Defense Focus: Iron Man lessons -- Part 2
Published: May 22, 2008 at 11:09 AM
By MARTIN SIEFF
UPI Senior News Analyst
WASHINGTON, May 22 (UPI) -- The "Iron Man" movie is in one key respect already a documentary reflection of reality: In Iraq, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers over the past five years owe their lives to their Kevlar armor and ceramic implants.
Modern high-tech individual defensive armor for combat soldiers and police unfortunately is certainly not remotely as invulnerable as inventive genius Tony Stark's amazing alloy armor in the movie hit movie "Iron Man." But it serves the same purpose, and it looks like it will be a staple of the combat gear of major nations in 21st century industrialized/high-tech war.
In World War I, combat soldiers, especially on the Western Front, had no protective personal armor at all. Yet those young soldiers were thrown, especially by British and Russian commanders, in endless futile, tactical blunt and exceptionally incompetently directed frontal charges against German Wehrmacht -- at the time, certainly the most proficient and tactically best army in the world. Millions of young men hardly out of boyhood died as a result for no discernible gains.
It was to break the deadlock on the Western Front dominated by the fixed-site machine gun -- although the largest number of combat casualties on the Western Front was in fact caused by massed artillery -- that Britain's Royal Navy -- prodded on by its visionary First Lord of the Admiralty, the young Winston Churchill -- pioneered the heavy tank.
The colossal tanks of the British army on the Western Front in 1917-1918 were vastly larger than their World War II or 21st century successors. Their armored protection, in fact, was very thin; they moved at a snail's pace; they had a very limited operational range; and they broke down early and often.
Nevertheless, they had shown the way, and by World War II, armored cars, self-deployed guns, armored personnel carriers and battle tank weapons systems had developed to the state of being mature technologies.
The Germans and the Soviets developed and deployed by far the best, the Italians by far the worst, the British and Japanese tanks were almost as bad as the Italian ones, and the Americans were in the middle, far ahead of the British, Italians and the Japanese, but tank for tank, far behind the Germans and the Soviets.
The concept of individual armored protection for soldiers remained a science fiction pipe dream through both world wars and through the Korean and Vietnam wars as well. However, in the following decades, Kevlar protection was developed and became increasingly effective in its use by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.
In Iraq, U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicles have proven dangerously vulnerable to improvised explosive devices, and Sunni insurgents have been able to upgrade the shaped-charge, directed-blast potency of their IEDs to even disable and destroy a number of huge U.S. Abrams M1A2 Main Battle Tanks.
It should, however, be noted that the U.S. Army has not been negligent or complacent about this development, and major programs have been in operation for years now to upgrade Abrams MBT armored protection.
Next: Copying Iron Man in the air
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