The Israeli military is introducing a line of personal gear for soldiers for the first time in about a decade. The new equipment includes combat vests, safety boots, protective eyewear and uniforms.
The IDF had not developed new personal equipment for combat soldiers since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and the current initiative was spurred in part by 2014’s war in Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge.
“After Protective Edge we gave a lot of thought to what soldiers need to have from head to toe, what we need in order to protect them,” said Lt. Col. Liron Segal, the head of the IDF’s Personal Protective Equipment Branch. “We understood that we need to buy a lot of protective gear in order to take the army to the 21st century.”
In addition to better protecting troops, the equipment is meant to be light, comfortable, durable and customized to the various roles soldiers have in the army’s ground forces. The Personal Protective Equipment Branch, a part of the army’s Logistics and Technology Directorate, looked to sportswear and other militaries for examples of material and technology that would best suit the IDF.
The new combat vests, for example, are based on the American military’s MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) system. While the previous generation of vests had fixed pouches sewn into them, the new vests have horizontal rows of webbing that allow soldiers to attach compartments specifically suited to their role. A machine-gunner, for example, will be able to affix an elongated pocket to his vest to hold his weapon’s spare barrel.
“We had infantry soldiers from combat units sit with us and describe what they want for the vest’s capabilities, and what we are doing here is putting in what they want,” Segal said from his office on the Tel HaShomer base in Ramat Gan, outside of Tel Aviv.
Weight was an important factor in developing the equipment. Soldiers can carry up to 50 to 60 kilograms (110 to 132 pounds) Segal said, and the body of the vest, without pouches, weighs a little less than two kilograms (4.4 pounds). The developers used a minimal amount of cloth in the design, and used cushioned netting for the bottom layer of fabric for extra padding and comfort. The vests feature added back support to prevent injury.
There will be versions of the vests for medics, machine-gunners, grenadiers, team commanders and riflemen. There are tens of thousands set to enter the army already, Segal said.
The IDF investigated the best materials and solutions and consulted with the American military while researching the new gear, Segal said. The IDF is used to fighting and training in hotter and more humid conditions than American troops, and American equipment needs to be adapted for Israeli soldiers who tend to be significantly smaller than their American counterparts, Segal said.
The American military and the IDF’s experience in Protective Edge also influenced the army’s new choice of protective eyewear.
“After Protective Edge we understood the eyes are one of the things affecting soldiers the most. When there is a problem with the eye the soldier cannot continue fighting,” Segal said.
The glasses are produced by the American company Revision. The IDF performed ballistic lab tests on the polycarbonate lenses, which will protect troops’ eyes from shrapnel. The open design, more like civilian sunglasses than the goggles soldiers previously used, are more comfortable and less prone to fogging. There are two interchangeable lenses, one for daylight and one for darker conditions.
The IDF found inspiration for their new uniforms in a different area. The dri-fit-like materials are based on sportswear technology introduced to the public by companies like Nike. It is lighter, more breathable and more durable than the previous uniforms. The outfits use ripstop technology, which prevents small tears from getting any bigger. Fabric technology that is useful to soldiers is developing quickly outside the army, Segal said, and the IDF has been paying close attention for the last five years. The materials are also becoming more affordable for the IDF, he said.
In addition to the new fabric, the uniforms have holes under the armpits for ventilation, belt loops for rappelling and pockets designed for maps and other materials. Flexible knee pads and elbow pads are built into the uniforms. Older knee pads were usually made from hard plastic and worn over the pants, where they were prone to slipping out of place.
The uniforms, which are available in the standard olive green, a darker “ranger green” for use in the north, and a light brown for troops in the desert, were developed in Israel and are being produced in the country.
Lastly, the IDF is introducing new boots for soldiers in noncombat work roles, such as construction. The new multi-purpose footwear will replace several different versions of work boots currently being used by the army for different roles. The soles of the boots feature better rubber grips than their predecessors and a metal plate that will protect against stepping on nails. A metal cap in the front of the shoes will prevent injury to the soldiers’ toes. They will be appropriate for all seasons, are being manufactured in Israel and will be introduced throughout the second half of this year.