Army, Marines Rushing Body Armor to Troops in Combat Zones
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVOIR, Va., Oct. 31, 2003 A soldier with the Army's 10th Mountain Division was knocked down by small-arms fire, got up, and continued his mission.
Army Maj. Scott A. Tyler, executive officer, Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va., demonstrates the new helmet that works with the new Interceptor body armor being used by soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Hit again by enemy fire, the infantryman got up a second time and continued his mission.
He's still alive, thanks to the new Interceptor body armor being worn by soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Army Brig. Gen. James R. Moran, program executive officer of Program Executive Office Soldier here.
The Army and Marines are rushing to get enough body armor into Iraq and Afghanistan by December for everyone who needs it, as fast as it comes off the assembly line.
"Body armor is saving lives," Moran emphasized. "There have been dozens and dozens of instances where body armor has saved lives of individual soldiers. We're producing that as quickly as we possibly can."
Army Col. John Norwood, PEO Soldier's project manager for soldier equipment, said all soldiers in Iraq will have body armor by December.
"The feedback we've received from individual soldiers is that body armor is very effective, and it's a very highly valued item over there," he said. "The senior leadership of the Army has made a decision that for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, all soldiers, civilians and contractors will have body armor available to them. The specific mission requirements are tailored by the unit commander."
Accounting for two armor plates for each Marine in the ground combat element, the Marines plan to field 94,056 plates for active forces and 39,284 for reserve forces, a Marine Corps spokesman said. Interceptor body armor is made up of two modular components: the outer tactical vest and small-arms protective inserts, or plates.
The new body armor, which is unisex, is equipped with removable throat and groin protectors, as well as front and back removable plates, which can stop 7.62 mm rounds. It weighs 16.4 pounds; each of the two inserts weighs 4 pounds, and the outer tactical vest weighs 8.4 pounds. The previous body armor, the flak jacket, weighed 25.1 pounds. "The (Interceptor body armor's) lighter weight provides more mobility to the soldier in the upper body," Norwood said.
Only the most technically advanced material is used to make body armor for the military, Norwood noted. "We're always looking at what are the latest advances in technology to get the latest materials integrated," he said. "The outer tactical vest consists of a Kevlar weave that's very fine and will stop 9 mm ammunition. Webbing on the front and back of the vest permits attaching such equipment as grenades, walkie-talkies and pistols.
"The small-arms protective inserts are made of a boron carbide ceramic with a spectra shield backing that's an extremely hard material," Norwood continued. "It stops, shatters and catches any fragments up to a 7.62 mm round with a muzzle velocity of 2,750 feet per second.
"It's harder than Kevlar," Norwood noted.
Moran said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rick Adams is the liaison officer to PEO Soldier for the Marine Corps. "We're trying to work together to work smartly on fielding equipment for Marines and soldiers," Moran said.
"Everything we do is joint, since soldiers are part of the joint environment," the general noted. "If our soldiers are more combat effective on the battlefield, they make the joint force more combat effective."
Getting body armor to combat zones by December is part of the Army's "rapid fielding initiative," Moran said. He said the initiative, which treats soldiers as part of the system, is saving soldiers' lives, improving the quality of their lives and improving their combat effectiveness. "And we're doing it immediately," the general noted.
Norwood said the Army always is looking for new technological opportunities, and is soliciting small businesses for new ideas. "One of the vendors recently started looking at a way to embed ceramic balls into the small-arms protective insert in order to decrease weight and improve ballistic protection," he said.
"Our goal is always to make body armor lighter and more available to the soldiers," Norwood added. "We try to maximize the two biggest constraints -- the weight vs. the ballistic protection. It's a constant trade-off. You can get more ballistic protection, but it usually costs you a larger penalty."
He said the helmet works in conjunction with the body armor. It's fitted so it provides an equal amount of protection. The way it's worn is tailored to the mission the wearer has to perform.
"Individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines or Coast Guardsmen all need to be looked at as part of the overall system that they're using to perform their mission," Norwood said. "So all service members are part of a larger system. That concept can't help but benefit other services."
Norwood said military body armor is similar to that used by police Special Weapons and Tactics teams. "But we have specifications for the inserts that have to meet specific size, weight and ballistic protection criteria," he noted. "I don't know what police requirements are, but our requirements are very stringent."
Everyone doesn't get the same body armor, Norwood said. For example, Army Special Forces body armor has slight variations from what's fielded generally throughout the Army. Specifications for body armor for Marines and for Navy and Air Force special operations personnel will differ, depending on specific requirements for their mission, he said.