White Paper - Enhancements to Body Armor Load Management and Injury Reduction Introduction Many people read this article, from the Washington Post, on Feb 1, 2009. It discussed how the weight of combat gear has seriously hindered warfighters’ effectiveness and caused long-term injury. “Carrying heavy combat loads is taking a quiet but serious toll on troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, contributing to injuries that are sidelining them in growing numbers, according to senior military and defense officials. Rising concern over the muscle and bone injuries -- as well as the hindrance caused by the cumbersome gear as troops maneuver in Afghanistan's mountains -- prompted Army and Marine Corps leaders and commanders to launch initiatives last month that will introduce lighter equipment for some U.S. troops.” It seems that as technology increases, warrior loads are also increasing, not becoming lighter, as commanders want their soldiers to carry more electronics, the required batteries, and peripherals, to increase situational awareness and (in theory) improve mission effectiveness and increase survivability. However, as clothing systems become lighter and stronger… as body armor becomes lighter and stronger… as electronics become smaller and lighter… why is the load getting heavier? “The military has added to its protective gear in recent years to guard against improvised bombs and other threats common in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that has come with a tradeoff, as soldiers and Marines routinely carry more than half their body weight into combat. Individual Marine combat loads -- including protective gear, weapons, ammunition, water, food and communications gear -- range from 97 to 135 pounds, well over the recommended 50 pounds, a 2007 Navy study found. In Afghanistan, soldiers routinely carry loads of 130 to 150 pounds for three-day missions, said Jim Stone, acting director of the soldier requirements division at the Army Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga. In Iraq, where patrols are more likely to use vehicles, loads range from 60 to nearly 100 pounds, he said.” From discussions with many people, as well as my own experience, long-term extreme load carriage does take a toll on a warfighter’s health. “As injuries force more soldiers to stay home, the Army is having a harder time filling units for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the service's vice chief of staff. "There is no doubt that [in] our non-deployable rates, we're seeing increase," he said. "I don't want to see it grow anymore." The number of total non-deployables has risen by an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 since 2006, putting the current figure at about 20,000, according to Chiarelli. "That occurs when you run the force at the level we're running it now," he said.
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"You can't hump a rucksack at 8,000 to 11,000 feet for 15 months, even at a young age, and not have that have an impact on your body, and we are seeing an increase in muscular-skeletal issues," Chiarelli told reporters last month.” Evolution of Load-Bearing Tactical Gear While there have been relatively significant improvements in military load-bearing equipment over the years, much like the battery or combustion engine, the improvements have not been substantial, have dealt primarily with new materials, and were adjustments to previous designs more evolution on previous equipment rather than fundamental core changes. At the end of the day, a warfighter carries his/her gear much the same way they did in WWII, Korea, and Vietnamthe H or Y harness over the shoulder. According to the blog “Strike-Hold!” The M1956 system was the first major improvement in load-bearing equipment since WWII and continued the approach of previous equipment gear of incorporating a canvas pistol belt and H-type suspenders. It differed from previous set-ups, however, by relying on a single type of belt for soldiers armed with all weapons – based on the WWII pistol belt design. It also introduced slide clip fasteners to attach the equipment pouches to the belt – these clips would later also be used on the ALICE system. Holding equipment close to the belt reduced the bouncing effect of the M1910 wire-hangar attached equipment and allowed pouches to be mounted in places where there were no eyelets (such as the suspenders). The M1956 Load-Bearing Equipment was originally adopted for use exclusively by the United States Army; however, during the Vietnam War it came into use across all the US Armed Forces. The system then remained in general issue and service until being replaced by the All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) in 1974. But although the ALICE system was supposed to replace all of the M56 gear, some pieces of M56 gear would still be found in use as late as the early 1990s. The parts of the M56 setup that were especially favored were the Field Pack (or “Butt Pack”), as there was no ALICE replacement, and the H-shaped suspenders which are more comfortable and stable than the ALICE version. The primary shortfall of the M56 system was that it’s made of cotton canvas material – which makes it less durable, more water and odor absorbent, and heavier than nylon equipment. Also, because if its propensity for absorbing moisture and mildew, the webbing was found to be susceptible to jungle rot – and having your web gear fall apart on you out in the boonies is not something you want to risk. The other big weakness of both the M56 and ALICE systems was the slide-clip fasteners used to secure pouches to the pistol belt. Although these were certainly better than the M1910 wire-hangars, they had the unfortunate habit of sometimes coming undone in use, which meant losing a pouch and/or needing to frequently refasten them. They could also become very uncomfortable over prolonged periods of use – even causing abrasion wounds. For these reasons, a trick we learned from the “old -timers” was to replace the clips with lengths of 550-cord and 100-mile-an-hour tape. Despite the short-comings inherent in the materials used in its construction – and the clunkiness of some of the clips used – the M56 pattern webgear possessed a much superior suspender/shoulder harness design (commonly referred to as an “H-harness”)
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than its ALICE replacement, and this made it a much sought after alternative will in to the 1980′s. It is also interesting to note that the first product Blackhawk introduced back in 198x was a modernized and enhanced version of the M56 – because serviceable original examples were getting very few and far between. Even as recent as the early 2000’s, I knew many within the SOF community that preferred to go on patrols using a modified H harness and web belt even if the situation called for body armorgranted these had newer fabrics and improved padding than their Vietnam-era forefathers- but they were basically the same design. Whether you are talking about a rack, tactical vest, or most other configurations, it’s still basically the same as it was 60 years ago.
Figure 1 - The M1956 Load-Bearing Equipment
BALCS and MOLLE have made configuration and modularity possible, but moving pouches, while convenient, does not necessarily affect weight management. If anything, it probably makes it worse, as the front of the system is typically much heavier than the back- the distribution is at the front, not around the waist, forcing the wearer to compensate for balance and comfort. This compensation causes sustained injury over time.
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Figure 2 - Multiple pouches are worn on the front of the vest
Body armor is no exception. The flak jacket was just that, a jacket. Up until 2005, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan were wearing the IBA (Interceptor), which was also a jacket-style configuration. Level IV plates, adding as much as 25 pounds in weight, created a situation where you went into combat essentially wearing a lead x-ray robe. It was uncomfortable, awkward, and hard to maneuver in. There is no doubt the IBA saved lives and used improved materials, but its basic design was not much different from a flak jacket. Figure 3 depicts the Vietnam-era flak jacket versus the IBA. The basic design similarities are striking. With the addition of MOLLE webbing, soldiers could attach ammo and other pouches, adding even more weight to a piece of gear that rode squarely on the neck and shoulders. Add to it an assault pack, radio, electronics, and other gear, all of this was causing immediate pain, and long-term damage, to the user.
Figure 3 - Vietnam-era Flak Jacket vs. Interceptor IBA
Tactical equipment manufacturers began making retrofit kits for body armor to help alleviate the symptoms of armor fatigue and design flaws. While no doubt effective in the short term, these were “band-aids” for a deeper problem.
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Figure 4 depicts the IBA buckle retrofit kit from Tactical Tailor. The IBA had a Velcro closure on the front, which became inoperable when exposed to sand and dust. In addition, because of the design of the Velcro flap, it would not stay closed, preventing the IBA from staying properly connected.
Figure 4 - Tactical Tailor IBA Buckle Retrofit Kit
Even as the military moved away from the “jacket-style” body armor and adopted over-theshoulder clamshell designs, like the RBAV (Figure 5), the problems remained - weight and discomfort on the wearer. Warfighters using body armor realized quickly that if they could tighten the system, the weight would be “feel” better because it was distributed off the neck and shoulders. While a possible solution for short periods of time, this didn’t work with extremely heavy loads, and some systems issued by the military didn’t have the ability to be tightened. Moreover, many users in Iraq and Afghanistan actually loosened their body armor system, as opposed to tighten it, to increase airflow (or at least try to) in extreme heat.
Figure 5 – RBAV-07 (courtesy militaryphotos.net)
For well over a decade, the military has been looking to the commercial outdoor industry for inspiration and innovation that can be adapted or modified for the battlefield. One thing the outdoor industry has done well is help backpackers and mountaineers manage their load. Military industry and the military itself began looking into ways to leverage those commercial loadmanagement techniques to help the warfighter. Note: This article addresses the design of body armor carriers and weight management only and the writer clearly understands the technological improvements made in armor technology.
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Enter Archangel Armor I’ve written a few things about Archangel Armor over the last year, mainly because as a former soldier, I think they simply have the best armor system on the market- it distributes weight evenly, removing the strain from the neck and soldiers, while supporting the spine. My own injuries mirror those of thousands of soldiers and I was admittedly skeptical of their claims at first, but after putting it on, I was impressed. In fact, I can safely say that it is the most comfortable system I have ever donned. With that said, Archangel has, without a doubt, the first game-changing advancement in body armor since the 1960’s. And when you really think about it, what they have done is not rocket science. It makes perfect sense and I’m actually surprised no one had come up with it sooner. So what is so game-changing? The basic concept of Archangel’s system is to remove the weight of the solider’s load from the back, neck and shoulders, and redistribute it to the stronger load-bearing platform of the hips and legs. To do this, Archangel has developed an armor carrier (as well as retrofit kit) which leverages an internal frame suspension system, much like a high-end commercial mountaineering backpack Figure 6). The easiest way to mitigate and interfere with acute and chronic injury patterns, as they relate to the soldiers’ use of body armor, is to remove as much spinal load-bearing pressure as possible and add spinal support. Archangel’s Internal Frame Load Bearing Armor (IFLBA) is designed to disperse weight carriage to the waist and legs as well support and protect the spine. Many soldiers, myself included, have permanent back pain, much of it attributed to the weight associated with prolonged use of body armor. The IFLBA can also accept an assault pack, allowing the wearer to leverage the armor’s internal suspension system, rather than the pack’s shoulder straps. This is an additional feature, which enhances load carriage. Additionally, by not needing to utilize the pack’s shoulder straps, the straps are not in the way, pulling on the armor, nor are there pieces of material in the way of weapon use (Figure 7).
Figure 6 - Archangel Armor IFLBA, Suspension View
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Figure 7 - IFLBA Side View with attached assault pack
Independent Lab Study During a series of tests and evaluations conducted at the NC State University, Ergonomics Center at Raleigh, NC, this graphic was produced to provide an objective measure of how the weight is removed from the back, neck, and shoulders. On the left is an Improved Outer tactical Vest (with soft armor and full plates), the right depicts an IOTV - IFLBA retrofit. In addition to the armor load, the Soldier also carried a rifle and pack with 30 pounds. As you can see from the graphic, the use of the IFLBA retrofit resulted in over 80% of the load being removed from the shoulders.
Figure 8 - NCSU Ergonomics Lab Study, IOTV vs. IOTV with IFLBA Retrofit
According to the Jan 2010 study conducted by Dr Richard Kuhns, “When unencumbered, the body is used for upright posturing, and the lower extremities are used for locomotion. When under load, the body must compensate for balance, starting and stopping, and more muscles are recruited for these tasks. This increases the amount of work placed on them constantly. The increased demand on these muscles makes them tire faster, and prevent recuperation, i.e. “fatigue”. “When carrying loads that increase spinal load bearing you can either remain upright and compress the spine itself
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or bend the upper body to take the pressure off the spine and use the lumbosacral muscles and waist as a fulcrum, especially when running, jogging, carrying something with the hands, as this only further compresses the spine and creates more discomfort. The decision to adjust body posture to minimize spinal impact is a self-preservation reaction that people will instinctively due as pain or pressure builds in bony structures. The resulting fatigue is due to the fact that the lower extremities are now tasked with using mostly the leg muscles to balance and carry the weight that is not evenly balanced over the core of the spine in a non-spinal bearing fashion. If the weight is balanced over the core structure on a non-spinal load bearing and spinal supporting method, then the person does not need to bend in any unusual manners to compensate for an unnatural fulcrum created out of discomfort or fear of injury.”
Figure 9 - Testing conducted at NCSU
Dr Kuhns further stated, “The Archangel IFLBA re-directs the load bearing to a stronger, more secure area of the body, which will reduce injuries to the spine and its supporting structures. It allows greater range of motion in the head/neck/shoulder are regardless of loads carried. The nominal changes in total measured weight are negligible especially in light of the idea that the Archangel IFLBA creates less fatigue, which equates to greater levels of job performance and decrease injury occurrence. The Archangel IFLBA also provides ergonomic support for the spine. The added benefit of this will be evident with prolonged periods of standing, sitting, walking, running, laying prone, and laying supine.” Evaluations Archangel’s system was also evaluated by a chiropractor, who stated that the IFLBA: Supports proper curvature of the spine, while standing or sitting. Does not interfere with normal range of motion, or engagement of spinal groups. Re-establishes center of gravity in the spine, which makes it easier to kneel and stand. Superior Range of motion in shoulders, upper back and neck. Alleviates load bearing and resistance to shoulders, upper back, neck, decreasing fatigue in those areas. This device can increase tactical effectiveness, along with range of motion under gravity. This device can decrease fatigue. This device can decrease acute and chronic spinal injuries. The easiest way to mitigate and interfere with acute and chronic injury patterns, as they relate to the soldiers and the use of the currently used IOTV and MBAV, is to remove as much spinal load bearing as possible and add spinal support.
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Changing the load bearing dynamics of the current fielded IOTV and MBAV to something that has little or no negative effects on the spine and its supporting structure us an ideal way to decrease fatigue and injury, and will thereby increase performance, endurance and tactical readiness. The Archangel IFLBA does this easily. In my opinion, the Archangel Armor IFLBA more than satisfies the goal of removing spinal loading while providing adequate support to the spine to increase endurance and reduce injury. The Archangel IFLBA re-directs the load bearing to a stronger, more secure area of the body, which will reduce injuries to the spine and its supporting structures. It allows greater range of motion in the head/neck/shoulder are regardless of loads carried. The nominal changes in total measured weight are negligible especially in light of the idea that the Archangel IFLBA creates less fatigue which equates to greater levels of job performance and decrease injury occurrence. The Archangel IFLBA also provides ergonomic support for the spine. The added benefit of this will be evident with prolonged periods of standing, sitting, walking, running, laying prone, and laying supine. This is an advantage to our soldiers that should be in place in all branches for the reason of safety, protection and tactical readiness. Less fatigue means a soldier can go further and faster in a much more profound way. The tactical advantage will be evident to all who use this system.
An SF NCO submitted an After Action Review (AAR) following his use of the IFLBA: The main advantage of the equipment was that it provided an improved platform to carry the required ballistic protection equipment, while providing spinal support and correct alignment that is nonexistent with current body armor carriers. Another advantage was the unit’s ability to accept carious types of MOLLE accessories with its adaptable mounting system. The added weight of the unit is not a factor, the ability to provide the ballistic protection required while reducing fatigue and potential back injury, was far more advantageous than saving a few ounces on weight. The frame was easily adjustable, which quickly provides a custom fit to the user, without tools or additional equipment. This product will save a lot of operators from developing back problems that are caused by loads that are placed on the body by the current equipment. The system is a manageable weight. Although the system is heavier than my RBAV, it feels much lighter when worn because the weight is distributed better. The inner frame holds the weight in place, preventing the system from slumping or moving up and down or side to side. Once the system has been fitted to the user, it remains tight and in place while also allowing for flexibility. The straps and connectors did not slip or loosen during the trail. With the flexible cummerbund, the system stays tight without limiting the soldier’s breathing, movement or flexibility. The Archangel System offers many advantages over the current system while still being compatible with them. In addition, the system offers much needed back support with an increased weight carrying ability, all while providing the necessary ballistic protection.
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IFLBA Retrofit While Archangel Armor has their own armor carrier, which offers much greater capability than currently fielded systems, what is most important to note is that their retrofit kit can be installed on most issued armor carriers already in use. This means that the core benefits of Archangel’s system can be achieved without the costs associated with new armor procurement. Much has been discussed about the military’s recent body armor contracts- hundreds-of-thousands of systems over several years. Without jeopardizing or conflicting with those existing contracts, an IFLBA retrofit kit can easily be installed by the user. Competitive Systems In the last several months, other firms have released “internal frame” armor systems, which leverage aluminum stays to accomplish better weight distribution. While no doubt these systems are well built, they are designed for dismounted operations exclusively and cannot be leveraged while in a vehicle. This can create a problem when method of transportation is not known in advance. Often, warfighters spend time on foot patrol, in vehicles, or on helicopters. Possessing an armor system that is only good while in foot is not practical and can be costly. The IFLBA’s patented design allows it to be used while mounted or dismounted. Conclusion There is no doubt that technology and innovation has finally caught-up to military requirement when it comes to body armor. Current operational tempo, multiple deployment cycles, and extended, sustained, required use of body armor has caused serious, long-term injury to tens-ofthousands of soldiers. Archangel Armor’s Internal Frame Load Bearing Armor (IFLBA) is the first true advancement and adaptation of commercial innovation to protect the warfighter while wearing body armor. Archangel’s IFLBA reduces fatigue by removing the weight burden off the neck and shoulders, distributing it to the waist and legs, while providing increases spinal protection. The IFLBA allows to warfighter to carry more, without feeling as though their load has increased. Through independent tests and evaluations, the IFLBA has been shown to prevent long-term injury and increase comfort, while providing enhanced range-of-motion during mounted and dismounted operations. In fact, it is the only “internal frame” armor system on the market designed for both mounted and dismounted use. Archangel’s IFLBA can be leveraged on most currently fielded armor systems, removing the need to recomplete existing body armor contracts or the staggering costs associated with new armor acquisition. The U.S. military should proactively evaluate Archangel Armor’s IFLBA and retrofit kits as immediate solutions to stated capability gaps.
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For More Information Archangel Armor LLC, www.archangelarmor.net, [email protected]
References The Washington Post, “Weight of Combat Gear Is Taking Toll,” 02/01/09, Ann Scott Tyson, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/31/AR2009013101717_pf.html Archangel Armor LLC, www.archangelarmor.net Strike - Hold!, "U.S. Army M1956 Load Carrying Equipment (LCE)," 07 July 2010, http://strikehold.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/u-s-army-m1956-load-carrying-equipment-lce/
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