Since World War I, British uniforms have been continuously evolving and improving to meet new challenges and improve in response to old ones. The Brodie Helmet, once a relatively cheap and basic piece of equipment, has evolved into a sophisticated creation designed with both advanced ballistics and practical use in the field in mind. The vehicles the British military have used have reached speeds up to 160 kilometres per hour, before slower safer machines were brought into use.
British military kit has developed in leaps and bounds over the past century, and is now designed specifically for modern warfare, reflecting the tactics and stratagems which have been adopted by many militaries. Wondering about the kit of the soldier of the future, therefore, is subject to a certain degree of uncertainty; until we see the wars of the future, we cannot speculate about specifics.
What we can predict, though, are general trends. What materials will be used? How will wearable computing affect the capabilities of the average soldier? Where is the money for manufacturers?
One area where extrapolating from current trends can give us a fairly accurate idea of the future is in developments for urban and house-to-house fighting.
This is an aspect of warfare which has been problematic for armies of all sizes since World War II, and it's barely become any easier. Gordian knot solutions like bombardments are likely to create piles of rubble, in which it's even easier to hide out and snipe at enemy soldiers.
The Corner Shot CSM is one development which may make urban fighting easier. Designed to help infantry look round corners, it's a strange-looking contraption but never-the-less potentially very useful.
Most significant developments, however, will come about due to wearable computing. An ability to accurately analyse and assess a battlefield, providing augmented information to the owner, will begin to prove invaluable – and not just for the purposes of battle.
To avoid tragic mistakes and failures of judgement on the part of a soldier, a system which advises on a course of action which must, by definition, follow protocol could prove valuable in deciding legal matters and cases where it appears that human rights have been violated.
Being hooked in to an integrated network could also help avoid tragic instances of friendly fire, as locations are clearly signalled between allies and communication becomes effortless.
Weapons will become more powerful, with pieces such as the Lewis Sharpshooter able to easily outperform current weapons technology for range and power.
Further, we will see the continuing trend for reactive, intercepting weapons technology in applications such as the Iron Curtain APS.
The incredible engineering breakthroughs of the past century have paved the way for the technology of the future. We cannot know the exact form that technology will take, but we can suggest some realistic directions.
Until then, we hope this infographic has been useful in explaining how Britain arrived at the kit used in combat today. As each piece of kit tells the story of the war it was involved in, we can't help but wonder what stories the military kit of the future will tell.
In Detail: Helmets
Helmets, in many ways, demonstrate the terrible costs that inspire development of military kit. During the earliest stages of the First World War, no army issued their troops with helmets – what was the point? They could hardly be relied on to stop a bullet.
The scale of the war, along with the frequent stalemates and terrible artillery bombardment, very quickly taught all sides a lesson.
Fragmentation caused by shells, ricochets and other less powerful missiles could all cause lethal head wounds, and helmets could easily prevent horrible casualties, meaning that limiting the damage caused by these wounds could give one side an advantage. The French army quickly pushed out rudimentary steel skullcaps to protect, followed by the first modern helmet, the Adrian.
Brodie Mark I
The development of the Brodie Mark I was informed by the weaknesses in the original Adrian design. Unlike the first Adrian helmets, it was formed from a single sheet of mild steel, and was thick enough and thus strong enough to make it a better source of protection. This development informed the design of later Adrian helmets.
Brodie Marks II – III
The second form of this helmet was used in the Second World War. While the Mark II was a genuine improvement over the Mark I in many ways, the Mark III was a significant step forward, with a 'deeper' shape which offered much more protection to the sides of the head.
Brodie Mark VI
The next big development was the adoption of a nylon fibre design. Strong, resistant, and long-lasting, the new designs were approximately the same weight as the older steel designs, but offered much more protection.
Augmented helmets are already in use by F35 pilots, offering a heads-up display and feeds from night vision cameras. The question now is how long it will take for them to reach infantry.
Likely features for infantry include text information feeds and possibly a display of the area they're currently in. They may develop the ability to see what nearby drones or airborne vehicles see – however, the transmission of this data could represent a security risk and is therefore much less likely.
In Detail: Boots
Boots are incredibly difficult to get right. Infantry will put boots through a lot more stress than almost any other piece of equipment, and they can cause a lot of pain and suffering if they're even a little uncomfortable over a long period of time.
Thankfully, despite some missteps over the years, standard-issue boots have greatly improved in quality and comfort.
These boots were used until the late 1950s, with minor improvements such as high lacing and toe-caps along the way. They were especially prone to causing trench foot.
In this case, ammunition is used in the original sense, which is to say all military supplies. They would not have been used around ammo stores, as the sparks the hobnails created could have been a serious hazard.
Directly Moulded Sole Boots
DMS were introduced in the 1950s, saw widespread use in the 1970s and 1980s, and were modified and renamed when desert combat made them deeply uncomfortable. They were rubber-soled and still not completely waterproof, and could overheat quite easily.
Not to be confused with DMs, or Doc Martens, which were sometimes used as a non-standard alternative boot in urban environments due to their comfort but which were not as long-lasting or as grippy as DMS.
In Detail: Clothing
Clothing development has mostly been concerned with camouflage, weight and temperature control. These concerns have developed over time, from fairly austere and minimal khaki designs at the turn of the century which focussed on minimising fuss to modern multi-terrain pattern clothing.
Early Battle Dress
The battle dress in use in World War I & II was practical, featuring pockets for storage, and warm enough for the relatively temperate battles in the West. The khaki colour, being fairly drab and unremarkable, was helpful for some degree of camouflage but did nothing to break up the soldier's outline. Green combat uniform has also been used.
Disruptive Pattern Material
DPM, or disruptive pattern material, has had two main varieties; desert, and woodland.
It offers greatly improved camouflage to earlier designs, and is still in use today. It is being supplemented, however, by multi-terrain pattern uniforms, for areas where either desert or woodland camouflage are of only limited use.
Multi Terrain Pattern
Multi terrain pattern uses a six-colour pattern, and is capable of camouflaging its wearers against both desert and woodland environments. This makes it especially suitable for combat in certain areas of the world, where it is much more useful than the restricted DPM designs.
It will continue to be used alongside DPM, as there are many arenas of combat where a dedicated pattern will be preferred over a general-purpose camouflage pattern.
Charge Carrying Clothing
As fabric technology develops, it is becoming increasingly possible to create fibres which both generates and transmits charge. As such, integrated simple and robust electronics will begin to become a feature of specialised clothing, followed by clothing for general use.
In Detail: Load Carrying
Load carrying is always important, but specific load carrying gear fluctuates in value from conflict to conflict. In certain conflicts, load carrying gear is essential, as survival and protracted campaigns far from friendly military bases were common requirements. In others, load carrying gear is less useful, when the weight of standard military equipment and weapons is already heavy enough to be a substantial burden to the typical soldier.
Because of the increasing weight of military kit, load carrying technology is moving towards minimising the amount of the burden which has to be borne by the soldier, rather than increasing the number and specialisation of pockets on load carrying equipment.
'08 – '37 Pattern Equipment
The pattern equipment of the World Wars was characterised first by simple utility, and second by modularity.
The simple utility of the design of the First World War was fine for trench combat, but the increasingly diverse battle environments of the Second World War meant that soldiers needed to be able to swap out load carrying elements quickly and simply.
In 1944, '44 Pattern Equipment was introduced for jungle fighting, offering improved resistance to rot and humidity. '58 Pattern Equipment differed from '37 Pattern Equipment in having lower placements for all pouches.
'90 Pattern PLCE
'90 pattern PLCE was designed to accommodate load-carrying equipment of both the high-mounted '37 and '44 style and of the lower-mounted '58 style.
The '58 pattern was alleged to shrink when wet, and as such troops suffered frustration dealing with it during the Korean War. This is the most significant improvement of the '90 over the '58 pattern.
The '95 pattern PLCE was made from 1992, the main difference being that it used DPM.
The TALOS Suit is an exoskeleton, offering support for soldiers to bear ever-larger loads. Beyond load-carrying, TALOS is likely to offer numerous communications and sensors to improve soldier performance in the heat of battle.
As well as load-bearing, TALOS is expected to offer increased protection in the form of 'liquid armour', hardening in an instance to protect wearers from gunfire.
In Detail: Primary Weapon
The primary weapon of a soldier plays a large part in defining the conflict they are a part of, from the bolt-action rifles of the turn of the century to modern assault rifles with a huge number of options for customisation.
SMLE "SMILE" Rifle
SMLE stands for "Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield". The design developed from the basic Lee-Metford rifle, which was altered by the Enfield-based Royal Small Arms Factory to use a ten-round magazine, then modified for accuracy and reliability.
In the First World War, a stripped-down version of the rifle was soon necessary to meet demand, meaning the cheap SMLE Mark III* remained the standard for Commonwealth troops even during much of World War II.
The L1A1 Self-loading Rifle, or C1A1 (in Canada), was a semi-automatic rifle derived from the Belgian FAL. It has a fully automatic alternative, the L1A2/C2, which saw relatively limited adoption by Commonwealth countries.
The reason for its adoption was political, as it was thought that adopting a Belgian standard to an American cartridge would encourage the adoption of a standard rifle across NATO, and especially by the USA. In practice, America used the M14 over the L1A1.
The rifle was well-respected, even being used in some cases when the American M16 rifle was available, and remained in use for over thirty years as a solid infantry weapon.
The SA80, also known as the L85A2, was a necessary updating to a fully-automatic rifle. Firing over 600 rounds per minute, the initial model faced difficulties and was updated to the SA80 A2 to fix serious reliability issues. The original SA80 was made at Enfield, with the improved version being made after the factory at Enfield closed. Modern troops use variants of the L85A2 in combat.
In Detail: Secondary Weapon
The secondary weapon of an infantry soldier must be reliable, easy to draw and fire, and powerful enough to stop an enemy combatant. They are especially important in cramped, urban environments.
.38 Webley Mk IV
The .38 calibre Webley Mark IV replaced the .455 calibre Webley Mark VI after World War I, as it was felt that a .38 calibre weapon had more than enough stopping power and was better suited to the demands of large-scale modern warfare.
The Webley Mark IV was also used in the guise of the Enfield No.2 Mark I, a pistol which was extensively based on the Webley revolver – to the extent that Webley & Scott sued the government for stealing their design.
Also known as the Browning GP, P-35 and BAP. The 9mm cartridges it takes are equivalent to .38 calibre in metric.
The Hi-Power was developed for the French military, and was robust, deadly and lightweight. This made it the semi-automatic pistol of choice for over fifty countries, including the British military.
The Glock 17 is the current standard-issue weapon for the British army, accompanied by SIG Sauer handguns which were purchased as interim weapons.
Lighter, more accurate and with increased capacity compared to the Browning Hi-Power, it was a natural choice. The Brownings had also become increasingly expensive in terms of maintenance as they aged.
In Detail: Protection
Protection from bullets has been a key feature of armour since the 16th century, when the development of firearms led to a substantial thickening of the steel armour in use at the time, and the surprisingly bullet-resistant properties of certain fibres has been known since the late 19th century.
What governs the adoption of efficient protection, then, is not the question of whether it can be done, but how protection can be balanced against other necessities. The weight and expense of thick steel armour prevented it being used prior to the First World War, and the expense of supplying unprecedented numbers of soldiers prevented lighter forms of armour being widely adopted during the First World War.
World War I & II
During the First World War, experiments were made with cheap forms of body armour, mostly unsatisfactory. Silk neck guards were effective but costly, and degraded quickly, and armour was mostly issued for specialist roles – sentries and machine-gunners (who didn't need to move about as much), and bomber pilots (who could benefit a great deal from relatively little protection, as they were at greatest risk from small low-velocity shrapnel).
The Second World War saw the Russians, but not the British, adopt steel SN42 body armour for tank troops. The British issued MRC (Medical Research Council) body armour, made of 1mm thick steel plates, which was only ever used in Operation Market Garden. Although very effective, MRC body armour was unpleasant to wear for long periods of time, causing excessive perspiration and chafing. This made it most useful to protect officers, and for airborne troops who could be protected in the air. During this period, flak jackets were made available to most air crews, with the exception of the crews of planes which were more difficult to operate while wearing a bulky flak jacket.
Kevlar armour was, in some ways, an extension of previous research into and improvement on the protective properties of silks and nylon fibres, being a soft and light polymer. Its use was recognition of the merits of soft body armour, which can spread an impact over a wide area – but hard ceramic plates continue to be used to deflect shots fired by military rifles.
Most Kevlar armour also includes pockets in which to add hard body armour, or within which hard body armour already resides. The most common ceramic hard body armour currently used is aluminium oxide, the chemical which composes sapphires and rubies. In recent years, the size of hard body armour used alongside soft body armour has greatly increased to provide more protection.
In Detail: Respirator
As gas warfare and chemical warfare became more common, measures were needed to counteract it. Although early gas attacks were not necessarily lethal, they were inevitably disabling, demoralising and debilitating for any enemy force hit by them. They were also illegal, being classed as war crimes by the Hague.
Chemical warfare persists in various forms to this day, necessitating the continued use of respirators.
The PH helmet replaced very simple early respirators, which were little more than fabric bags soaked in chemical agents and placed over the head, with a rectangular window to see out of.
The PH helmet added protection against the most deadly gas used during the war; phosgene gas.
It was replaced by the Small Box Respirator in early 1916, which looked much more like the form of gas mask we are familiar with today.
From the final stages of WWI to WWII, box respirators were the default gas mask. Many were issued to civilians rather than soldiers. Much like nuclear weapons, fear of retaliation kept either Germany or Britain from using chemical weapons on either the battlefield or ordinary citizens, but both sides stockpiled large quantities of many different types of poison. Gas masks for children and even babies were developed and issued.
NBC stands for nuclear, biological, chemical. The intention of the respirator was to protect from any pollution of the air, regardless of the specific type of attack. The design was so successful that there are reports of American troops using British NBC suits during the First Gulf War.
NBC respirators are typically intended to be used with full-body NBC suits to properly and completely protect the wearer from hazardous gas and air-borne particle attacks. They typically also offer ways to drink water while keeping the mask on, and purify or filter the water.
General Service Respirator
The modern general service respirator uses two canisters rather than just the one, a larger visor to improve visibility, and has generally been designed to be easier and more practical to use in the field.
It seems possible that future respiration development will split into two paths; dedicated respirators, for use with modern hazard protection suits like the BritishChemical Biological Radiological Nuclear suit, and simpler respirators to be integrated into standard-issue infantry helmets.
In Detail: Comms
The playing of Last Post is possibly the most iconic representation of war, the "bugles calling for them from sad shires" which Wilfred Owen wrote of inAnthem for Doomed Youth. In this way, the communications of the First World War, using bugles and whistles to communicate orders and information, still survive today, albeit in purely ceremonial form.
Modern military communications, however, is an altogether different beast. Even by World War II many modern features, such as wireless communication and advanced cryptographic techniques, were solidly in place, and progress from that point on has largely been a refinement of these as technology constantly progresses and improves.
Carrier pigeons were used in both World Wars to send messages and even (unknowingly, of course) to perform aerial reconnaissance missions. They were successful and effective in both wars, but are now mostly considered an archaic way of transmitting messages, with one notable exception.
An attempt to implement internet protocol using carrier pigeons resulted in successful transmission of several messages, with unprecedented bandwidth due to the pigeons' ability to carry many compact storage devices like SD cards.
Larkspur radio communications represented a move away from the British radio techniques (amplitude modulation, or AM) of the Second World War to keep up with the American method of radio communications (low-band FM), which had several important advantages, including less susceptibility to interference.
The Clansman radio system was important for the security of communications, as Larkspur was not capable of narrow-band FM, which prevents widespread broadcasting of information sent over the radio (wide-band FM is used specifically to broadcast information to as many people as possible). It also improved on AM communications, with SSB modulation making AM comms more efficient and powerful.
Bowman offered a huge step up from the Clansman kit. From analogue to digital communications, from insecure to secure, adding the ability to make ultra-high-frequency transmissions and increased ease of use.
The flexibility of the Bowman was a huge improvement, allowing software to be updated and thus security holes patched as and when they were found.
FIST Modular Information System
Navigation, orientation and communication will all form part of a complete modular information system under FIST, with complete integration into the kit as a whole.
This should lead to secure, reliable communications with an instantly comprehensible user interface, negating or lessening the need for extensive training in order to operate communications devices.
In Detail: Vehicles
From horse to powered transport, vehicles changed quickly to take into account the power and accuracy of modern guns. Typically, troop transport will be armoured enough to negate the smallest and most common threats faced by soldiers, while still remaining light enough to get into the field of operations quickly.
When armoured vehicles weren't available in large quantities, rugged but unarmoured vehicles such as Land Rovers would be used. Tanks and similar vehicles are primarily for combat, not transport, and as such have taken a very different path.
The universal carrier was lightly armoured, offering protection against small arms fire. As well as troops, the universal carrier was able to carry machine guns (most famously the Bren), anti-tank rifles, light artillery and motorcycles into position. It could also be used to drag trailers.
The universal carrier was too noisy for internal communications, and typically carried from two to five infantry into battle, although it had room for up to six.
The Humber Pig was initially designed as a stop-gap, but proved to be ideal for internal duties.
They had armour capable of stopping armour-piercing bullets and RPGs, bull-bars to remove barricades, and was more suitable for use in urban environments than many other armoured personnel carriers, in part due to its origins as a converted four-wheel drive truck.
These light military vehicles have no armour and thus no protection from IEDs. While they would be suitable for transporting troops in a secure area, behind clearly-drawn front lines, in modern combat they have proven to be risky modes of transport. For this reason, the casualties from Improvised Explosive Devices have caused a reconsideration of their use as personnel carriers.
The Mastiff fixes the problems of unarmoured vehicles, or vehicles armoured against conventional attacks, by providing defence against IEDs and mines. The shell is angled to deflect and minimise damage from such devices, keeping the personnel within safe.
The Mastiff is based on the American 6x6 Cougar, adapted for British electronics and equipment.
The Iron Curtain Active Protection System is designed to counter the threat from rocket-propelled grenades, even at very close range. By detecting and eliminating the threat to transport vehicles, the Iron Curtain allows the vehicle to have a level of defence which would only otherwise be possible with very heavy armour.
Design by Laura Drew