You know things are bad when the greatest military in the world -- which spends untold billions every year on R&D for the most technologically sophisticated hardware ever seen -- sends troops into combat who have to protect themselves with sand and water.
A Stryker crew had filled hundreds of five-gallon water bottles with a mixture of sand and water and strapped them inside the vehicle's slat armor (the steel 'birdcage' designed to pre-detonate an RPG warhead) in an effort to protect themselves against an EFP attack.
"This is what [soldiers] are doing to try to stop it, and I'm trying to tell them: We tested this, it doesn't work," Fuller explained.
EFPs are explosively formed penetrators. They pierce armor and are responsible for many of the deaths inflicted on our troops in Iraq. Basically, an EFP is a piece of metal that is hurled by a bomb that penetrates armor and kills.
So, to protect themselves against these EFPs, troops fill water bottles with sand and water and surround their vehicles with them, hoping that the hot metal slug from the EFP will be slowed as it passes through the water and sand.
Colonel Peter Fuller, the Army's Stryker Brigade Combat Team project manager, called that an "urban legend" and said it doesn't work.
But maybe it's not such an urban legend.
Tests carried out by the Forsvarets Institute in Norway have shown water is an effective barrier to high velocity bullets: they tumble and lose energy in it just like they do when they hit the body. So the institute is patenting (WO 2004/40228) a vehicle with several large flat watertight tanks built into its sides.
Each tank is thin, like a domestic radiator, and made from plastics or light metal and with a sandwich of several energy absorbing carbon-reinforced fibre sheets stacked inside. When empty, the sandwiches give no protection, but add very little weight. Before a risky journey, the tanks are filled with water. The institute reports that bullets from a rifle are easily stopped by the combination of fibre sheets and water.
So, water can stop a rifle slug. But can it stop an EFP slug? Remains to be seen, I guess.
But we probably won't find out any time soon because the military says it is an urban legend.
Fuller says the Army is going to provide new and improved armor for those Strykers.
Instead of 'urban legend' armor, the Army is speeding new Stryker upgrades to the field, including an EFP protection kit and ballistic shields that will go around the hatches instead of sandbags. Those empty water bottles, on the other hand, will have to be recycled.
The check's in the mail. I'll respect you in the morning. I'm from the Pentagon and I'm here to help.