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Brief overview of Soviet body armor vests in Afghanistan. Part 2: 6b2-3tm and 6b3

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

This part is about 6b2-3tm and 6b3 body armor vests. If you are interested in 6b1 and 6b2, please follow this link to part 1.

6B2-3T Soviet body armor vest

After 6B2 became widely available in the forces, the vest designers were looking for the ways to improve it. There were two main ways to do it - to improve the protection characteristics and to improve the loadout design. 6B2-3T vest was the attempt to ace both of these, but both the loadout and the protection was designed in somewhat weird way.

6B2-3TM body armor vest
6B2-3TM vests

The protection capabilities of 6B2-3T were similar to both 6B2 and 6B3 simultaneously. The back side was on the same level as 6B2 while the front panel could actually hold an assault rifle round - just like 6B3 vest. This made the vest very heavy and unbalanced, but the increased protection was very useful to anyone operating in the direct contact with the enemy. 6B2 could not hold anything apart from pistol rounds and shrapnel, which was not that common in regular firefights at the time.

Another change to the construction of the 6B2-3T body armor vest was the ability to access the inside armored panels (without ripping the construction). This was indeed very useful in case the vest was damaged and some protection panels needed replacement. The soldiers used this in their own way, by replacing back and front protection panels into opposite outer covers, as can be seen on the photos. It is believed, that soldiers preferred the back side of the cover because it had more pockets and pouches.

6B2-3TM body armor vest
Soviet officers wearing 6B2-3TM body armor vest

As was mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, the design of the 6B2 cover was needed. Plain and simple cover of 6B2 was more of a necessity, as the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan without any personal body protection, and the numbers were above quality at this point. Of course such a design had its cons - there were no pouches and you couldn't properly attach it to your body so that it will hold on to you. During any active physical activities, 6B2 vest would roll around your neck and jump up and down, which was far from ideal. 6B3-T vest solved this problem, partially. This new design had extra velcro straps and loops for the belt. These were good when the vest was new, but the thin fabric of the cover meant that they wore out very quickly. But anyhow, there is no photographic evidence that the belt loops were ever used.

6B2-3TM body armor vest
6B2-3T body armor vests with name tags attached

But the most notable visible difference is the pouches sewn onto the 6B2-3T cover. The idea to combine body armor and loadout was there since the 6B2 development, but was only put to practice now. However, like many other Soviet design choices, it was done in a very weird way. The front cover only had one big pouch in the middle. It is still unknown what it was designed for, but most collectors and reenactors agree, that it is for the first aid kit. The back panel is more developed and features a huge pocket for the canvas (plash-palatka) and four small sell pouches. And again, there is no definite answer for their purpose, but two loaded stripper clips of 5.45 ammunition fit there perfectly. So the soldier was supposed to still keep his 4-cell magazine pouch and 2-cell grenade pouch on the belt, and would have extra 120 rounds in his body armor.

Ironically, it is unlikely that any of these pouches were used for what they were designed for. Canvas was very rarely put into the body armor vest, as it was bulky and heavy, the first aid kit was usually carried in a pocket or attached to the rifle stock. And the ammunition clips were just unpopular in the army - they required very small adapter, which could be easily lost. Hence, soldiers preferred loose ammo.

Unique photo featuring 6B2-3T, 6B3 and 6B4 body armor vests
Unique photo featuring 6B2-3T, 6B3 and 6B4 body armor vests

And one last thing. The name 6B2-3T is a very made up one - the official designation is still unknown.

From the collectors point of view, 6B2-3T is a very rare piece of Soviet-Afghan militia. Despite the fact that they were produced in decent numbers and can be seen on various photos, only couple of dozens of them are in the known collections around the world. What is also strange is that there are no evidence that these body armor vests were used anywhere outside the Afghanistan, unlike any other vests, including 6B1.

6B3 Soviet body armor vest

The 6B3 is a type of body armor vest that was used by the Soviet Army during the Soviet-Afghan War. The design and protective properties of this vest were good enough for its time. It was designed to provide protection to the torso and back of the wearer against assault rifle bullets and shrapnel. Because of this, it became the most widespread body armor vest not just in 40th army, but across the whole Soviet Army.

The 6B3 body armor vest is made of layers of kevlar and ceramic plates, which are inserted into pockets inside the vest. Just like in 6B2-3T, there is an easy access to the inside part of the body armor, which allows to replace the plates or even rearrange them (at your own risk!)

6B3 body armor vest
Rare sighting - soldiers and officers using belt together with the 6B3 body armor vest

The attachment system was also improved. The vest has adjustable straps and a waistband to provide a secure and comfortable fit. The belt would now be fitted through the attached pouches, which increased the reliability of the whole setup. Yet again, soldiers almost never used the belt assembly.

The loadout system was now more sensible and pretty much peaked at this point. Front cover of the body armor had 5 pouches - one big in the middle, same as on 6B2-3T and four smaller pouches, each for one magazine. This was rather similar to what most soldiers aready had by using 6B2 vest with chi-com webbing. Grenade pouches were at the back, four of them. They were not easily accessible and the best use of them could be made by someone else from the squad. Huge pocket for the canvas stayed in place.

6B3 body armor vests
6B3 body armor vests

The protection qualities of 6B3 were severely improved in comparison to all three of its predecessors. This body armor vest was designed to have all round protection against 7.62 mm rounds from AK and other similar rifles, as well as fragmentation and grenade shrapnel. Given that 7.62x39 round was the most popular type of ammunition used by the Mujahadeins, this was a big and important improvement.

From the collecting and reenacting perspective, this is a body armor which is still quite common on the market. Given that in the second half of the Soviet-Afghan war it was probably as common as 6B2, it makes for a perfect impression for any year from 1985 and beyond. The only drawback is that these body armors are always sold without the armor plates, but since the inside is easily accessible everyone can make and install replicas.

6B4 body armor vest in Afghanistan
Material for the next part

This article came out longer than expected, so the last two Soviet ground troops body armor vests will be covered in part 3.

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