Psychological armor

An interesting email received this morning. I can’t verify any of this, but perhaps some of you can.

Here’s one reason that so many American soldiers and marines have died in Iraq…

Back in 1981, I was the head of a bulletproof car company in Monterey, California. We’d construct a box made of Lexgard inside a limo or regular car. It was pretty effective but difficult to install. Lexgard is General Electric’s transparent polycarbonate armor, very effective at stopping handgun bullets. If you put a hard surface in front of it, such as glass or sheet metal, it will stop rifle bullets. After the bullet hits the hard surface it is upset slightly on its axis and is then trapped in the dense but crystal-clear polycarbonate material.

The FMC factory was in nearby San Jose. I read a story about the troubles with the aluminum armor on their new Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The Bradley was having PR problems already but now the issue was the armor. Aluminum is a bad material for armor, since it doesn’t stop bullets very well. When they come through, they cause something called “spall,” which means that the pieces of the armor itself become deadly little weapons. And aluminum burns.

The army, though, wanted to save weight so they told FMC to make the Bradleys out of aluminum. (FMC was later sold and is today United Defense LP owned in part by George Bush’s Carlyle Group.)

So I went to FMC and proposed to line the inside of a Bradley with Lexgard, the way we did with limos. This would protect everyone from spall and fire, because Lexgard is fireproof and non-toxic. Installation would have been relatively easy in the boxy Bradley. I was politely turned down.

Puzzled, I called Dr. Charles Church, the head of research at the Pentagon. He said, “Listen don’t try to modify an existing vehicle. If you want to do something, design it from the ground up and make your armor integral with your chassis.”

So that’s what I did. I came up with something I called “The FLEA,” which stood for, “Forward Light Escort, Armored.” I used an unknown but powerful fiberglass armor for the body with hardened Lexgard windows. It was to be hydraulically operated with its wheels almost two feet away from the body, for protection against tank landmines. My design was based on my experience with landmines in Rhodesia as a member of their security forces in the terror war in the 70s.

Shortly after my design was complete (1982), the army put out a request for proposal (RFP) for a new vehicle they called the “High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle,” or “HMMWV.” The new Jeep and light truck. I duly submitted the FLEA to Tank Automotive Command (TACOM) in Michigan.

After a month or so, I called TACOM and inquired as to the progress of the selection process. The officer said, “The FLEA yes, I have it here Oh, yeah this is armored. We don’t want armor.”

I knew the specification they wanted. The bodywork had to defeat the equivalent of a pellet fired from a pellet gun. Something like 19 grains at 435 feet per second. Something silly like that. I mentioned this to the officer. “Yeah, right. We call it psychological armor'”

“‘Psychological armor?'” I let that sink in to my brain. “You mean, the guys just THINK they’re sitting behind armor?”

He chuckled. “Yeah, pretty much.”

“But, ” I said, “I’m under the weight requirement even with the armor. Why not give them the protection?”

“That’s not what we want.”

Back in ’82, when the HMMWV was being designed, the US Army must have thought it was never going to be shot at, ever again. That’s the charitable view. A more realistic view is that the US Army doesn’t give a damn if the troops get shot at or not. They’re expendable, just like the vehicles.

But criticizing the Pentagon and the administration is a failure to support the troops. Right.

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