Armor: Imperfect Protection for the Turret Gunner


May 10, 2006: The U.S. Army is testing a new body armor idea in Iraq. It's the Cupola Protective Ensemble (CPE), and it's a simple idea, which proved turret gunners with better protection. This is done by taking the existing bomb disposal protective suit, and adding  the new liquid cooling unit. This provides exposed turret gunners with some more protection. The turret gunners, usually in hummers, are not only exposed to explosions and enemy fire, but are prime targets because they operate a .50 caliber machine-gun, and have the best view of any enemy in the area. But that view works both ways. Turret gunners are considered to have the most dangerous job in Iraq, and the highest casualty rate. 


The CPE has gotten mixed reviews, partly because of the way it looks, but also because of the weight and the way it restricts movement. The CPE is basically the upper portion (less the armored pants) of the bomb disposal suit. This item is used by EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) when they have to get close to an explosive device in order to disarm it. The suit is basically a lot of body armor (Kevlar and protective plates) as well as padding (for protection from blast.) The helmet has a bullet proof transparent visor. It does the job. Several turret gunners have been spared serious injuries because of the CPE. The down side is that it restricts movement, making it difficult for the gunner to swing around, and move in general. This makes the  gunners weapon less effective. Moreover, when the cooling jacket (a vest with tubes in it that circulate cool water) system breaks down, the CPE has to come off before heat stroke sets in. The things is also heavier than the usual protective vest, making the gunner tired sooner on long missions, although the cooling unit helps counteract the fatigue. Finally, the troops believe the CPE makes them look lame. The CPE is rather cartoonish in its appearance, being big, bulky and, well, not cool. That said, when going on a mission that appears to be more dangerous than usual, troops are expected to regard the CPE in a more favorable light, at least until the danger is past.