Großbritannien — MOD scientists develop upgraded body armour for troops in Afghanistan

The new Osprey Mark 4 body armour which will be intro­duced into Afghanistan this win­ter is tes­ta­ment to the efforts of MOD’s sci­en­tists to make sure serv­ing sol­diers have the best pos­si­ble equip­ment. Report by Sharon Kean.

the new Multi-Terrain Pattern camouflage and the new Osprey Assault Mark 2 body armour
Pri­vate Daniel Burgess (left) is wear­ing the Osprey Mark 3 body armour while Pri­vate Mar­co Bru­in is wear­ing the new Mul­ti-Ter­rain Pat­tern cam­ou­flage and the new Osprey Assault Mark 2 body armour
Source: Richard Watt, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Osprey Mark 4 is the next gen­er­a­tion of per­son­al pro­tec­tion, which will be worn by the sol­diers of 16 Air Assault Brigade who are due to deploy to Afghanistan in Octo­ber.

It offers troops bet­ter-fit­ting and new­ly-upgrad­ed armour, pro­tect­ing them as they work and fight.

Ser­vice per­son­nel work­ing out­side the main bases in Afghanistan wear Osprey body armour, which is made up of a vest-like out­er cov­er, a soft bal­lis­tic filler to stop frag­ments from bul­lets and explo­sions, and a hard pro­tec­tive plate that pro­tects their vital organs.

Lieu­tenant Colonel Matthew Tresid­der, the offi­cer in charge of defence cloth­ing, said of the Osprey armour:

“Troops accept that it weighs a ton. But they appre­ci­ate that it gives them pro­tec­tion they’ve nev­er had before.”

The next gen­er­a­tion Osprey body armour includes improved rub­ber mould­ings on the shoul­ders, designed to pre­vent heavy ruck­sacks and weapons from slip­ping.

There are elas­tic draw-cords on the detach­able ammu­ni­tion pouch­es, giv­ing troops a more acces­si­ble alter­na­tive to vel­cro.

And the pro­tec­tive breast plate is now car­ried in a pock­et inside the armoured vest, mak­ing it less bulky and obstruc­tive to move­ment.

Also, the inside of the vest has a new ribbed mate­r­i­al lin­ing to improve breatha­bil­i­ty in the harsh Afghan cli­mate.

Osprey is a mod­u­lar sys­tem made up of dif­fer­ent com­po­nents, which can be attached to loops on the out­er cov­er­ing.

Osprey Mark 3 body armour
Pri­vate Daniel Burgess (left) is wear­ing the Osprey Mark 3 body armour while Pri­vate Mar­co Bru­in is wear­ing the new Mul­ti-Ter­rain Pat­tern cam­ou­flage and the new Osprey Assault Mark 2 body armour
Source: Richard Watt,Ministry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The lat­est mod­el has more loops, allow­ing troops to per­son­alise their armour to suit their role by attach­ing their own choice of a range of 23 detach­able pock­ets or pouch­es.

A new commander’s pouch can be attached to the breast, giv­ing sol­diers easy access to such things as a note­book, pen and torch. The com­po­nent pouch­es are designed to car­ry every­thing from bul­lets to water bot­tles and include new elas­tic draw-cord ammu­ni­tion pouch­es and an improved first-aid kit.

The kit will be avail­able in the new-look Mul­ti-Ter­rain Pat­tern cam­ou­flage now being worn by troops in the­atre.

Alan Hep­per from the Defence Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ry (Dstl) was involved in devel­op­ing the lat­est Osprey armour:

“The whole design — per­for­mance of the plate and filler, the shape of the cov­er, they’re all based on the threat the guys are fac­ing, what’s actu­al­ly being thrown at them,” said Alan.

But sol­diers must be able to do their job while wear­ing the armour, in tem­per­a­tures of up to 50 degrees Cel­sius dur­ing the sum­mer in Afghanistan:

“The design is a com­pro­mise of what the guys need and their prox­im­i­ty to med­ical treat­ment,” Alan adds. “It’s the best tech­ni­cal solu­tion.”

Teams of Dstl sci­en­tists reg­u­lar­ly vis­it the­atre to talk to the troops, get­ting feed­back on the equipment’s per­for­mance while it is still fresh in the sol­diers’ minds.

the enhanced Mark 7 helmet and Osprey Assault body armour
A Roy­al Marines Com­man­do shows off the enhanced Mark 7 hel­met and Osprey Assault body armour at DVD 2009
Source: Andrew Lin­nett, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Feed­back from sol­diers includ­ed want­i­ng the option to posi­tion the detach­able pouch­es to their sides, to make it more com­fort­able when lying on their stom­achs.

Some also said that the bulky ceram­ic breast plates worn on the front of the vest got in the way when they were try­ing to work. The backs of hel­mets would also bump against the top of the rear of the armoured vest.

Although mak­ing the armour more com­fort­able is impor­tant, the pri­or­i­ty is pro­vid­ing the best pos­si­ble pro­tec­tion from the spe­cif­ic threats sol­diers face:

“All armour worn dur­ing fatal inci­dents is exam­ined as part of the police inves­ti­ga­tion into the death,” said Alan, explain­ing that all deaths in ser­vice are treat­ed as mur­der inves­ti­ga­tions by a coro­ner in the UK. “Any lessons learned are relayed back to us [Dstl] imme­di­ate­ly.”

Body armour from non-fatal inci­dents is also sent straight to Dstl, so any changes made by the sol­dier wear­ing it can be exam­ined:

“If we see that someone’s mod­i­fied their body armour we’ll try to under­stand why, and what the log­ic was behind that,” said Alan. “The UK is the only place to do this to this lev­el. We actu­al­ly learn from what’s going on.”

The body armour also under­went exten­sive test­ing in the Dstl lab­o­ra­to­ries, to make sure its per­for­mance was up to scratch.

Bul­lets were fired at the ceram­ic plates and frag­ments flung at the soft bal­lis­tic lay­er of the armour to test its effec­tive­ness.

Mark 7 helmet and Osprey Assault body armour
Mark 7 hel­met and Osprey Assault body armour from behind
Source: Andrew Linnett,Ministry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Peo­ple run laps, shov­el dirt and per­form oth­er vig­or­ous tasks in 40-degree heat and high humid­i­ty, sim­u­lat­ing how sol­diers move while on oper­a­tions, to test its usabil­i­ty. The idea is to make things as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble for sol­diers wear­ing heavy kit in the hot Afghan cli­mate:

“The shape and size of those plates is not just based upon engi­neer­ing judge­ment,” added Alan. “What medics see, what they know about the body and the way it gets injured, that infor­ma­tion gets fed back from the Sur­geon General’s depart­ment in the Defence Med­ical Ser­vices.

“The dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of the armour mean we can be agile in the way that we devel­op it. When we iden­ti­fy improve­ments they are fed in straight away. As a result, we are now on our sev­enth design in five years. That’s why no one has bet­ter body armour than the UK.”

The Osprey body armour is one part of the £3,000 ‘black bag’ of kit giv­en to all sol­diers deploy­ing on oper­a­tions, which con­tains such items as anti-micro­bial under­pants, designed to be worn for days at a time, and flame-resis­tant cloth­ing for those work­ing inside vehi­cles.

There is also com­bat eye pro­tec­tion, glass­es and gog­gles, a fast-dry­ing trav­el tow­el and a portable hydra­tion sys­tem, known as Camel­Bak:

“It recog­nis­es the con­di­tions they are work­ing in, such as the heat and the aus­tere bases,” said Lt Col Tresid­der. “They get every­thing from pants to boots.”

The 23 pouch­es that come with the Mark 4 Osprey body armour are as fol­lows:

  • 3 x SA80 sin­gle mag­a­zine
  • 4 x SA80 dou­ble mag­a­zine
  • 3 x sin­gle SA80 mag­a­zine with elas­tic pull-cord
  • 2 x smoke grenade
  • 2 x anti-per­son­nel grenade
  • sharp­shoot­er mag­a­zine
  • util­i­ty
  • water bot­tle
  • light machine gun mag­a­zine — 100 round
  • first aid kit
  • 2 x 9mm pis­tol mag­a­zine
  • under­slung grenade launch­er — 8 round
  • commander’s pouch

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK