January 08, 2006

Up Armor Me 

There is another round (albeit low-key) of the (body) armor for US troops in Iraq controversy going on.

The main problem with the statement of that Kos Kid and other similar ones is that they seem pretty ignorant about the issue at hand. Apparently, some people think that armor (body or vehicle) is used to jump into the battle with guns blazing ignoring all that the enemy can throw at you because you impenetrable shell will protect you. But in reality, that would be a rather unwise tactic; armor serves more to save the day in case you get hit despite your best efforts to the contrary. In other words, the best way to survive is avoiding to be hit rather than confiding in your armor - because a lot of factors, including bad luck, can send things to hell.

Another point is that adding armor also adds weight and bulk (and cost), thus reducing mobility. This means that a tradeoff has to be found between mobility and strength, and there are good reasons to think that being lighter and more mobile is a better choice, giving more overall combat effectivness (that includes returning fire, spotting and chasing the enemy etc).

There is no conceivable body armor that can protect a soldier from a direct hit with heavy weapons or the detonation of an explosive device (often, a few 155mm HE shells rigged together) at close range. Even the best EOD suits are far from invulnerable, and they severely limit mobility (a full one weighs over 30 kg) - not to mention the torture of wearing such a contraption in hot climates. Moreover, the concussion produced by a shockwave or high-energy projectile striking the armor suit can be enough to injure or kill even if penetration does not occur. Yes, forcing the enemy to spend a RPG or a 12.7 mm (14.5 mm if they use Russian hardware) bullet to kill a grunt would place them in a worse logistical situation, but it's a rather phyrric victory.

I think that Humvees, trucks and tractors genuinely required up-armoring, but that happened because those vehicles were initially designed to be used in the rear, where it was supposed they would not take fire (and nothing can give enough protection against a nuclear blast anyway). But in the Iraqi theater there is almost no safe rear, and that meant vehicles took a lot of fire. Up-armoring was due, but those Humvees now suffer of performance, braking and stability problems because of the added weight. I think that completely revised models are being produced, but it will take time for all vehiclesto be replaced.

This does not mean that body and vehicle armor is useless; far from it. But it's not a magic shell that will save soldiers from any and all threats, that's the point. Of course that Kos Kid sees the issue only through her own ideological lens, and flings accusations against the bureocracy (not Bush, for once!), does not care about the cost of upgraded body armor and asks for more taxes to pay the bill. Leaving aside whether she truly supports the troops or not, her proposals are rather simplistic to say the least.

However, there are LGF commenters too quick to dismiss the issue (especially the Humvee armor or lack thereof) only because it comes from a certain side of the political spectrum. It's like they are afraid of conceding even one single tiny point to the Left. I think that it isn't a productive stance; agreeing with a statement from someone or some party does not mean agreeing with everything they say.


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