The soldier as a system

Deliveries of 22,000 sets of the Soldier Combat Ensemble (SCE) to the ADF will be completed in the first half of 2018, and several iterative improvements are included in the most recent tranches of the system.

Julian Kerr | Sydney

Developed under Project Land 125 Phase 3B by Diggerworks and a Capability and Sustainment Group (CASG) project team working closely with the three services, primarily Army, the SCE comprises five elements: Load Carriage Equipment (LCE); Protective Equipment (PE); Tiered Combat Helmet (TCH); Combat Hearing Protection (CHP); and Ballistic Laser Ocular Protection (BLOPS).

Work on the SCE design began in 2009 with its requirements derived from analysis, trial and earlier combat experience.

Feedback on the performance of the Tiered Body Armour System (TBAS) that was first issued in 2011 to Special Forces and elements of 2nd Battalion RAR in Afghanistan informed spiral development of Tranche One of the SCE prior to its issue in 2015, predominantly to 1st Brigade in Darwin.

The initial tranche was released on the understanding that further improvements would be required, and this process was driven by 7th Battalion RAR in Adelaide and some Special Forces units in collaboration with Diggerworks and CASG.

Australian Army officer Major Shane 'Buzz' Sarlin from Diggerworks with the 'Tiered Body-Armour System (TBAS) Tier 0 Heavy' harness (version 4.4) being trialled by soldiers from 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. Credit: DefenceTranche Two deliveries in 2016 were allocated predominantly to 3rd Brigade in Townsville, and Tranche Three deliveries will begin later this year to 7th Brigade in Brisbane, southern states, and Special Operations Command.

Australian Army officer Major Shane 'Buzz' Sarlin from Diggerworks with the new 'Tiered Body-Armour System (TBAS) Tier 0 Heaness (version 4.4) being trialled by soldiers from 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

The SCE has already been delivered to entitled RAAF and RAN units in the Northern Territory, northern Queensland and South Australia. Units elsewhere will receive their equipment as part of Tranche Three allocations.

Due to its expense the SCE is not a one-for-one replacement for legacy equipment. Units receive the SCE on an ‘access not ownership’ methodology and troops receive the ensemble through the unit as opposed to individual issue.


The SCE and its Tiered Body Armour System (TBAS) is essentially a deconstruct of an earlier focus by Defence on a general purpose soldier system as opposed to a specialist solution. The tier definitions equip combatants according to their primary operating task and likelihood of threat encountered.

Tier 0 is a basic configuration consisting of baseline belt webbing, assault pack and ballistic and laser eye protection that is issued to all combatants.

Tier 1 is a bespoke SCE configuration for unique or specialist combatants who require highly specialised equipment for a particular role. This includes combat diving, and concealable systems.

Tier 2 Dismounted involves close combat troops within a dismounted combined arms team - infantry, joint fires, and combat engineers and medics. It may also include select signallers and other common attachments to dismounted combined arms teams; RAAF security force squadrons; and RAN boarding parties.

Tier 2 Mounted comprises troops who operate armoured fighting vehicles as part of a combined arms team.

Tier 3 General Combatant encompasses combatants whose role is primarily focused on providing combat support to combined arms teams, and includes all corps not included in the Tier 2 definitions and select RAAF non-security force personnel.

“We decided that if need be we’d discriminate on the price of equipment to get the very best for Tier Two combatants who will engage in close combat as their core role,” Colonel Mark Jennings, Director Soldier Combat Systems Program at Army Headquarters, told ADM.

“Generally speaking, Tier Two combatants have more equipment and the opportunity to reconfigure it for the mission being undertaken.”

The TBAS element of the SCE delivers ballistic plate carriers in Tier 2 and Tier 3 designs.

Both designs provide a platform for the carriage of protective equipment, including two types of ceramic armour plates, one of which defeats 7.62mm and 5.56mm high velocity rounds, and a heavier and bulkier plate that protects against armour-piercing (AP) threats. Soft armour inserts protect against low velocity rounds, fragmentation and blunt force trauma as well as supporting the hard armour plates.

Also included are edged blade/spike inserts which defeat piercing and slashing hand weapons as well as blunt force trauma, and extremity (shoulders, neck, abdomen and groin) protection against low velocity rounds and fragmentation. A side high-velocity plate can also be used in the lower back/side area.

Diggerworks display at the new purpose built facility at VBM.Diggerworks display at the new purpose built facility at VBM. Credit: Defence

The Tier 3 TBAS plate carrier provides additional coverage of the combatant for greater protection, while the Tier 2 carrier maximises mobility and reduces the thermal burden (core temperature) of the soldier.

Both tiers include the Modular Lightweight Load Carriage Equipment (MOLLE) which allows the attachment of other role-specific pouches directly onto the plate carriers.

The Tiered Combat Helmet from US company Team Wendy utilises a high cut design with rails to facilitate the integration of head-borne equipment and provides protection from fragmentation, blunt force impact and rounds of up to 9mm. The helmet uses an over-ear protection system and external microphones to enable active listening, and also integrates with service radios, providing an increased level of situational awareness.

Initially tendered as a Tier 2 solution, it was subsequently selected for use by both Tier 2 and 3 to replace an over-ear style helmet used in Tranche 1 for both tiers.


“We’re trying to reduce the weight of the ensemble as best we can. In some cases that means we’ve traded off some soft armour protection, and we’ve balanced survivability in terms of a high-cut helmet and the need to integrate head-mounted combat equipment,” COL Jennings said.

“What we haven’t done is reduce ballistic protection which is common to all configurations. When we first went to Iraq we settled on protection against armour-piercing ballistic threats which gave us a fairly weighty ballistic plate. When we went to Afghanistan and started doing more mobile infantry-type tasks we decided on the high-velocity plates as the benchmark for both Tier 2 and Tier 3, with the opportunity to upscale to the heavier AP plates where appropriate.

“Craig International Ballistics on the Gold Coast have done some fantastic work on both plates and cut the weight of the body armour system by four to five kilograms.”

The TBAS currently weighs around 6.5 kg for a Tier 2 system and 7.3 kg for the Tier 3. This weight is for a baseline configuration and includes the nylon body armour carrier, soft armour inserts and two high velocity ballistic plates. It does not include other load-carrying equipment or mission essentials such as water and ammunition.

Although the carrier in which the plates are inserted comes in a range of sizes, both types of protective plates are the same size.

“It’s not ideal, but printing a plate for an individual size at the same price we pay for them now is some way off,” COL Jennings commented.

As he points out, the laws of physics and material science mean that SCE changes are iterative rather than evolutionary, and tend to focus on scaleable issues.

“If you’re inside the lethal radius of an IED, unfortunately it probably means the loss of a soldier. If you’re in close proximity, that’s where the system is designed to protect you.”

Modifications for Tranches Two and Three include adoption of the high cut helmet, numerous small improvements to pouches, and a complete redesign of the large field pack. Lumbar issues resulting from sitting in Bushmasters and other vehicles for lengthy periods have seen the TBAS redesigned to enable the backplate to be quickly removed and reinserted by a soldier or a battle buddy.

This article first appeared in the July 2017 edition of ADM.

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