Category Archives: War on Terror

Osprey Helmet Bag

Part of the Osprey Mk II and Mk III body armour set included a pouch holding a helmet bag. The helmet bag is designed to give a soldier a safe place to stow his helmet when it is not needed, somewhere it will be secure, out of the way but easy to access if it needs to be quickly donned. A lot of troops issued with the PLCE sets used a climbers carabineer usually attached to one of the shoulder straps or the waist which was used to clip the Mk 6 helmet to. The Osprey system gave troops a dedicated bag for this and although I do not have the pouch it is stowed in, I do have the mesh bag:imageThe bag is designed to be large enough to fit a Mk 6 helmet in reasonably snuggly so that it doesn’t rattle around:imageThe neck of the back has a drawstring and an adjustable strap allows it to be attached to the Osprey system:imageAs well as the drawstring, two large Velcro panels are also provided to help secure the neck:imageI am not sure how popular this helmet bag was in service as I have struggled to find much information on it, one thing I did find referenced was its use as a dump pouch for used magazines. In combat there often isn’t time to carefully stow used magazines away, but equally a soldier does not want to just drop them on the ground where they might get damaged, lost or stolen by the enemy. A dump bag is just an open bag that used magazines can be dropped into until there is a lull in combat when they can be put back into pouches. This large open mesh bag would probably be well suited to this role and would obviously not be needed for its primary purpose when contact with the enemy had been made.

My thanks got to Michael Whittaker for kindly letting me have this piece.

Osprey Mk IVa Side Armour Carrier

It has been quite a while since I last covered the Osprey Mk IV set on the blog, we ran a major series of posts last year covering a lot of the different components. One item we did not look at then were the side armour panels and it is one of these we are considering tonight. These are a pair of add on panels that are used to fit extra hard plate side armour to the Osprey set to protect a soldiers flank. Each side panel consists of a flat piece of MTP cordua-nylon:imageThe front is covered with a set of PALS loops to attach pouches to:imageThe main feature of the side plate carrier is a large pocket that a ballistic plate can be slid into:imageThis is secured by a Velcroed flap. The rear of the panel has a set of straps to attach it to the rest of the vest:imageA small label indicates stores details:imageInterestingly the Osprey manual does not list these side plate carriers at all, instead just showing the larger cummerbunds that wrap entirely around the wearer’s body. This is a smaller and lighter alternative that just adds the plates to the side and was introduced as part of a mid life upgrade of the Osprey Mk IV to Mk IVA standard and allows the front ops panel to be retained whilst flank armour is worn.

Current Issue Halal Ration Pack

Over the years this blog has covered a wide variety of ration packs, from the 1980s examples with individual tins, through the early 1990s and the first boil in a bag meals through to the early 2000s and those used on the early operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sustained operations revealed a number of problems with the ration packs in service, with only ten meals to choose form people were quickly getting fed up of the same food as ration packs were used continuously for six months. Other items were also problematic, chocolate melting in the heat of Afghanistan. An officer from the Royal Navy was tasked with coming up with a new selection of ration packs and he explained:

Before Iraq and Afghanistan my predecessors were making meals for people who were going on exercise for two weeks. I have customers who eat these for prolonged periods and can get menu fatigue. Ten alternatives were not enough to sustain interest for six months. We were very determined to make changes. The pack did not reflect the fact that soldiers coming from Generation Y are used to global food. I wanted them to be able to pick up their rations and find something they would order on a Friday night from a takeaway. We said, tell us what your Mum is sending over or what you are taking on exercise. We can’t promise to include it but we can promise to try.

The new range that was developed consisted of 38 different menus, 20 normal ration packs and 18 to cover vegetarian, halal, Sikh and Hindu tastes. Tonight we have an example of a halal ration pack to look at. These were produced in large quantities as they could be issued to members of the Afghan National Army serving alongside the British in Helmand.

As ever, the rations come packed in a small cardboard carton:imageThese are packaged in larger boxes of ten. One end of the box has a large union flag emblazoned on it to show that this is a British ration pack, and a white circular sticker indicates the ration pack contents. In this case it is ‘H10’ which is one of the halal menu options:imageSome basic nutritional information is printed on the opposite end of the box:imageAnd some general information about the menus and feedback is marked on the side:imageThe lid, as well as indicating the rations are owned by the MOD, gives advice on the safe burning of waste in theatre:imageThe base contains the familiar range card design that dates back at least as far as the 1980s:imageThe contents of the box include a selection of boil in the bag meals, drinks, nuts, biscuits, toilet paper and a small bottle of hot sauce:imageThe sundries are included in a large ziplock clear plastic bag:imageThese include non-alcoholic hand wipes (the alcohol can cause skin to crack in hot conditions), a range of tea, coffee, creamer and sugar, chewing gum and matches:imageThe disposable spoon is an idea taken form the Americans and promotes hygiene as the spoon can be thrown away at the end of the day rather than festering bacteria in a soldiers pocket. Items that made mess tins dirty like powdered soups were also discarded, the developers explaining:

They want to eat something that doesn’t get their mess tins dirty. It is a duty of care. If they go down with food poisoning it could compromise the mission and put people’s lives in danger

The full list of contents for this box is included on a feedback sheet that is included with each meal:imageThis particular menu seems very tomato and bean heavy! It is also interesting that for a Halal ration pack, this is essentially vegetarian. The form allows the user to be entered for a prize draw:imageThese forms were seen as very helpful by the manufacturer:

Each ration box includes a feedback form and these, together with visits to troops in theatre, debriefs of detachments as they return to the UK and individual letters provide the Defence Food Services team with constant user impressions. To date, the feedback has been extremely positive and constructive allowing constant fine tuning – such as a reduction in the number of fish dishes provided and an increase the number of snacking items and drink flavourings that are included.

SA80 Polymer Magazine

In 2011 the British Army started to upgrade the magazines soldiers were issued with for use with the SA80 rifle. Until this point the H&K steel magazine had been in service and was generally well regarded (see here). The only problem with the magazine was the materials used in its construction. Steel is heavy and new polymers were available that allowed a robust magazine to be produced with a lighter weight:imageThe government at the time sent out a press release explaining the benefits of the new magazine:

The 30-round Magpul EMAG magazine is around half the weight of a standard metal magazine and helps reduce the weight that soldiers have to carry in their kit.

Made from a polymer, the EMAG weighs 130g compared to its metal equivalent of 249g. Troops carry up to 12 magazines, so this change means each carries around one kilogramme less weight in total than before. imageAlthough it is lighter than others, the EMAG is robust; it’s durability is enhanced by an easily detachable cover to help protect against dust and sand while being carried – meaning fewer need replacing. imageA clear window in the magazine allows troops to easily monitor how much ammunition they have left, helping them ensure they have sufficient levels at critical points in battle. imageThese magazines were produced in the US for the British Army and are brand named ‘EMAG’, which is molded into the body of the magazine:imageDetails of the rounds to be used in the magazine and the manufacturers details are also included:imageThe rounds of 5.56 are fed into the top, where two feed lips ensure they are presented into the breach of the rifle correctly:imageThe plastic dustcover snaps over this to keep out dirt and debris:imageThe base plate of the magazine is removable allowing the spring and follower to be removed for cleaning:imageThe response from troops was positive:

The new magazines are a great bit of kit. The little window lets me see how many rounds I have left at a glance and it’s a lighter and more robust design. The dust cap is a useful addition in the dusty Afghan conditions as it helps keep ammo clean.image

Brown Karrimor SF Cold Wet Weather Boots

Continuing our look at some of the different combat boots of the British Army, tonight we are considering the Karrimor SF cold and wet weather boots:imageThis design was introduced into service with the British Army in 2012 and was one of a range of different boots introduced at this point to go with the new MTP uniforms. For the first time soldiers could try a range of boots to find the one that worked best for them.

The Karimoor combat boots are described as:

The latest issue army cold weather boots for British military personnel from world-renowned outdoor equipment specialist Karrimor. Designed using full grain waterproof leather, these…boots are extremely durable and ideal for use in cold and wet weather. With a Gore-Tex membrane to keep feet dry in the worst and wettest conditions, Karrimor SF boots also feature an innovative 3M Thinsulate lining to preserve warmth while allowing feet to breathe. With a strong rubber Vibram outsole, Karrimor military boots are second to none when it comes to comfort, grip and ruggedness. These waterproof army boots are the ultimate choice for cold weather combat and training exercises.

The soles of these boots are deep and rugged and manufactured in Italy by a specialist sole producer called ‘Vibram’:imageThe boots are of a hi-leg design with lacing up the front from the top of the foot right up to above the ankle:imageThe Union Flag logo of Karrimor SF, the manufacturer, is embossed into the tongue of the boots:imageAnd the manufacturer’s name is embossed into the outer side of each boot:imageA white label with sizing and a /|\ ownership mark is sewn to the underside of the tongue:imageThe boots seem to have been very popular with troops and one soldier gives his thoughts on the design:

Karrimor SF are hard wearing and good in freezing and wet conditions and generally stomping about shite ground and woodlands.

The only major criticism from soldiers is that the brown colour of the boots is very easy to turn into a horrible maroon shade if a dark tan polish is used on them rather than a light tan one! Apparently at this point there is nothing for it but to grovel to the QM and hope you get a replacement pair!

Mk 16B Aircrew Coverall

The Mark 16b aircrew coverall was introduced into service in the late 1990s. In its initial form it was produced in olive green, but with the RAF’s commitments as part of the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan a tan coloured version of the garment was soon introduced:imageThe Mark 16B is a development of the Mark 16A but deleting the knee padding and thigh pockets of the earlier model. The suit is made of a flame retardant DuPont Nomex Delta C Aramid fabric and the fastenings are made of special fire resistant Velcro. These fire retardant properties are essential for personnel working around aircraft where hot gasses and extremely flammable aviation fuel are common hazards.

The coveralls fasten up the front with a single metal zip, further zips secure two diagonally cut chest pockets:imageFurther slash pockets are fitted at the waist:imageThe waist itself is adjustable with two Velcro tabs at the rear that allow it to be drawn in and let out slightly:imageThe left hand sleeve has a padded pocket for up to three pens:imageVelcro tab epaulettes are fitted to each shoulder for rank slides to be attached:imageThe lower legs of the suit each have a flapped pocket that is designed to be easy to access when the wearer is seated:imageThe bottom of each leg also features a short zip allowing the diameter of the leg to be expanded to make it easier to get the coveralls on or off:imageA large manufacturer’s label is sewn into the garment giving sizing, NSN number and care instructions:imageThis set of coveralls has never been issued. In service a variety of patches and badges would be sewn on to show the wearer’s qualifications, rank and Squadron:Royal Air Force’s II(AC) Squadron foils insurgent bombers in Afghanistan

Helmet Counterweight

Increasingly soldiers in the British army are having scopes and electronic devices mounted to the front of their combat helmets. Items such as night vision scopes are heavy and tend to pull both the helmet and the wearer’s head forward. To counter this effect balance weights can be fitted to the rear of the helmet to even out the load. A number of designs are in use, but tonight we are looking at an example commonly known as a ‘choc block’ by troops:imageThe reason for its nickname is quite obvious and this counterweight consists of sixteen separate metal weights encased in rubber. The groves make it possible for the weight to follow the contours of the helmet and the actual weight of the counterbalance can be adapted by cutting away individual blocks. The White residue between each block is a form of talc used to prevent the rubber from sticking to itself and a full block like this weighs 565grams.

The rear of the block has four Velcro hook-panels that allow it to be mounted on a corresponding piece of loop Velcro on the rear of the helmet:imageNote that the original owner of this weight has inked his name in white pen along one side of the block. An NSN number is printed onto the rear as well:imageThese items are not on general issue, but rather distributed to those most likely to need them such as members of special forces and air crews. As such they seem quite an uncommon item and I have struggled to find out much about them. There seems to be a number of different versions of helmet weights in service, of which this is just one.