Personal kit issued and bought by today's infantryman
specifically The Parachute Regiment.
The Iraq/Afghanistan war has bought about many changes in kit and equipment as one would expect. Allied forces are now fighting a determined enemy on there home soil in extreme temperatures ranging from -30 to +40 degrees C
We have seen changes in weapon and vehicle capabilities and also more importantly the soldier’s personal fighting kit. Notably the obvious difference with the soldier’s personal kit is the standard body armour issued to all troops in theater. The body armour called OSPREY has been the subject of much debate, it offers the individual more protection than any other British general service body armour to date however it has proved very unpopular with most troops who complain that it is to restrictive and unpractical for normal infantry work. The old style Northern Ireland Armour can still be seen in service which provides fragmentation protection however the Hard Armour plates are quite small (6’’ x 8’’) compared to the OSPREY.
It would be easy to dwell on this point however it’s had a huge impact on how the average Parachute Regiment soldier on the ground has to modify his kit to carry out his job satisfactorily.
Traditionally a soldier in the Parachute regiment has lived off his belt kit which provides him with enough load carrying capability to carry the required magazines, food and water for a good 24 hours. The standard PLCE webbing has proved a great success and a vast improvement on the former 58 pattern webbing which was prone to shrinking when wet. The PLCE webbing allows the soldier to tailor there own belt kit to suit that individual.
Through time regimental policy changes and varies with each battalion so non standard pouches are seen from time to time on individual’s kit as the soldiers strive to make there webbing as practical and ergonomic as possible added to this it has to look ally! (Ally being PARA Reg slang meaning the dogs B*****s) The main additions to the standard PLCE belt kit is a Roll pin belt normally procured by the individual from heavy drop platforms courtesy of the RAF. This is a length of webbing folded back on its self 3 times for thickness and then stitched at a rigging shop with a harness machine. This gives a quick release belt function which the PLCE pouches are attached and has been a popular addition for many years. Hippo pads are also worn on the inside of the belt kit for extra comfort around the thigh and buttocks to stop chafing from the heavy pouches. The PLCE pouches are then either sewn together or bonded together tight with a bungee and small utility straps to stop the equipment moving around on the body.
As discussed earlier belt kit has been a firm favorite with the Parachute Regiment for years however with the introduction of OSPREY armour and vehicle/helicopter born operations it has been replaced with assault vests, day sacks and additional MOLLE Pouches attached to the OSPREY vest. (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, a version of load bearing gear used by the U.S. Military pouches) The OSPREY vest has rows of binding tape sewn on to the vest which allows various MOLLE pouches to be woven on through the binding tape and then press studded closed at the bottom. This allows the individual to quickly remove and add various pouches to the vest. The main drawback with the OSPREY is that is doesn’t have enough rows of binding tape strips to fit the required amount of pouches.
MOLLE pouches are made by various manufacturers in different styles and quality. The firm favorite used by Special Forces are made by Blackhawk and Paraclete. These are by far the most robust and well designed MOLLE pouches available and readily accessible on the internet. They range from ammunition pouches, 40 mm grenade pouches, GPS Pouches all the way to Utility and respirator pouches. There are hundreds of designs and shapes tailored for specific tasks.
Because of the lack of modular attachment points on the OSPREY Vest the soldiers look for alternative plate carriers. Plate carriers such at the WARRIOR RICAS vest are cheap and reliable and come loaded with MOLLE pouches. This particular vest will hold the Large OSPREY plate front and rear and also caters for the soft NIJ IIIA armour worn internally. Again policy dictates that the soldier must wear issued armour however it does not stop the individual buying fully armoured vests just on the off chance they might be able to get away with wearing them. The vests are normally lined with a level IIIA soft armour liner which provides protection from fragmentation and adds to the protection further offered by the Hard Armour plates. Soft Armour however is underestimated and generally soldiers will try and just wear the hard armour plates without any Soft Armour which is common misconception as it lowers the protection offered by the Hard Armour Plates. In any case where assault vests are purchased unit policy normally dictates this to be worn over the OSPREY vest.
Soldiers have found that using OSPREY on its own or in conjunction with assault vests/chest webbing the ability to stow away spent magazines during contact has become a further problem. When using belt kit the soldier would throw spent magazines down the users smock for speed and re bomb them during a lull in the battle or when in cover. This is not possible with OSPREY or when wearing an assault vest so the popular option is to use a thigh dump pouch. The thigh dump pouch is not a standard issue however has proved a popular addition to front line infantry kit. The most popular and robust pouch is the Blackhawk thigh dump pouch as this allows the operator to slip magazines in through the top between two overlapping flaps which proves a faster option than having to undo zips. Not every soldier likes wearing thigh pouches and it is an acquired taste so the other dump pouch option is a small MOLLE dump pouch which folds away and can be fitted to any MOLLE attachment points. This type of pouch is neat and small but when opened up it can hold up to six magazines in a drop down nylon bag which can then be folded away again after use.
Below are links to the most popular Items of kit bought prior to deployment from www.specialforceskit.co.uk
Blackhawk Tactical Cutaway Vest
Blackhawk Cutaway Plate Carrier
Bulldog Armour NIJ IIIA