London, UK: The new Osprey Mark 4 body armour which will be introduced into Afghanistan this winter is testament to the efforts of MOD’s scientists to make sure serving soldiers have the best possible equipment.
Osprey Mark 4 is the next generation of personal protection, which
will be worn by the soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade who are due to
deploy to Afghanistan in October.
It offers troops better-fitting and newly-upgraded armour, protecting them as they work and fight.
Service personnel working outside the main bases in Afghanistan wear
Osprey body armour, which is made up of a vest-like outer cover, a soft
ballistic filler to stop fragments from bullets and explosions, and a
hard protective plate that protects their vital organs
Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Tresidder, the officer in charge of defence clothing, said of the Osprey armour:
“Troops accept that it weighs a ton. But they appreciate that it gives them protection they’ve never had before.”
The next generation Osprey body armour includes improved rubber mouldings on the shoulders, designed to prevent heavy rucksacks and weapons from slipping.
There are elastic draw-cords on the detachable ammunition pouches, giving troops a more accessible alternative to velcro.
And the protective breast plate is now carried in a pocket inside
the armoured vest, making it less bulky and obstructive to movement.
Also, the inside of the vest has a new ribbed material lining to improve breathability in the harsh Afghan climate.
Osprey is a modular system made up of different components, which can be attached to loops on the outer covering.
The latest model has more loops, allowing troops to personalise
their armour to suit their role by attaching their own choice of a
range of 23 detachable pockets or pouches.
A new commander’s pouch can be attached to the breast, giving
soldiers easy access to such things as a notebook, pen and torch. The component
pouches are designed to carry everything from bullets to water bottles
and include new elastic draw-cord ammunition pouches and an improved
The kit will be available in the new-look Multi-Terrain Pattern camouflage now being worn by troops in theatre.
Alan Hepper from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) was involved in developing the latest Osprey armour:
“The whole design – performance of
the plate and filler, the shape of the cover, they’re all based on the
threat the guys are facing, what’s actually being thrown at them,” said
But soldiers must be able to do their job while wearing the armour,
in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius during the summer in
“The design is a compromise of what the guys need and their
proximity to medical treatment,” Alan adds. “It’s the best technical
Teams of Dstl scientists regularly visit theatre to talk to the
troops, getting feedback on the equipment’s performance while it is
still fresh in the soldiers’ minds.
Feedback from soldiers included wanting the option to position the
detachable pouches to their sides, to make it more comfortable when
lying on their stomachs.
Some also said that the bulky ceramic breast plates
worn on the front of the vest got in the way when they were trying to
work. The backs of helmets would also bump against the top of the rear of the armoured vest.
Although making the armour more comfortable is important, the
priority is providing the best possible protection from the specific
threats soldiers face:
“All armour worn during fatal incidents is examined as part of the police investigation
into the death,” said Alan, explaining that all deaths in service are
treated as murder investigations by a coroner in the UK. “Any lessons
learned are relayed back to us [Dstl] immediately.”
Body armour from non-fatal incidents is also sent straight to Dstl,
so any changes made by the soldier wearing it can be examined:
“If we see that someone’s modified their body armour we’ll try to
understand why, and what the logic was behind that,” said Alan. “The UK
is the only place to do this to this level. We actually learn from
what’s going on.”
The body armour also underwent extensive testing in the Dstl laboratories, to make sure its performance was up to scratch.
Bullets were fired at the ceramic plates and fragments flung at the
soft ballistic layer of the armour to test its effectiveness.
People run laps, shovel dirt and perform other vigorous tasks in
40-degree heat and high humidity, simulating how soldiers move while on
operations, to test its usability. The idea is to make things as
comfortable as possible for soldiers wearing heavy kit in the hot
“The shape and size of those plates is not just based upon engineering
judgement,” added Alan. “What medics see, what they know about the body
and the way it gets injured, that information gets fed back from the
Surgeon General’s department in the Defence Medical Services.
“The different components of the armour mean we can be agile in the
way that we develop it. When we identify improvements they are fed in
straight away. As a result, we are now on our seventh design in five
years. That’s why no one has better body armour than the UK.”
The Osprey body armour is one part of the pound3,000 ‘black bag’ of kit given to all soldiers deploying
on operations, which contains such items as anti-microbial underpants,
designed to be worn for days at a time, and flame-resistant clothing
for those working inside vehicles.
There is also combat eye protection, glasses and goggles, a fast-drying travel towel and a portable hydration system, known as CamelBak: