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Improved Armored Vests Reflect Changing Enemy Tactics

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2006 – U.S. military members serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other dangerous locales will soon receive revamped armored vests that provide more side protection, senior officials said here today.

The vest changes are designed to prove effective in protecting servicemembers from shrapnel fragments, especially those who man gun turrets atop vehicles, Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Army's director of force development, said during a teleconference call with military analysts.

"What we're seeing, obviously, is continuing evolutions in the nature of the threat that we face," Speakes said. The shrapnel-producing improvised explosive devices and other terrorist weapons encountered by U.S. forces in Iraq, he said, have prompted changes in servicemembers' armored vests.

Stepped improvements made to armored vests are the result of continual adaptation in response to constantly changing enemy tactics, Speakes said.

He countered media reports that say the U.S. military is behind the power curve in providing appropriate force protection gear for troops deployed to Iraq and elsewhere in the global war against terrorism.

"Those headlines entirely miss the point," Speakes said. The effort to improve body armor "has been a programmatic effort in the case of the Army that has gone on with great intensity for the last five months," he noted.

The enhanced vests are carefully designed so infantrymen, truckers or troops in any other military occupational specialty can use them, Speakes said, including servicemembers of both sexes.

The improved vests should be fielded to servicemembers sometime this spring, Speakes said.

"The protection of soldiers is our No. 1 mission," Speakes said. "Continuous evolution of this protection is absolutely essential."

It's equally important to take servicemembers' needs into account when designing force-protection equipment, said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the deputy for acquisition and systems management in the office of the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

For example, heavy, bulky armor can compromise a servicemember's need to move quickly during combat conditions, Sorenson said, as well as tax physical endurance.

He said providing better armored vests for servicemembers represents just one portion of military force-protection capabilities.

"We've (also) done the armoring of the vehicles," Sorenson said. The U.S. military, he added, also has developed and fielded electronic countermeasures to find and defeat IEDs.

"All these are generated to try to improve a soldiers' ability to be better protected with respect to force protection," Sorenson said.

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