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I like the image of heavily armored troops fighting wars. I understand that body armor is very cumbersome, and does not totally protect from damage.
So what about shields?
Imagine we had access to a supermaterial, which is reasonably lightweight to be carried by a soldier, and protective enough to stop bullets (although of course no tank fire, explosions, armor piercing ammunition etc)
Would such a technology even be used?

Counterarguments:

  1. maneuverability:
    I think (hope), that shields would change, how we think about modern military tactics. Moving from cover to cover would be much safer, so mobility might not be as important
  2. weapons are two-handed:
    Similar to hoplite shields in ancient Greece, these shields could have a hole on one side to rest your weapon against. If the shield is rested on the ground, this might also stabilize the shot.
  3. why not use armor:
    Armor is probably more costly because it is more intricate. Also, if your armor is hit, you still feel the hit, ribs get broken, etc. Your shield can give in a little and move back. This reduces damage. Also, unlike armor, which is "always-on", you can choose before the engagement, whether a shield is useful or not.

So what do you think, could shields ever become military equipment again, or are they not useful without formations (which make you vulnerable to explosions), and against enemies with access to bombs, snipers, jets, etc.

Would they become standard equipment, or would they only be used by certain troops in special environments (close-quarter fighting, little cover, etc)?

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    $\begingroup$ if they had such shield, i think pavise type or model to become mobile cover would be better for both to pew pewing around each other, definitely not that helpful against direct bombing but it can help protect from the dangerous shrapnel i suppose, $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Jun 21 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ As an added advantage, the user could throw the shield as a weapon. The shield could act as a banner to rally friendly troops. $\endgroup$ – Aron Jun 22 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ I just finished reading "The Forever War". Somewhen in the future, they invent something called a "Stasis Field", within which all conventional future weapons cease to function. So when they are inside these fields, they use medieval weaponry, like swords and swords. Might be an interesting read for you (my motivation for reading it was that the whole story is based on a relativistic background, especially the time dilation part of it; if you're into relativity, it's a must read). $\endgroup$ – phresnel Jun 22 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ thank you for the suggestion. I think, they have a similar technology in Dune (although it is a while since I have read it) $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Böcker Jun 22 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ I am a physicist, so I am ^^ Thank you for the suggestion! $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Böcker Jun 22 at 11:48
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Personal Protection is becoming less required for a Military, but could be useful for Police

I cannot see shields becoming useful for militaries. Warfare is increasingly becoming asymmetric, and indeed even in large 'conventional' military conflicts most action would occur at a distance, rather than in close quarters.

So for Asymmetric Warfare, we get:

  • Explosive IED's - shields are unlikely to protect from these. At any time, from any direction, lethal explosions could cause major injury or death. Unless your shields are 360º wide, but even then the ground is unprotected.
  • Urban Conflict - most conflict happens in urban zones. This means fire can come from any direction, even above. Your shields would need to now be 360º in all directions even from above.

In Conventional Warfare:

  • Long range missiles - unless your shields can withstand colossal explosive concussions from missiles, it is unlikely they would be of any use
  • Fast unseen combat - similar to IED's, missiles strike at astonishing speeds and you would not even know one is coming. Similarly, tank shells will strike without warning. You would not be able to even position your shield, or even have a chance to think about it.

In Other Warfare:

  • Shields have no protection ability against a nuclear weapon. Nor any use in a cyberconflict, or biological or chemical warfare.

However there is one possibility, and that is for policing. This is where you want to take a defensive stance against a relatively unarmed disorganised force (for instance, riot control, football hooligans, or drunken crowds) where some element of protection is desirable at the same time as 'wanting to be seen'. A show of force to the public is where shields are useful.

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  • $\begingroup$ Riot shields are already standard issue for police. $\endgroup$ – Tonny Jun 22 at 11:37
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It's 2020, soldiers almost never meet face to face with the people they murder

Armor is not cumbersome...it's not like carrying another person piggyback.

The weight of a body armor is not just hanging, it's distributed around the body, a 10 kilogram armor feels lighter than a 10 kilogram dumbbell. A person could carry even up to 3 times their bodyweight if properly distributed around the body.

Soldiers today already carry 40% of their weight on back packs and bullets and they are able to run, swim and climb with it....because they are active people an not nerds.

A level 4 plate armor is enough stop most weapons except anti-tank weapons and explosives, and a level 4 armor is really light. Plus we also have bullet proof clothing....normal clothing like hoodies which can stop bullets. Bulletproof hoodie

Also shields are already used in the military. enter image description here

But it doesn't work like games with RPG classes....soldiers don't pick a class and say "uh I'm gonna use a shield cause it looks cool"

Soldiers use the needed equipment for specific situations, most soldiers don't go into close melee fights, most of them fight at distances and have to worry about landmines, child bombers blowing themselves up and snipers more than they have to worry about random close range bullets.

But if soldiers are sent into a mission where melee is expected, then you will see a few of them carrying shields.

Shields and armors never became useless, they just became situation specific. Are you really gonna carry a shield with you when trying to disarm landmines? Or when trying to defend from a sniper which could shoot you from any direction?

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    $\begingroup$ i heard modern body armor is not distribute the weight like plate armor though most of the soldier even get backpain due to it. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Jun 21 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ -1 for "murder". Please look up the definition of that word, and compare it to the word called "kill". $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 22 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Sixteen : the very definition of murder is that it is unlawful. "This distinguishes murder from killings that are done within the boundaries of law, such as capital punishment, justified self-defense, or the killing of enemy combatants by lawful combatants". By the way, killing is a general term which encompasses both murder and manslaughter. Intentional unlawful killing = murder, unintentional = manslaughter. Both are killings. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 22 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ -1 for the nerd comment. Irrelevant and prejudiced. $\endgroup$ – ThePainfull Jun 22 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Sixteen: Soldiers in general are not trained to unconditionally kill every human being they encounter. They are trained to kill just those who would otherwise kill them. I am on the pacifist side (but also pro existence of armies, short of World Peace), but there is a huge difference between murdering and killing. Of course, a subset of soldiers are murderers, just like the rest of the world. But most are not - they are in a kill or be killed position. There's been a lot of discourse on that in Germany, by the way: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soldiers_are_murderers $\endgroup$ – phresnel Jun 22 at 9:38
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So what do you think, could shields ever become military equipment again, or are they not useful without formations (which make you vulnerable to explosions), and against enemies with access to bombs, snipers, jets etc.

I think if the shield is so great, and so light, the material would be used in the body amour. Modern ballistic shields are heavy so are not used as full body armor, and get used in limited circumstances. Your material would need to strike some middle ground or being light enough to be common place; but not so light to be attached to body armor.

BUT

I was thinking why didn't this apply in ancient Rome? And I think it was to do with ease of manufacturing shields over body armor. This is less of a problem for modern armies with a modern industry that can mass produce complex body armor.

As cool as shields are, I think the tec would be put onto body armor. :(

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    $\begingroup$ There's an important fact about shields that you are overlooking: shields are expendable. The Romans and Vikings expected their (wood or hide) shields to only survive for a couple of engagement - they were, in effect, an ablative armour. A lot of their function at the time was by allowing the enemy's weapon to get stuck in the shield - not something that you want with your armour. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jun 22 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal : Not really, as a wall of shields was an important formation. It's rather the other way around: some weapons (like the pilum) were deliberately designed to get stuck into the enemy shield, so that the enemy has to drop it. Besides this, most battles were two walls of shields pushing each other, with relatively few casualties (until one's lines got broken, or was flanked) $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 22 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal I think if the shields are expendable, it still argues in support of shields being easier to manufacture and get replaced, compared to an equivalent body armor. $\endgroup$ – Commander Nirvanah Crane Jun 22 at 12:19
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Infantry soldiers have always been considered expendable, so it has always been a cost-benefit consideration - the cost of their protection vs the cost of their replacement. Soldiers could be made almost invulnerable with today's technology, but the cost of the technology would exceed the costs of training and quipping a replacement soldier.

On the other hand, police officers are hard to replace, and not considered expendable. The salaries paid to them far exceed the pay of a foot soldier, by sometimes a factor of four or more.

So is it any wonder that SWAT team members in many jurisdictions are protected with equipment, body armor, and shields that far exceed the standard military issue protection?

Soldiers, if they are lucky, get a flak jacket and maybe a good helmet. Riot police get full body armor, face shields, helmets that protect the neck, and bullet-proof shields.

So really, the question should not be 'what would be best for soldiers?' but 'Why are foot soldiers not given anywhere near the equivalent protection that SWAT and riot police are offered?'

Maybe if soldiers had unions and associations as powerful as police employee organizations are, they would be issued much better standard equipment.

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  • $\begingroup$ This may be true for 20th century warfare or third world nations, but for professional soldiers in a modern nation I doubt the costs of a shield exceed the training costs of the soldier, not to mention the mission-specific reliance on the soldier's fulfillment of their role and the public image cost of losing a life. $\endgroup$ – Sinthorion Jun 22 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Sinthorion Not sure that theory applied to the foot soldiers in Iraq recently. The death toll for American soldiers was horrendous. The training for navy Seals is very expensive, and they are very well protected. Fighter pilots are very, very expensive to train, and they are the most heavily protected, including ejection seats. The soldiers that went building to building? They were trained in an assembly line, by the hundreds at a time. Cheap training, low wages, lightest protection, most expendable. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Jun 22 at 22:40
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As others said, if you have a material that is light and strong, it will be just used as armor.

This is inevitable, unless you change the strong part - imagine material that is very bulky (some kind of thick foam).

Creating an armor would not be practical, yet having this as a light foamy shield might be plausible.

It can have some properties that give it a major advantage - self healing after shot, stopping armor piercing bullets (it does not resist it the same way, more like friction over longer distance).

Since it is a foamy like thing, maybe have soldiers carry it in spray form.

Soldiers then could deploy these as walls or carry them in front of them, or carry them like roman soldiers to escape unharmed. One issue I can see is that regular cars can be covered easily with them creating a bulletproof vehicle, but that can be a fun thing to theorize about.

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  • $\begingroup$ that is a very creative idea, thank you ^^ $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Böcker Jun 22 at 11:49
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The weak point of the shield is the human holding it. (That's generally true of mechanical systems nowadays.) No matter how tough or durable a shield is, the plain fact is that if it's rigid, when it's hit all that force is going to transfer straight into the soldier's arm and break bones or dislocate joints. You can get some benefit out of making a shield of compressible or breakable material, similar to what's used in bike helmets and other safety gear (and in fact the physics is exactly the same) but barring a breakthrough on that front, it will only provide a marginal increase in effectiveness, and it will mean that your protection rapidly degrades under fire.

From this perspective, body armor has a lot of advantages over a shield - the impact can be dispersed over a broader area (which is the mode of action of bulletproof vests) and can be directed into more durable parts of the body - the ribcage instead of fragile joints, for instance. Weight is more easily carried, it doesn't get wedged in doorways or dropped or thrown out of position by explosions. Body armor would be a more natural place to use improved materials rather than shields.

There is one situation where shields have a clear advantage, which is non-kinetic weapons. If you're under attack with, say, firebombs or something caustic, absorbing the impact is secondary to keeping that stuff well away from you. However, that would be rare to find in full-scale warfare and more the domain of riot control and police actions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is a helmet a shield for the head or body armor? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second Jun 22 at 22:36

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