One of the reasons I never got too tweaked in Iraq was my confidence in my Interceptor body armor. Now, according to the New York Times, I should have panicked more.Piggybacking on a Soldiers for the Truth expose, the paper reports on a "Pentagon study [which] found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor."
That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.The ceramic plates in vests currently worn by the majority of military personnel in Iraq cover only some of the chest and back. In at least 74 of the 93 fatal wounds that were analyzed in the Pentagon study of marines from March 2003 through June 2005, bullets and shrapnel struck the marines' shoulders, sides or areas of the torso where the plates do not reach.Thirty-one of the deadly wounds struck the chest or back so close to the plates that simply enlarging the existing shields "would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome," according to the study.Trouble with the Interceptor armor has surfaced before. The Marines ordered the recall of more than 5,000 of the Interceptor Outer Tactical Vests (OTVs) back in May. Another 18,000 were recalled in December, says Soldiers for the Truth."For more than two years [Soldiers for the Truth's] DefenseWatch has received reports and complaints from Grunts in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Interceptor gear is lousy," the group notes. "In late October DW began receiving reports for war fighters in Iraq that the American Armed Forces Network was warning its radio listeners there that the Coalition had received intelligence about insurgents snipers that were being trained to aim at areas of vulnerability between Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI plates) hard composite armor plate - where Coalition war fighters wearing Interceptor armor are particularly vulnerable."Still, 80% of casualties? That number seems awfully high. Maybe the sample was off, somehow. Or maybe I'm in denial.UPDATE 01/08/05 10:05 AM PST: Over on the National Security Round Table list, Phil Carter -- who's currently in Iraq -- echoes what guys like Nicholas Weaver and Joe Katzman have been saying in the comments.
What troubles me about this story (and the larger debate) is this: It assumes that we can and should put an infinite amount of armor on our troops, and that the trade-offs between armor and effectiveness/weight/speed/maneuverability are illegitimate. This goes to the "force protection uber alles" mentality that we talked about a few months ago. And I also think it reflects a larger ignorance about combat that's prevalent among many critics and decisionmakers. Risk is inherent in combat. We try to minimize and mitigate the risks to the extent practicable, but ultimately, we have to take risks to win.Phil Fraering also points out this AP story:
U.S. soldiers in the field were not all supportive of a Pentagon study that found improved body armor saves lives, with some troops arguing Saturday that more armor would hinder combat effectivenes...Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade ``Rakkasans'' are required to wear an array of protective clothing they refer to as their ``happy gear,'' ranging from Kevlar drapes over their shoulders and sides, to knee pads and fire-resistant uniforms.But many soldiers say they feel encumbered by the weight and restricted by fabric that does not move as they do. They frequently joke as they strap on their equipment before a patrol, and express relief when they return and peel it off.UPDATE 01/11/06 9:51 AM: This rules. In the comments, a former Marine sergeant writes, "During the invasion phase of the war, only non-rates were issued SAPI plates. All NCO's and above wore only the vest into combat. Following orders, I collected all 'unauthorized reading material' from my Marines and then redistributed it to my NCO's to wear in their vests as extra protection. So, we marched into war with porn instead of SAPI plates as added protection."