SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has rolled out a new load bearing system (LBS) that is better at distributing weight and dissipating heat, allowing soldiers to last longer and fight more effectively on the battlefield.
This comes after the SAF unveiled an LBS prototype in 2017 at the launch of the Centre of Excellence for Soldier Performance (CESP). The prototype had similar qualities but did not come in a pixelated design.
“The CESP applied human factors engineering during the evaluation of the LBS to identify areas to improve the mobility of soldiers and reduce stress points induced by equipment to maximise our soldiers’ combat effectiveness,” the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said in a news release on Wednesday (Dec 2).
The high-cut design helmet, which comes with adjustable padding and is 10 per cent lighter than the previous helmet, is also designed to improve combat performance.
According to MINDEF, the LBS’ strong yet lightweight material improves heat dissipation by 30 per cent. It is also more adjustable than the current integrated load bearing vest (iLBV), meaning it is more comfortable for soldiers with different body sizes.
The LBS comprises two main parts: A belt and a standard or enhanced vest. The belt, which carries some of the pouches on the LBS, focuses the load on the hips and leg muscles. These pouches carry soldier equipment like ammunition, grenades, torchlights and water bottles.
In contrast, the one-piece iLBV does not have a belt and carries all of its pouches on the vest. This puts the load on the shoulders.
SAF recruits enlisted since July last year have been issued the LBS belt. Full-time national servicemen (NSF) who have been posted out to combat units since January have received the enhanced vest.
Combat units like Infantry, Guards and Commandos get the enhanced vest as they have more physically demanding missions.
The enhanced vest comes with a detachable body armour carrier that can be inserted with a metal plate for more ballistic protection. The carrier can be removed depending on the mission and for better heat dissipation.
From 2021, NSFs posted to combat support and combat service support units will get the standard vest, which comes attached with a body armour carrier. This standard variant “adequately meets” these units’ training and operational requirements, MINDEF said.
Operationally-ready national servicemen (NSmen) will not get the LBS, CESP head Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Ho Chee Leong said, adding that the iLBV continues to meet their training and operational needs.
Selected regulars will get the LBS depending on their mission profile and operational requirements, while SAF Volunteer Corps soldiers have received the LBS belt and new helmet since March.
Soldiers will be equipped with different components of the LBS depending on their training requirements and mission profiles. For instance, commanders can attach a larger pouch near the top of their vests for communications equipment.
A stripped down and mission-specific LBS, paired with a cooler hybrid uniform, will increase heat dissipation and improve combat effectiveness, LTC Ho said.
“The multi-component system actually helps to distribute the load across different muscle groups of the body and hence increases the soldier’s sustainability out in the field,” he added.
MINDEF said the LBS’ belt component can be customised to size and worn on the hips, thus reducing strain on the shoulders.
“Both the standard and enhanced vests come in different sizes and feature multiple adjustable points for soldiers to ensure the vest fits snugly, allowing them to perform their combat tasks more effectively and over longer durations,” it stated.
The adjustable points include a belly band that focuses the load on the core muscles, and a yoke system near the neck that ensures weight is distributed evenly across the shoulders.
The LBS also features buckle fasteners, as opposed to a velcro system in the iLBV. Despite the multiple components and different systems, LTC Ho said soldiers can put on the LBS in a “similar” amount of time.
During Basic Military Training, recruits will be given sufficient time to learn how to put on the LBS properly, said 1st Warrant Officer (1WO) Heng Song Po, a field trial warrant officer at the CESP.
Officer Cadet (OCT) Emil Harris Jefree, 21, said the new helmet and LBS belt, which he got during BMT, feel comfortable and breathable because of their adjustability and the amount of air they let in.
"It helps with the training especially, since we are new recruits that just entered the force, so we have to be conditioned to the training and exercises," he said.
"As we move down to Officer Cadet School and other parts, we were given the (enhanced) vest, and since we are required to carry more equipment, there are a lot more spaces to put them."
OCT Ajey Jeyakumar, 20, said he likes being able to reconfigure the pouches on the LBS to his preference or according to his missions.
"Some missions we need to wear our soft plates (in the body armour carrier), and some we don't. It's very easy for us to take off the soft plates as well," he added.
Development of the new LBS and helmet started in 2016, followed by an “extensive” year-long trial that both involved combat as well as combat support and combat service support units across the Army, LTC Ho said.
Hundreds of soldiers with different mission profiles took part to ensure a comprehensive representation.
Various agencies like Headquarters Infantry, Headquarters Supply, CESP, Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), DSO National Laboratories and ST Logistics took in the feedback during the evaluation process, which included crafting technical specifications that meet operational and quality requirements.
“Adopting a human factor engineering approach, we utilised anthropometry data of our soldiers to inform the design of the various equipment,” LTC Ho said.
When asked if the LBS was bought off the shelf or locally produced, LTC Ho said: “We just state our operational requirements and then we do our procurement through DSTA.”
1WO Heng said trial results have shown that soldiers on the ground appreciate the LBS’ ability to dissipate heat and distribute weight effectively.
“And because the design is based on our local population, it provides you with better fit, comfort as well as improved mobility when out in the field,” he added.