Traditionally British body armour protects the core of the body from shrapnel and projectiles by having a ballistic panel front and back over the chest, with the addition of ceramic plates to cover the heart and protect against enemy rounds. The idea is that most fatal injuries occur to the thoracic region and most projectiles will hit it horizontally. Experience in Afghanistan though revealed a real danger from IEDs that forced shrapnel into the chest cavity vertically from the ground upwards. To combat the increasing numbers of injuries and fatalities the Ministry of Defence introduced a new set of pelvic armour that covered the groin region and reduced the risk of vertically propelled shrapnel. This armour consisted of two soft plates that went between the wearer’s legs giving rise to the soldier’s nickname ‘the combat nappy’:This armour was introduced in 2010 and the government at the time noted:
A second layer of detachable pelvic body armour, designed to meet the greater threats faced by soldiers on the ground has already been successfully trialled by the MOD. It can be rolled up and clipped to a belt and then pulled through the legs to form a protective pouch – meaning troops’ mobility is not impeded. It will be issued to all troops operating outside the wire from Spring 2011.
The £4m contract for 25,000 sets of the second-tier body armour has been signed with Northern Ireland-based Hawk Protection Ltd. Loops are provided at the top of the armour to attach it to a waist belt:The sides are secured with Fastex clips:A tab on the back was frequently used to record the soldier’s ‘zap’ number:The inside of the armour is designed to be as comfortable as possible with no protrusions to chafe the wearer:A label is sewn into the back giving the user instructions on its wear:The BBC reported at the time of their introduction:
The “combat codpiece” comes in camouflage colours, and looks like a bulky pair of underpants which tie on at both sides, which is worn over the trousers.
It can be rolled up and clipped to a belt at the back of a pair of trousers with two velcro straps, and then – when needed on patrol – be pulled through the legs to clip together at the sides to form a protective pouch. The padding inside the front and back segments offers an extra layer of protection. These will be issued to troops in the early spring, with the contract for 25,000 sets worth £4m.
Col Peter Rafferty, personal combat equipment team leader at defence equipment and support, says that those researching and developing the equipment faced many challenges, not least in creating protection which still allows the soldiers and others in the field to do their jobs without impeding their mobility.
“We are constantly reviewing what we can do on protection for our forces – we never stop, and we’ll continue to examine what more we can do,” he said.
When out on patrol or outside the main bases in Afghanistan, British forces and others already wear body armour which shields the key areas of the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, as well as a relatively heavy helmet to protect the head, and blast-proof goggles to shield the eyes from any blast.
However, key arteries flow through the groin area as well, which is an area prone to sweating, so both the blast-proof underwear and pouch had to be made of materials which allow sweat to pass through, rather than adding to the heat experienced by those patrolling in the Afghan summer heat.
My thanks go to Michael Fletcher for hooking me up with this very interesting piece of modern body armour.