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Dragon Skin Armor– Is it better than what we have now?

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dragon20skin20armorSome of you may have seen this system on television. It’s possibly the Army’s next generation of personal protective armor, but like so many other systems, there seems to be considerable controversy as to the armor’s effectiveness. The facts are muddled by the possibilities of huge government contracts.

Right now, the Army issues Interceptor Body Armor to its troops. This system consists of an Outer Tactical Vest and “SAPI” plates which protect the primary kill-shot areas of a soldiers front-torso and back. With the plates, a soldier is protected from an AK-47’s 7.62 round. It can withstand three hits in the same area with round muzzle velocities not exceeding 2,750 feet per second. It weighs about 17 lbs. This is considerably more protection than what is offered by standard-issue police vests. Police SWAT use similar protective levels.

The Interceptor, though far superior to previous generation battle armor (FLAK vests), is not without its problems. Marine Corps forensic tests concluded that many fatalities occurred form rounds striking marines in the areas surrounding the boron/carbide plates. Already pressing a soldiers ability to move and shoot quickly and fluidly, larger plates may not provide the answer, as soldiers have already been issued side plates which cover under the arms the rib area, but many of them refuse to wear them because they add another ten lbs to the system. I can attest: The last thing soldiers need now is more weight on their backs.

Pinnacle Armor Co. stepped forward to offer its solution to the Army’s new Armor-Wars. Enter: Scalar silicon carbide ceramics. Like its name-sake, Dragon Skin provides a flexible, over-lapping armor system. Individual, silver dollar sized plates lay over one another and according to Pinnacle, (and the TV shows, Mail Call, Future Weapons, and Test Lab) are capable of providing protection against 7.62 mm armor piercing rounds. It should be noted though, that the rounds used in the testing on television did not meet the NIJ Level III standard. The most impressive thing was that the armor was able to withstand multiple–in some cases over one hundred rounds– of shots without breach.

The controversy begins with other testing samples, specifically the Army’s own tests of the product. While Stanford University’s tests seemed to prove Dragon Skin capable of defeating almost all conventional small arms fire that would be encountered by US soldiers, leaked results from the Army’s testing stated that Dragon Skin failed to meet standards.  Karl Masters, the Director of Engineering for soldier equipment could not give specifics on the armors performance, but advised soldiers not to buy the armor for themselves. He did however suggest that insurgents buy and use the armor. Pinnacle, of course, disputes Master’s analysis. The primary problem seems to be that the discs in the armor become loose or fall away when ambient temperature tests are moved to 120 degrees or higher, not unusual conditions for someplace like the Middle East. There was also arguments as to whether certain rounds, embedded in the armor, constituted a true potentially fatal breach of the armor.

Dragon Skin has now for a number of years come under attack from multiple sources, with its primary defender being Pinnacle–the system’s manufacturer. To me its obvious that this more expensive armor is not ready for field service, but I think Pinnacle is on the right track.

Our soldiers need the basics that every soldier has needed for two thousand years. A reliable and sufficiently lethal personal weapon, and armor that can thwart the enemy’s weapons.

The individual soldier, proficient and well equipped, is what will win tomorrow’s wars, not $300,000,000 F-22 Raptors. (Yes, they really cost that much–each. What a waste.) Urban combat and Wars of the People (Insurgency) is what America’s Army must prepare for. Give the soldiers the best.

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The beginnings of military professionalism Part I

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When we think of the military man, at least the officers in our military and in many Western armies, we think of the sharp, professional man, dedicated to learning his craft.

Today’s American army is, by far, the most educated army in the history of the world. Here at Ft. Huachuca, I’m training with many people who have bachelor’s degrees in everything from philosophy to economics. Some have master’s degrees.

In this Army, the promotion system is based on the past performance and professionalism of each soldier, and when examined, can be found to be one of the fairest promotional systems in any line of work. Leadership ability, MOS knowledge, and physical fitness are the primary attributes that officers on promotional boards look at.

There’s a myriad of schools that both commisssioned and uncommissioned officers can attend to increase their knowldge on leadership, warfighting and many other areas. Also, the Army encourages high levels of education by giving both promotion points for degrees and credits as well as paying for all college and books while a person is enlisted.

The path of the professional officer was not always based on personal merit. It was based for much of history on blood-lineage. It was believed that people of royal blood were better at everything than the commoner could ever be. At times, teenage boys were put in charge of entire companies of troops, and only because they possessed good breeding.

All of this changed however when the military genius of Napolean upset Europe’s balance of power. Napolean Bonaparte’s primary contribution to modern warfare stem from his ideas on logistics. He was the inventor of the Task Force. That is, his military units possessed some of each basic type of troop: Artillary, calvary, foot-soldiers etc. In this way, he was able to deal with any unforseen confrontation, and using his own maxim of ” march divided fight united”, dominate his more inflexible opponents. Napolean crushed foe after foe. When he reached the Prussian Empire, it was the same; Napolean’s superior numbers and logistical flexibility overcame a proud army. Carl Von Clausewitz, an officer in Frederick The Great’s army dejectedly accepted defeat and went on to author his unfinished Magnum Opus: On war. Clausewitz, a melancholic genius and Prussian nationalist despised Napolean and the French. He was dumbfounded as to how Napolean could defeat the professional Prussian army. Together, with his mentor, Gerhard von Scharnhorst, he opened a war college or, Kriegsakademie that would lay the foundation for todays most professional armies. The Prussians adopted the French practice of conscription, so that they could easily replace soldiers lost in combat. Officers were extensively indoctrinated and educated and the rank and file were drilled to perfection.

To be continued….