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New Lightweight Body Armor Developed

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

FORT BELVOIR, Va., Dec. 13, 1999 – It’s natural for service members entering a combat area to want protection. Up until now, so-called “bulletproof vests” have been heavy and not all that bulletproof.

This has changed with the introduction of Interceptor Body Armor. An Army and Marine Corps team has produced body armor that provides protection and trimmed about 10 pounds off its predecessor -- the personal armor systems, ground troops vest.

Army project director Kyle Hassler said the total system weighs in at about 16 pounds. The body armor can be tailored to fit the mission. "The vest alone will protect soldiers against 9mm rounds,” she said. “If a soldier is on a peacekeeping patrol and they don’t expect to face a lot of opposition, the vest alone will work.

“If the mission is more serious, then the soldier can add plates to the vest,” she continued. “The plates and vest combination will stop multiple hits from 7.62 mm rounds.”

The Army and Marine Corps realize not all service members are equal and the plates come in five sizes and go in the front and back of the vest. “The vest also has a quick release feature,” Hassler said. “If you need to drop the plates, one tug and they’re gone.”

The vest comes with neck and crotch protection attachments. It will work with all current and anticipated load carrying equipment. With the fasteners along the right side, the vest still protects the front of the body even when open.

While Marines and soldiers will use the vest other services have expressed interest.

The interceptor armor is just the latest in a long line of bulletproof vests. During the Middle Ages, knights wore suits of armor, and common soldiers tried to outfit themselves against arrows and early guns.

The Spanish Conquistadors arrived on the shores of Mexico wearing metal vests designed to stop sword thrusts and arrows.

Researchers at Jamestown, Va., recently unearthed a metal vest early English settlers brought to America.

The U.S. military didn’t place much confidence in bulletproof vests. The first bulletproof vests soldiers used weren’t issued by the military. Union soldiers in the Civil War bought bulletproof vests from peddlers who traveled around Army camps in Northern Virginia. The vests were made of cast iron and were incredibly heavy. Not only that, they didn’t work. Bullets would shatter the vest and cause many wounds instead of just one. The vests weren’t very popular.

The U.S. military started researching and issuing what became known as “flak jackets” during World War II.

Bomber crews often returned from missions over Nazi- occupied Europe telling how the “flak was so thick you could walk on it.” Each of those puffs of smoke in the sky contained thousands of pieces of shrapnel. In 1942, the Army Air Forces started issuing flak jackets to aircrews. These first flak jackets were heavy, but they did stop flak. U.S. officials had adapted the flak vest from the Royal Air Force. They were used by flexible position gunners in four-engine bombers like B-17s and B-24s. Some aicrew in medium bombers like the B-26 and B-25 also used them.

The flak jackets were steel plates sown into cloth. “They hung over the chest and stomach like a catcher’s chest protector,” said Bob Adair, an official with the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “They were pretty heavy.” There was a helmet that completed the ensemble. The vest had a pull tab to dump it quickly if the plane ditched in the water or the crew had to bail out.

After the war, research continued to make flak jackets lighter and better. During the Vietnam War, many soldiers, Marines and airmen received flak vests. Again, the vests would stop shrapnel but not a bullet. “Those were hot, uncomfortable, heavy and bulky,” said Scott Ferguson, collections chief at the Air Force Museum. “It was extremely hard to move around in them.”

Most service members wore them without shirts. In helicopters, most service members sat on the vests.

The development of Kevlar and ceramic materiel in the 1970s and 1980s made real bulletproof vests possible. U.S. service members in hot spots around the world count on these armored vests to protect them as they do their jobs.

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