for future body armor designs, but for currently deployed armor we well.

The politicians who stand to gain by demanding new GAO investigations of the Dragon Skin should stand down and align themselves with the House Armed Services Committee, because when politics rears its ugly head, science rarely wins, and government accountability is a rare commodity.

We are advocating the same thing that Representative Duncan Hunter is: independent testing and consultative support — yet with a full view to the comprehensive requirements under which the body armor system must perform, including temperature and battlefield weight.

**** UPDATE ****

This article was published on June 18, 2007.  On June 20, 2007, the Strategy Page weighed in on body armor weight:

June 20, 2007: While politicians and pundits make a lot of noise about getting the troops better body armor, the troops are asking for less, or at least lighter and less bulky, armor. Anyone who has been in combat will tell you that survival depends, first of all,  on speed and mobility. Body armor helps when you do get hit, but the latest body armor often slows troops down and makes them vulnerable to hits in unarmored areas (the face, and limbs). Troops traveling in vehicles find the body armor a major obstacle to getting out quickly. This can be a matter of life and death. Another problem is fatigue and heat. The heavy armor is cumbersome, and wearing it in action wears you out more quickly.

SOCOM troops have a lot of discretion, and sometimes prefer to go into action without their body armor. But regular soldiers and marines must wear the body armor at all times, and they are not happy with the no-win situation they are often put in because of this requirement. The politicians are really paying attention, and the troops are not happy with the results. No one, except the troops who wear the stuff, appear to realize how critical weight and bulk is.

One (sort of) bright spot is that the enemy often obtains body armor, either Russian stuff, or police grade protective vests. This does give them some protection, but it also slows them down and wears them down more quickly. In some situations, when Taliban gunmen are being pursued, they have been seen abandoning their body armor, in order to increase their chances of getting away.

Of course, the solution is not to make use of discretion to jettison body armor.  It is for the designers of the ceramic ESAPI plates to come up with something lighter.

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

There have been recent calls from members of the Senate for investigations into claims that Pinnacle’s Dragon Skin armor is better than the currently deployed body armor.  Response from the Army was swift and direct.  This article covers some recent history of body armor and the current “dust-up” in the media and Senate, and briefly examines claims and counter-claims.  A way forward is recommended for final disposition of the issues surrounding body armor.  This article has a companion article: Gear and Equipment Problems for the Marines.

NBC News recently did an exposé on the Dragon Skin body armor, raising again the question whether it is superior to the currently deployed body armor (this issue has been followed for years by Soldiers for the Truth).  Before we examine the claims and counterclaims, some history must be rehearsed so that words and concepts and not read and discussed in a vacuum.

The Interceptor body armor system (IBA) was deployed during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The IBA consists mainly of an Outer Tactical Vest (the shell), soft armor panels, and Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI), hard ceramic plates designed to prevent penetration of the 7.62 mm round.  The soft armor is designed to prevent penetration of a 9 mm round and shrapnel from some explosive ordnance.  It covers approximately the entire surface area of the OTV.  There were initially two main SAPI plates, one for the front and the other for the back.

The ballistic capabilities of the SAPI were upgraded, and hence the currently deployed plate is referred to as ESAPI, for enhanced SAPI.  There are also side SAPI plates, and during the first – and sometimes the second – deployment of Soldiers and Marines to OIF, wearing the side SAPIs was optional.  Many Soldiers and Marines chose not to wear them, since as a carrier the IBA was not designed to hold the side SAPIs (I’m looking at the IBA shell as I write).  The side SAPIs were worn in conjunction with the original IBA with use of a molle system.

It was discovered that enemy snipers were aiming for gaps in the SAPI plate coverage (e.g., the side torso under the arms), and so wearing the side SAPIs eventually became mandatory.  The heavy battlefield weight, along with the lack of integration of the side SAPIs into the shell, caused the US Marine Corps to revise its body armor system to the Modular Tactical Vest, or MTV (the commercial version is the Spartan 2 Assault Vest, from Tactical Applications Group).  Having put on both the IBA and the MTV (or Spartan 2) I can attest to the improvements of the MTV over the Interceptor.  Some Marines are still being deployed with the IBA rather than the MTV, and are choosing to purchase the Spartan 2 shell themselves (and transfer the soft panels and SAPI plates to the new carrier).

If the reader recalls seeing video from Iraq, the vests that the soldiers are wearing always seem to be “hiked up” in the back (with very little lower back protection).  As one NCO in the 101st Airborne told me, “the front SAPI is low, the rear SAPI is high, and we hang equipment on the front of our vests using molle loops and carabiners.  Why do you think that we walk leaning backwards?  We’re trying to keep from falling over forwards.”  Battlefield weight (and weight distribution) is a huge deal.  This NCO told me that without the order to wear the side SAPIs, he would choose not to in spite of the increased risk.  More on battlefield weight later.

The new Marine MTV raises the SAPI in the front a little, lowers it in the back a little, and makes use of the soft armor panels more efficiently (it avoids doubling over of the soft armor in the shoulder area with the IBA and deploys the soft panels to their fullest extent).  It fully integrates the side SAPIs into the outer shell with a carrier for the plates, and it provides soft panel neck and groin protection.  Contrary to the IBA which places the full weight of the soft armor and SAPI plates on the shoulders, its design hugs the body and places the weight on the hips, much like an internal frame backpack.  Finally, the MTV has a quick release system, a system that is designed with a single pull cord that instantly disassembles the vest, typically used during escape situations when someone is trapped in a vehicle rollover or weighed down in deep water.  This feature is particularly popular with Marines and especially Navy Corpsmen who want to get injured Marines out of their gear quickly.  The Marines with whom I have talked have spoken very approvingly of the MTV (Spartan 2).  It is popular, the improved features are important and valuable, and it represents a quantifiable improvement over previous versions.

But in spite of the superiority of the MTV to the IBA, both systems use the same philosophical approach: an overall carrier, holding soft ballistic panels designed to stop very small arms (e.g., 9 mm and shrapnel) supplemented by SAPI plates of some finite surface area (in the front, back and sides) designed to stop 7.62 mm rounds from AK-47s.  Now comes Pinnacle’s Dragon Skin, with a completely different philosophical approach to body armor.

Dragon Skin uses an interconnected system of ballistic discs held together with adhesive.  The accolades are certainly impressive, but as soon as the NBC report was issued, the Department of Defense came to the defense of the IBA and leveled some significant criticisms against the Dragon Skin.

In response to a May 17 NBC News report challenging the Army’s use of Interceptor body armor vs. the newer “Dragon Skin? armor developed by Pinnacle Armor Inc., Brown today released information about the testing that ruled out Dragon Skin a year ago.

The tests were conducted May 16 to 19, 2006, at H.P. White labs near Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The Pinnacle armor was subjected to the same tests Interceptor body armor goes through, first being X-rayed and analyzed and then undergoing a series of live-fire tests, Brown said. The live-fire tests included room-temperature tests, harsh environment tests, and durability and drop tests.

Of the eight Pinnacle vests tested, four of them failed the tests, with 13 rounds penetrating completely on the first or second shot, Brown said. After the first complete penetration, the vests technically failed the test, but the Army continued the testing to be fair, he said.

The Pinnacle vests also were subjected to extreme temperature variations, from minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which would be a realistic cycle if the equipment was loaded onto a plane and flown to the Middle East, Brown said. These temperature tests caused the adhesive holding the Dragon Skin’s protective discs together to fail, and the discs gathered at the bottom of the vest, leaving gaps in protection, he said.

Brown also noted that the Dragon Skin vests are significantly heavier and thicker than the Interceptor vests. Dragon Skin vests in size extra large are 47.5 pounds and 1.7 to 1.9 inches thick; the Interceptor vests in size large, which offer an equivalent coverage area, weigh 28 pounds and are 1.3 inches thick.

“Bottom line is, it does not meet Army standards,? Brown said of the Pinnacle body armor.

Brown showed reporters videos of the tests, which were supervised by the chief executive officer of Pinnacle. He also displayed the actual vests that were tested, with markers showing the penetration sites.

The Army did not initially release the information about the tests because of possible security concerns, Brown said. “We are facing a very media-savvy enemy,? he said. “They’re not only media-savvy, they are Internet savvy. … Everything that we put out into the public domain, we pretty much assume that they get. We don’t like to discuss our vulnerabilities and our counters to the vulnerabilities in the open public.?

However, after the NBC report, Army leaders felt they needed to counter any doubts in the minds of servicemembers and their families, Brown said. “Our soldiers and, more importantly, the families – the wives, the children, the parents – have to have confidence that our soldiers have the best equipment in the world,? he said.

For the sake of clarity, with the addition of the soft panel groin protection and removable soft panel neck protection, the total weight of the MTV is over 30 lbs (similar to the current IBA, although the army plans on issuing revised sets that weigh less).  Slab at OpFor has a scathing response to the ‘Dragon Skin’ dust-up (and more here and here).  But the most powerful point made by OpFor is that of battlefield weight.  It must be remembered that body armor is not the only thing on the Soldier or Marine who is patrolling.  He also has: a hydration system (i.e., camelback), his weapon, ammunition (and the SAW gunners carry a heavier weapon and ammunition drums), and other gear.  This heavy battlefield weight has led to sprained and broken ankles, broken legs, sprained knees, and much pain and exhaustion.

But the problem with scathing critiques, claims by Pinnacle, counterclaims by the DoD, rebuttals and more counter-rebuttals, is that the public is left not knowing what or whom to believe.  The situation is left to appear as if someone is being dishonest (or at least, not forthcoming), and perhaps someone is.  Therefore, we recommend the following ‘going forward position’ regarding these issues.

Congress should specifically make the funds available (and the DoD should allocate them and support to the extent necessary) the hiring of a completely independent forensic and mechanical engineering consulting firm.  Among the contractural obligations of this firm would be at least (but not limited to) the following:

  1. The development of finite element models of the IBA/MTV soft panels and SAPI plates and the Dragon Skin armor systems.
  2. The use of these models to assess previous (and future) catastrophic through-wall failures.
  3. Development of a Monte Carlo analysis (based on previous actual shots to Soldiers and Marines) to assess the significance of surface area unprotected by SAPI plates and the risk involved with this body armor philosophy versus the Dragon Skin.
  4. Forensic engineering of previous testing failures of the Dragon Skin body armor.
  5. Modeling and testing of brittle fracture of ceramic SAPI plates upon being dropped or taking rounds.
  6. Statistical and engineering comparison and contrast of all test data for the Dragon Skin and IBA/MTV.
  7. A formal cost-benefit analysis of the body armor systems.
  8. If deemed necessary, further testing of the body armor systems under the supervision of the engineering consultants.
  9. An assessment of funtionality, ability to manufacture and deploy, and quality assurance programs associated with the body armor systems, to include perhaps the most important issue — battlefield weight.
  10. Finally, a report to be issued to the DoD and congress, with redacted versions made available in the public domain.

The Dragon Skin armor system might have been issued to body guards for high ranking officials and top military brass in Iraq, and it doesn’t matter whether these body guards were active duty military or private contractors like Blackwater.  Standing guard for finite periods of time in 48 lbs. of weight is not the same thing as living in your body armor around the clock with additional battlefield weight.  In the end, it will likely be battlefield weight that wins the day, and this conclusion will likely be substantiated and approved by the grunt in the field, MOS infantry.

But this conclusion needs to be formulated with independence and certified with a professional engineering seal.  Like our friends at US Cavalry On Point say, it is the Soldier and Marine who stand to gain.  An ancillary benefit is that a comprehensive and independent study would silence the moralistic and preening critics of the IBA/MTV.

Gear and Equipment Problems for the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

The United States Marine Corps is having gear and equipment problems, but the problems are not just with the gear and equipment.

Richard Lardner
Associated Press
Washington – The system for delivering badly needed gear to Marines in Iraq has failed to meet many urgent requests from troops in the field, according to an internal document obtained by the Associated Press.

Of more than 100 requests from deployed Marine units between February 2006 and February 2007, less than 10 percent have been fulfilled, the document says. It blamed the bureaucracy and a “risk-averse” approach by acquisition officials.

Among the items held up were a mine-resistant vehicle and a hand-held laser system.

“Process worship cripples operating forces,” according to the document. “Civilian middle management lacks technical and operational currency.”

The 32-page document – labeled “For Official Use Only” – was prepared by the staff of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force after they returned from Iraq in February.

The document was to be presented in March to senior officials in the Pentagon’s defense research and engineering office. The presentation was canceled by Marine Corps leaders because its contents were deemed too contentious, according to a defense official familiar with the document. The official spoke on condition of anonymity …

The document lists 24 examples of equipment urgently needed by Marines in Iraq’s Anbar province. One, the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, has received attention as a promising way to protect troops from roadside blasts, the leading killer of U.S. forces in Iraq.

After receiving a February 2005 urgent request approved by Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejlik – who was a commander in Iraq from June 2004 to February 2005 – for nearly 1,200 of the vehicles, the Marine Corps instead purchased improved versions of the ubiquitous Humvee.

The industrial capacity did not exist to quickly build the new mine-resistant vehicles, and the more heavily armored Humvees were viewed as a suitable solution, Marine Corps officials said.

That proved not to be the case as insurgent elements in Iraq developed more powerful bombs that could penetrate the Humvees. The mine-resistant vehicles are now a top priority for all the military branches, which plan to buy 7,774 of the carriers at a cost of $8.4 billion …

A second example cited is the compact high-power laser dazzler, an inexpensive, nonlethal tool for steering unwelcome vehicles away from U.S. checkpoints in Iraq.

The dazzler emits a powerful stream of green light that stops or redirects oncoming traffic by temporarily impairing the driver’s vision.

In June 2005, Marines stationed in western Iraq filed an urgent request for several hundred of the dazzlers, which are built by LE Systems, a small company in Hartford, Conn. The request was repeated nearly a year later.

“Timely purchase and employment of all systems bureaucratically stymied,” the document states.

But the Corps didn’t stop with failing to provide the necessary equipment.  The next step was to prohibit the direct commercial procurement of the equipment by the Marines who needed it.

Separate documents indicate the deployed Marines became so frustrated at the delays they bypassed normal acquisition procedures and used money from their own budget to buy 28 of the dazzlers directly from LE Systems.

But because the lasers had not passed a safety review process, authorities in the United State (sic) barred the Marines from using them.

In January, nearly 18 months after the first request, the Marines received a less powerful laser built by a different company.

Titus Casazza, president of LE Systems, criticized the Marine Corps acquisition process.

“The bureaucrats and lab rats sitting behind a desk stateside are making decisions on what will be given to our soldiers even if contrary to the specific requests of these soldiers and their commanding generals,” he said.

The stipulation to deploy and use only government-issued gear and equipment has been codified in a recent Marine Administrative Order, MARADMIN 262/07.

1.  THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS DIRECTS THE FOLLOWING POLICY FOR MARINES AND SAILORS ASSIGNED TO USMC AND JOINT COMMANDS, ON THE WEAR AND PURCHASE OF BODY ARMOR AND PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE).  PPE REFERS TO PROTECTIVE BODY ARMOR, HELMETS, GOGGLES, CLOTHING, AND OTHER GEAR DESIGNED TO PROTECT THE WEARER’S BODY FROM BATTLEFIELD INJURIES.  PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO, THE FOLLOWING ITEMS: OUTER TACTICAL VEST, MODULAR TACTICAL VEST, LIGHTWEIGHT HELMET, FULL-SPECTRUM BATTLE EQUIPMENT, MILITARY EYE PROTECTION SYSTEMS (ESS ICE SPECTACLES / ESS PROFILE NVG GOGGLES), ENHANCED SMALL ARMS PROTECTIVE INSERT PLATES, SIDE SMALL ARMS PROTECTIVE INSERT PLATES, BALLISTIC PLATE CARRIER, QUAD GUARD, FLAME RESISTANT ORGANIZATIONAL GEAR AND COMBAT ARMS EARPLUGS …
2.  MARINES/SAILORS DEPLOYED TO COMBAT ZONES WILL BE ISSUED MARINE CORPS APPROVED PPE, INCLUDING MODULAR BODY ARMOR SETS.
5. INDIVIDUAL MARINES/SAILORS MAY NOT USE COMMERCIAL PPE IN LIEU OF GOVERNMENT TESTED, APPROVED AND ISSUED PPE.  COMMANDERS MAY AUTHORIZE MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMANDS TO USE COMMERCIALLY PURCHASED PPE ITEMS IN ADDITION TO THOSE ISSUED BY THE GOVERNMENT, AS LONG AS ADDITIONS DO NOT INTERFERE WITH THE FUNCTIONALITY OF APPROVED PPE.  INDIVIDUALLY PURCHASED COMMERCIAL PPE WILL NOT BE REIMBURSABLE BY COMMAND/UNIT (GOVERNMENT) FUNDS.

In fact, the much heralded Modular Tactical Vest, which was promised early in 2007, has yet to be deployed (the commercial version of the MTV is the Spartan 2 Assault Vest, which in form, fit and function, is exactly equivalent to the MTV).  This order prohibits the so-called Dragon Skin body armor, a prohibition which is probably permanent unless and until the manufacturer’s price comes down, the test protocol for the vest is clarified and a purchase order issued by the DoD.  What isn’t clear is whether this MARADMIN prohibits Marines from purchasing and using the Spartan 2.  Having put on both the IBA (Interceptor) and the Spartan 2, I can attest to the fact that the Spartan 2 (or MTV) lives up to its billing.

However, what is clear is that if the Marines would get control of the gear and equipment problems within its ranks, administrative orders such as this one would not have to be issued.  The mere existence of the order tells the story of the gear problems in the Corps.  The Marines have always been on the short end of the stick when it comes to their share of the DoD budget.  Reasons for this include the fact that they feel (with good cause) that if their share increases, along with the money will come political pressures and other meddling from which they are currently somewhat more insulated.  Of course, at the much more personal level, there are fundamental issues of fairness to be addressed that have nothing to do with the Marine’s share of the pie.  Why shouldn’t Marines be allowed to purchase and use commercially-available ballistic glasses if they meet or exceed military specifications?

But in terms of the supply and logistics bureaucracy, there is simply no excuse for failure to provide badly needed gear and equipment to the front.  Request for gear is not tantamount to griping and complaining, and critical reports to field grade officers or logistics higher-ups in the states is not the same thing as insubordination.  A more professional and open-minded approach is needed by those who should already be behaving that way.


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