Vietnam Flak Vests: Soooo Light

In an earlier post today on the recent body armor debate, I used the oft-quoted figure of “25 pounds” for the Vietnam-era flak vests. A commenter on the post points out that Vietnam-era flak vests did not weigh anywhere close to that.
Some quick Googling reveals that the body armor used in Vietnam weighed in at 9 or 10 pounds. According to Olive-Drab:

  • The M-1952 Fragmentation Protective Body Armor, developed during the Korean War, was the most common body armor issued to US Army troops and weighed in at about 10 pounds.
  • The M-1955 USMC Armored Vest, used by the Corps in Vietnam, also weighed about 10 pounds.
  • The M-1969 Fragmentation Protective Body Armor, the Army’s replacement for the M-1952, weighed about 8.5 pounds.

As you can see, none of these approach the 25 pound figure usually included in stories on body armor. Somehow this figure has become ingrained in the minds of many, and while researching this post I came across a 2003 Washington Post story on MSNBC.com that used it. The article, Body armor saves U.S. lives in Iraq, was about the great performance and the acute shortage of the Interceptor Body Vest and ceramic plate inserts during the first year of the campaign in Iraq.
To make the matter even more curious, it was made again today in a release by the American Forces Press Service, quoted here. The release quotes an Air Force Museum as the source of the figure.
Where did this number come from? Well, while looking around I noticed these figures:

  • Ranger Body Armor (RBA) weighs about 8 pounds. With the ceramic upgrade plate, it weighs about 16 pounds.
  • The Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops Vest (PASGT-V) weighs about 9 pounds, and when combined with the Interim Small Arms Protective Overvest (ISAPO), the weight is about 25 pounds.

Both of these systems were introduced in the 1990s. So it appears that it isn’t the Vietnam-era armor but the 1990-era armor that the current “Interceptor” Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) and Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) (pictured above) are comparable to.
One last note about the Vietnam-era armor. It’s nearly legendary how often the armor was left behind due to its weight. One has to wonder what, despite the greatly enhanced protection, those soldiers would have thought of the 25 pound armor of the 1990s and 2000s.
—cross-posted by Murdoc

  • Terry Johnson

    All I do know is that they were heavy and wouldn’t stop an AK round. Terry Johnson Vietnam Veteran

  • TheMasterTimekeeper

    If I’m not mistaken, the “chicken plate” armor worn by helo crews stopped a few AK rounds. Damned if I can find a link to prove it, though.

  • egosbro

    I’m joining the USMC. And if deployed to iraq, I really dont wanna carry around 25 or even 10 pounds of extra insulation while in 120 degree heat. Not to mention I am not quite so sure this is gonna protect me from big “F*** Y**” bomb burried beneath me.

  • Corporal Sierra

    It’s good that you’ve chosen the Marines, but dont worry about having to carry around an extra 25 pounds (it will be more than that with all the other Modular gear and rounds anyway). Sure it will be hot, but as a Marine you will learn to suck it up and realize it isn’t that bad. Iraq gets pretty damn cold at times anyway and the FLAK can keep you very warm. I have seen the FLAK with SAPI plates stop up to 7 AK-47 rounds. As far as an IED is concerned, the FLAK can still make the difference between life and death. I’m sure your blood related family, as well as your new Marine family, would rather have you safe and hot then cold and dead.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Folks,
    As one who used the M-1952 Body Armor in Vietnam, I can say it made a good pillow when you got a night off from ambush patrols. As indicated in another comment they wouldn’t stop an AK round especially the Soviet ones with the steel pin embeded in it. But it did have it’s uses.
    When traveling in vehicles and you got hit with a B-41 or a B-40 attack, that 60’s Chicom speak for RPG’s, they would stop a of of metal. Troopers on the 11th. ACR who wore the vest all the time soon had a metal collection embeded in their vest.
    The vest were also good to wear when you were checking out a village, booby traps were every where. To convence someone to wear a vest all it takes is putting a budy with a chest wound or stomach wound in a body bag.
    Of the current war and the use of body armor, the arm chair guys can say what they like but after nearly four years of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the number of “Orthopedic” basket cases is still under 300 of the total of nearly 16K wounded.
    In compairson when I was on “K Ward” at Letterman Medical Center in 1966/67 the ward had a rotating overflow population of 80 plus patients and that was before “Tet 68”. The estimated “Ortho Basket Cases” of the Vietnam War is around 10K. So it appears that the current body armor, although less then perfect is doing it’s job. That said lets make it better.
    ALLONS,
    Byron Skinner

  • Burgess Carter

    As a Helo Driver in Vietnam, I placed my Chicken Plate in front of the pedels in order to deflect anything comeing up at me from”low and front”.

  • Woobster

    Egosbro, Good for you enlisting. BUT get it in your head, the protection the gear will give is better then the little relief you get from the heat by NOT wearing it. It will save your ASS.

  • Ben Hull

    egosbro - First thing you will learn when you join the Marines is to do as you are told. I used the 80s Kevlar vest my entire time in the Marines and it saved lives. It was never intended to stop bullets. The first SAPI plates were introduced in the 90s to provide some protection for small arms. You must balance protection with ability to accomplish the mission. When you add it the weight of arms and ammunition, 25 pounds of armor is pushing it on sustainablle load. The assault kit for a soldier or Marine shouldn’t be over 40-50 pounds. An M16A4 and 200+ rounds, hand grenades, optics, water is going to get to that 40 pound mark fast. Add in an AT4 or carry a SAW instead and you will be hurting. That being said, much of the patrolling is mounted so you can carry more armor if riding, but on contact you still need to move quickly

  • campbell

    there is no damn GOOD reason why Marines cannot maintain a hostile clear perimeter of 800 yds, minimum, even in this urban setting. again, note, I say GOOD reason. we have the means to keep tabs on ANYONE, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE if we will simply employ it. we can watch any road, any building, and cover…….if we choose.
    body armour is meant for those who do not choose to maintain that safety margin of 800 yds.
    two choices: one, let em in and wear armour hoping to get by, or two, keep em the hell away.
    whatever, get out of denial. all you do is feed a lousy situation.
    by the way, I do not care to read MARINES feed this crap, let the army do it. Semper Fi damnit

  • toby

    The thing about the Vietnam era body-armor was that it was never able to stop a direct hit from a rifle round. It was constructed to stop ‘flak’, that is bits of metal (shrapnel, etc.) moving at a much lower velocity than any of the wide variety of Ak-47 rounds fired by NVA / Vietcong. The newer interceptor vests (which I have) also do not stop direct hits from rifle rounds (A fact I think people are only recently becoming aware of)It is only the SAPI ceramic plates which are rated to do this. So, right. None of the vests are all that heavy, but also none of them technically none of them stop rifle rounds without the much heavier ceramic plates. If only the insurgents were all armed with 9mm handguns…

  • Tom

    SOmeone posted that the “latest vest” will not stop a rifle round?? I do not know what you are wearing but the SAPI plate will stop an AK-47 round at ten meters…ho and yes you will be hurting from the impact, but you’ll be alive. I witnessed the event first hand in 2003 during OIF.
    Cheers,
    Tom

  • Chico

    Flak vests? Body armor? What is that? I don’t remember wearing any of the afore mentioned body protection or for that matter a Steel helmet. I must have missed something in vietnam. Was this something reserved for line units?

  • SPC Crabb 1-68 CAB 4ID

    who ever posted that about the 800yd param. im sorry but someone needs to stop useing a drill to clean in thier ears. have u ever seen the inviroment we face over here i may not speak for a marine, but i got friends that are marines here in iraq also that aggree with me. i dont care what some old former POG says about what tools we got today, nothing is gonna change as far as being able to opperait with no armor. someone sell this guy a ticket to my world and ill prove it, no POG is gonna tell me what we do and sont reqire to do a job the likes of witch they have never seen. Out.

  • Sven Ortmann

    What laymen believe claims like “25 lbs” for Vietnam-era vests?
    During the Korean War, the T-52 vest was capable to stop pistol bullets, but did not weigh much more than eight pounds!!!!!
    http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwii/woundblstcs/default.htm

  • RL. Stroud

    I have the perfect solution to the body armor thing: Have the Vice President and that jerk-off, Karl Rove, move their office to Baghdad for the duration of the war. You will see a Manhattan Project to develop body armor. Better yet, have them both resign and drive trucks for Halliburton.
    PS Recall ‘Stormin’ Norman having a leader with brass balls might be the best idea of all

  • Quinn

    Body armour has pluses and minuses. The body armour today is more effective than the VietNam era equipment I used in the 70’s & 80’s. The K-pot offers better head protection and a SAP plate was unheard of then. The problem as I see it, isn’t as much about the effectiveness of body armour although it has room for vast improvement. It is about weight and bulk.
    Yes the 9 pounds of armour along with the combat load was bulky, uncomfortable, and interfered with mobility; But not any more so than the armour I was issued in the Balkans in the 90’s.
    For those whose duties are to operate vehicles the Army’s Tank and Automotive Command has done a terrible disservice. The vehicles are not designed to allow a driver wearing body armour to do his/her job.
    I am 6’2″ tall, while wearing the vest with the humvee seat at its rearmost position I could not exit the vehicle quickly let along position myself in the drivers seat to operate the vehicle controls in the most efficent manner. As for what troops in armoured vehicles need to contend with, I can bearly imagine. Flack vests took up room in the M113s also.
    As for the previous comment about placing Misters Chenny, Rumsfeld and Rowe and others in Iraq for evolution of body armour to get a jump start. Maybe a nice idea but the wrong people. Get the miltary and civilian leaders who sign off on equipment into a position to have to use it and interface with it as the Soldier or Marine does and we’ll see faster evolution of more effective armour.
    Maybe the next generation of vehicle will accomodate the 6’6″ Soldier who is driving the hummer while wearing body armour.
    As for arguments over the Soldiers load and mobility. It may never end.

  • Charles

    What helps is that globalsecurity.org perpetuates the myth of 25 pds.
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/interceptor.htm
    What you see on globalsec is not what you get in real life. :)

  • me

    Ranger armor weighs 24 lbs with both plates. Te very first had one front plate so that’s probably where the 16 lb’s came from. There is lighter versions available now. the old heavy plates were better than interceoptor plates as far as taking a hit

  • Rook

    An article I read last year said it best. “The modern US soldier goes into combat carrying 120lbs of light weight equipment. The problem is that 120lbs of lightweight equipment still weighs 120lbs!”
    The current interceptor system is flawed in the same way that the up-armored Humvee is. rather than fixing a design they simply add more armor and weight to an existing frame. Soldiers need to be able to move effectively and keep the momentum and “violence of action” going in a firefight or they risk becoming easy targets. Systems such as dragon skin have been proven more effective for personal armor and offer better protection to weight ratio. It’s time to realize this and drop the weight.
    -Rook, US Army Combat Engineer

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