The standard wisdom for current infantry protection is to use rifle plates and an armor carrier, which provides fragmentation protection for more area of the torso than the plates do. The armor carrier means that the lower abdomen, area around the plate, and the shoulder straps are going to be rated against fragments. Of course, this comes at a bulk and weight penalty. In Afghanistan, US special forces often took to wearing plate carriers. Plate carriers carry only plates. No soft armor panels, besides optional armor backers. They’re a lot lighter and less bulky. For mountain operations, this is awesome. Of course, there’s basically no artillery threat in Afghanistan. Let’s look at whether or not this makes sense in the general case.
We’re going to compare the IOTV with front and rear plates to a lightweight plate carrier with front and rear plates, specifically the Crye JPC. For the IOTV, we’re not going to include side plates and carriers, since the plate carrier we’re choosing doesn’t come with side plate pockets. Also, these plates provide protection for the abdomen, not the upper thoracic cavity, and the abdomen is a much less critical area. Both would need supplemental protection for the neck, shoulder, or groin. Removing accessories simplifies the comparison a little.
As usual, we’ll be using medium size items for comparison. We’ll also be using a pair of ESAPI plates for both. Two ESAPI medium size plates weigh 10.9 lbs. The medium size IOTV weighs 10.56 lbs. The medium size Crye JPC weighs 1.3 lbs. Since we’re using ESAPI plates, which require plate backers, we’ll need to add those, which gives us another 2.4 lbs.
So we might break this down into three options. The IOTV alone weighs 10.56 lbs. The JPC with plates weighs 14.6 lbs. The IOTV with ESAPI weighs 21.46 lbs. So switching to a a plate carrier with plates instead of an armor carrier with plates saves us about seven pounds in our example, though the exact weight will vary if we choose different models.
Clearly, the armor carrier with plates and plate carrier with plates are both going to be very effective against most rifle rounds. Also clearly, the plates will stop fragments that hit them. The armor carrier will provide fragmentation protection around the abdomen, around the border of the ESAPI plate and on the shoulder straps. Weight for marginal hit protection is what’s in question here.
Overall, I’m inclined to favor the plate carrier given the weight savings. There’s entirely too much load on our soldiers already. It may interest the reader to note that the ESAPI plates were deployed in Iraq to combat fragments from IEDs, so perhaps the traditional kevlar-type soft armor fragmentation protection is insufficient. It is important to understand the expected threat level.
Further weight savings might be obtainable with a different choice of plates. ESAPI plates (and the SAPI plates they were derived from) were intended to be worn over soft armor, and the soft armor backers are required to get the designed level of protection from the plates. We’ll look at some alternative plates in the near future.