Defence technology based on armour worn by Genghis Khan's Mongol warriors in the 13th century will be used to protect British soldiers against bombs in Afghanistan.
The "pelvic protector", which has become known among the ranks as the "combat codpiece", will contain anti-blast underpants to offer protection from IEDs. The equipment – which also includes a "jockstrap" to protect the nether regions of the wearer – is only being worn by British troops, but may be taken up by US and other Nato forces.
The Mongols, as well as Chinese and Japanese forces, used silk as protection against arrows, with the material twisting around arrowheads to blunt it. The modern version is based primarily on silk and serves to deflect shrapnel. The need to introduce the protective clothing and armour, which will cost around £10m, had become acute, with the increasing use by insurgents of "pressure plate" IEDs.
These are triggered by victims stepping on them and are responsible for a rising toll of casualties among Allied troops in the area.
Although the use of the outer armoured flap would be left to the discretion of commanders on the ground, the wearing of the underpants would be mandatory for any members of forces leaving military bases for a potentially hazardous area.
A third tier of protection, extended to the wider pelvic area down to the knees, will be introduced next spring.