The soldier’s survivability can be improved with superior bullet-proof ballistic protection, mobility and firepower, employed at extended standoff range. Modern, light weight body armor and helmets are currently available, offering more protection against multiple hits from small arms and shrapnel.
Helmets constructed from advanced bullet proof composite materials have become much lighter and offer improved protection and comfort. Advanced features include integrated headgear such as osteo-phone, helmet mounted displays and vision systems. As head mounted gear becomes lighter, more instruments are placed on the helmet, offering unrestricted hemispherical view for visual sensors, GPS receivers and RF (radio) communications. While helmet mounted electronics require power, which ads significant weight to the headgear. Use of system miniaturization, power management and wireless networking (Bluetooth) enables designers to optimally distribute weight on the helmet and upper body adding to the wearer’s personal comfort.
Modern body armor is designed as flexible mission adaptable suit. The flexible vest is relatively lightweight, made of composite bullet proof materials such as the Kevlar body armor, providing basic protection from shrapnel and low-speed small-arms threats, to the upper body. The vest is fitted with pockets where inserts made of harder, heavier ceramic materials can be inserted as armor tiles. These inserts provide higher levels of protection, as required by the expected threat level. (7.62AP, 9mm etc). Apart from protection, ergonomics present significant factors in bulletproof vest design. The bullet-proof vest adds substantial weight to the soldier’s load.
A vital element in the soldier’s survivability is camouflage. Uniform design patterns are currently designed to merge with various environments. Offered in basic families of European, Arctic (snow), desert and urban designs, camouflage patterns enable effective blending with surrounding environments. Camouflage suits are also provided for snipers and special-forces requiring higher performance. As operations are shifting to night time, patterns must match requirements for night combat maintaining effective camouflage in darkness, under visibility by Imaging Infrared or thermal equipment. Signature reduction is also considered essential for concealment of body heat, as it is viewed by thermal sensors and sights.
Due to technological limitations, dedicated protection suits are developed and used for specific operational conditions. For example, add-on Chemical Bacteriological Radiological (CBR) protection suits are worn when potential threats are expected. These suits considerably limit the soldier’s mobility and comfort and are only used temporarily. Ballistic shields and bullet proof vests are common add-on elements to infantry suits; however, they are not yet integrated with load bearing vests (combat webbing) due to ergonomic, logistical and cost considerations. While such integration is technologically feasible and could save some weight, it turns the load bearing vest from a relatively simple lightweight textile product into a composite-made protection system with a proportional price tag.
Additional parts of this article:
- Infantry Combat Suits
- Infantry Combat Suits – Survivability & Protection
- Infantry Combat Suits – Mobility & Ergonomics
- Infantry Combat Suits – Firepower
- Infantry Combat Suits – Computers & Communications