By Katrin S. Freier, Product & Sales Manager – Material Science Body Amour.

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One of the main risks soldiers face in today’s missions is the effect of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In an IED explosion a combination of resulting blast, fire and fragmentation affects the human body and can have severe destructive effects as conventional body armour shows distinctive protection gaps. Depending on the primary and secondary fragments’ impact forces, penetration depth and position, many wounds can be lethal, require immediate surgical intervention, result in surface tissue penetration and can affect the human body in the long term.

The origin of the resulting effects of an IED explosion develops primarily from ground level upwards. Primary fragments and secondary fragments, e.g. dirt, sand and debris are accelerated during the explosion process and penetrate cloth and tissue. The body is mainly affected at the lower limb and pelvic region, spreading over the lower torso, hands and along the arms and side torso, up to the shoulder, neck and face area.

Even though countering IEDs is a top priority for international defence forces, facts about the number of injured soldiers, the dramatic increase in the severity of injuries and the resulting long term physiological and psychological effects show a serious lack in personal protection for certain areas of the body.

A closer look into a soldier’s current personal protective clothing system immediately shows a large protection gap. Because of low wearing acceptance of the groin protective flap, only the upper front/back torso and the head are protected against impacting fragments by wearing a ballistic vest and helmet. The rest of the body remains unprotected.

Evaluating individual body parts from medical perspectives shows that fragment penetration can have different consequences for the human body. Ranging from tissue and muscular surface wounds to lethal injuries of the artery, veins and vital organs. Wounds with high blood loss result in direct and long-term effects, dysfunctions and infections. Severe injuries of the genito-urinary system often lead to amputations, reconstructive surgeries, infertility and impotence. Contaminated fragments transport bacteria into the wound channels leading to a serious infection risk which can result in sepsis.

Figure 1_Current Soldiers' Personal Protection (highlighted in yellow)

Soldiers Current Personal Protection (highlighted in yellow).

Blücher GmbH – personal protective equipment (PPE) division SARATOGA® took action. The facts have led to the current status of protection being reconsidered. The fully equipped soldier is analysed considering impacting effects and resulting traumata. The individual zones evaluated include those regarded wound level, infection risk, mobility restriction and long-term consequences. The protective gaps are located, evaluated and classified, identifying the zones for implementing advanced fragment protective clothing.

SARATOGA® is setting high demands for the product’s unique features. The latest requirements for overall comfort performances along with necessary ballistic protective performance are taken into account. The influences of the complex physiological body’s characteristics in individual climate and environmental conditions are precisely considered. Active and resting periods during operational duties result in frequent changes of body’s natural behaviour and demand great textile performance management. The combination of sufficient ballistic fragment protection and high wearing comfort must be provided to protect the body, satisfy wearers’ acceptance and maintain wearers’ operational capability.

The complex findings are transferred into the performance requirements of the clothing concept. A new and advanced, multifunctional fragment protective textile fabric has been developed by the innovative R&D team of SARATOGA®. A highly dense, compressible and flexible material structure of extreme resistance and multifunctional yarn qualities is the result, guaranteeing a high striking ratio and preventing even micro-fragments from penetration. The resulting energy is immediately transmitted, dissipated and reflected between the fabric structures.

The ballistic protective performance is tested according to STANAG 2920 with the 2grain RCC reaching a V50 value of at least 320 m/sec. It keeps its ballistic protective performance level even under full moisture saturation and long-term UV radiation where conventional protective gear shows severe deterioration. Wrapping and protecting the fiber materials in UV and waterproof foils (as needed with common ballistic protective articles) is no longer necessary. Due to the soft and compressible behaviour of the fabric, the textile allows the resulting shock wave to pass immediately through the body. The danger of building up pressure in the body’s core, due to the reflection between rigid materials, is avoided.

Figure 2_The Fragment Protective Clothing provides full body protection (highlighted in white

The Fragment Protective Clothing provides full Body Protection (highlighted in white).

The air permeable construction of the fragment protective textile offers ventilation, limits the isolation factor and avoids heat accumulation. Due to the hydrophilic behaviour and the capillary effect the surplus in body moisture is transported away from the surface and condensates. Through the chill effect, the body’s natural thermal regulation is supported. The skin-friendly fabric with its elasticity allows being of high fitting comfort, offering a soft and supple touch and adapting to all of the wearer’s movements and posture, recovering to its initial state when released. The robust material even allows multiple launderings at 60°C without any performance loss.

SARATOGA® has realised the Fragment Protective Clothing. Integrating the fragment protective textile fabric into the clothing concept results in a multifunctional, low weight and extremely comfortable overall performance. The individual elements provide robust and efficient protection and meet complex physiological performance requirements. Additional benefits include low weight, high freedom of movement, extended wearing and climate comfort. The Fragment Protective Clothing (FPC) is composed of individual elements. Combined, they offer full body protection against fragmentation of the hithertoo unprotected body zones. The combination of protective and comfort zones in each individual product leads to distinctive heat and sweat management. Basic protection is provided with a lightweight shirt and undershorts version, worn as an undergarment. As the danger potential of IEDs can differ, the protection requirements differ accordingly. The armour clothing system provides individual protection zones and therewith individual protection levels. The Pelvic Protective UnderGarment (PPUG) can be quickly and simply complemented and armoured up with an additional soft jockstrap to enhance the groin protection and leg packages to enhance the protection of the thigh’s artery and vein system. Insertions provide the same extraordinary comfort properties as the basic protective undergarment. The soft and compressible, flexible and mobile elements complement perfectly and do not interfere with the wearer’s movements and are very comfortable even in prone position. Individual products are camouflaged and can be worn directly exposed to the environment; hereby, a Fragment Protective Combat Shirt (FPCS) is worn. The carotid arteries in the neck area are perfectly protected by the detachable Fragment Protective Collar (FPC). The adjustable fitting enables perfect protection and avoids heat accumulation in the same way and the face can be protected with a Fragment Protective Balaclava (FPB).

The effects to the human body of IED explosions need to be taken even more seriously – full body personal protection is a must. The highly innovative comfortable Fragment Protective Clothing, a major enhancement of the current equipment’s protective characteristics, has been created by Blücher GmbH – PPE division SARATOGA®. The significant advantages of the protective apparel cannot be discounted and will have to take its place in soldiers’ future equipment. ■

Fragment Protective Clothing  A Holistic Approach to Lightweight Ballistic Body Protection


SONY DSCKatrin S. Freier is Product & Sales Manager at Blücher GmbH specialised in Material Science for Personal Protective Equipment. She holds a Master degree in textile technologies/ engineering. With more than 15 years of experience in clothing industry she spent about five years abroad leading garment development and manufacturing processes for European apparel companies. Since 2011 she has been working for Blücher GmbH in the fields of R&D for enhanced performing clothing systems focusing on the development of fragment protective garments. She was awarded for her work by the Textile industry federation Rhineland.