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A typical coalition patrol; all are wearing outer tactical vests but some have additional panels and fittings. (US DoD)

Body Protection

Franรงois Prins

The use of body armour in the modern army is a matter of daily routine and is big business; looks at the system currently in use.

O

nce upon a time it was the gallant knight who was clad from head to toe in a gleaming suit of metal armour. This protected him from injury in battle and on the tournament ground. Such a suit was expensive, heavy and required a staff of many to dress the knight, and a hoist to get him seated on his horse. It was not the usual garb and only used by a select few; generally the average soldier had to make do with a shield for protection. Some armed forces, such as the Spanish and French did make use of a metal breastplate for officers but these were no match for the sharp arrowhead from the British longbow which easily pierced the material. Other forms of body armour were tried over the centuries and later the use of woven cloth afforded some protection against cuts from a sword but stopping a bullet was another matter. Experiments were carried out and it was not until the middle 1960s that Du Pont in the USA came up with a strong and light material that was capable of deflecting the energy of a bullet.

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Since the 1970s US Armed Forces have been issued with body armour and flak jackets made with Kevlar fibre to help protect them from ballistic projectiles and explosive fragmentation. Kevlar is light, comfortable and is five times stronger than steel on an equal-weight basis. Though it helps provide protection from conventional fragmentation and multiple hits from 9mm handguns it is still pliable enough to allow the wearer to move easily. Inserts for military body armour made with Kevlar fibre are also tough enough to help protect against cuts, chemicals and flames. Many armed forces have adopted the use of Kevlar-suits and the development of the strong fibre continues. Though body armour was issued as a matter of course when required it was not until the First Gulf War that body armour was in general use by dismounted troops. Uniforms had changed little from the Second World War and the wearing body armour on a daily basis was not usual. However, with the threat of enemy snipers and the widespread use of IEDs (Improvised ExEDR - September / October 2015

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