Balancing ballistic protection against physiological strain: evidence from laboratory and field trials
This project was based on the premise that decisions concerning the ballistic protection provided to defence personnel should derive from an evaluation of the balance between protection level and its impact on physiological function, mobility, and operational capability. Civilians and soldiers participated in laboratory- and field-based studies in which ensembles providing five levels of ballistic protection were evaluated, each with progressive increases in protection, mass (3.4-11.0 kg), and surface-area coverage (0.25-0.52 m2). Physiological trials were conducted on volunteers (N = 8) in a laboratory, under hot-dry conditions simulating an urban patrol: walking at 4 km·h−1 (90 min) and 6 km·h−1 (30 min or to fatigue). Field-based trials were used to evaluate tactical battlefield movements (mobility) of soldiers (N = 31) under tropical conditions, and across functional tests of power, speed, agility, endurance, and balance. Finally, trials were conducted at a jungle training centre, with soldiers (N = 32) patrolling under tropical conditions (averaging 5 h). In the laboratory, work tolerance was reduced as protection increased, with deep-body temperature climbing relentlessly. However, the protective ensembles could be grouped into two equally stressful categories, each providing a different level of ballistic protection. This outcome was supported during the mobility trials, with the greatest performance decrement evident during fire and movement simulations, as the ensemble mass was increased (-2.12%·kg−1). The jungle patrol trials similarly supported this outcome. Therefore, although ballistic protection does increase physiological strain, this research has provided a basis on which to determine how that strain can be balanced against the mission-specific level of required personal protection.