Monday, September 21, 2009
New helmets designed to help British troops to target the enemy are being rushed out to Afghanistan this weekend.
The Ministry of Defence is issuing the lighter headgear following soldiers’ complaints that the current helmet is unsuitable for firefights with the Taliban.
Five thousand Mark 7 helmets, along with new Osprey Assault body armour, are being sent to Afghanistan for the troops of 11 Brigade who are starting a six-month operational tour.
The new British-made Mark 7 helmet is the first major change for 20 years – and looks more like an American helmet than the current pudding basin style. It is shaped to allow a soldier to lie flat and shoot straight, without the rear rim digging into his body armour and tipping the front rim over his eyes.
British soldiers are frequently having to fight the Taliban crawling along the ground for cover. Many have complained that when they have to fire while lying down, they struggle to aim quickly at what may be only a fleeting target.
In July, The Mail on Sunday highlighted the case of Trooper Jack Sadler, 21, from Exeter, who served with the Special Observation Battery, 4/73 Royal Artillery. He was killed in 2007 by a landmine.
He had complained to his father, Ian, about the helmets, saying: ‘The ones we’ve been issued with are too big. In the prone position, the back clonks on the plates in the body armour and the front comes down over your eyes so you can’t see to aim your weapon.’
The MoD’s Urgent Operational Requirement order for new helmets was accelerated by the introduction of US-made Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG) that sit higher on the soldiers’ SA80 rifles.
Lt Col Matthew Tresidder, chief of staff of the Defence Clothing and Textiles Agency, said 10,000 new helmets and body armour kits have been bought by the Ministry of Defence for £16million. The first 5,000 sets are going to infantry soldiers, engineers, drivers, medics, dog handlers and anyone who regularly goes ‘outside the wire’ of protected bases.
The remainder of the 9,000 servicemen in Afghanistan will continue to use the current protective kit.
The new helmet and body armour have the same degree of protection against bullets and shrapnel as the current models but the helmet is slightly lighter – 2lb 4oz instead of 3lb 5oz for the Mark 6 helmet – and has better chin strapping for stability.
The Osprey Assault body armour has a thinner ballistic plate and avoids strain on the shoulders by spreading its 27lb 8oz load between the shoulders and waist.
It comes with built-in pockets for ammunition clips, hand grenades and water and its light grey colour is intended to be more suitable for Afghanistan.
Lt Col Tresidder said the remaining 5,000 sets will be sent out with further improvements in about 18 months. ‘This is an interim design,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of research and testing going on that will make body protection even better.’
The next upgrade to the British helmet may contain a newly-developed shock-absorbing gel whose molecules instantly stiffen when struck by a bullet and
provide extra ballistic protection without extra weight or size.
There have been many versions of helmet. The wider-rimmed First World War version replaced the police constable-style helmet. But the design was little changed for the Second World War.
The more bell-shaped Mark 5 was introduced in 1952 and saw service through the Troubles in Northern Ireland, until the Mark 6 in 1980. The current Mark 6A came into use in 1987.
Read more on the Mail website here: