Army Continues Changing, Improving Body Armor
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2006 The Army will continue to improve body armor issued to soldiers, and will begin manufacturing side-panel inserts to the Interceptor ballistic armor, officials said here today.
The side panels, which weigh 3 pounds, will be made of the same material as the small-arms protective inserts.
Army Col. Thomas Spoehr is in charge of fielding body armor. He said the Interceptor body armor now issued to servicemembers protects against most of the threats they face in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
"It's the best body armor in the world," Spoehr said.
And the proof is in the number of people who are alive today because of the armor. One documented account from June 2003 showed an Iraqi shooting a soldier at point-blank range in the chest with a shotgun. The young soldier picked himself off the ground and arrested the Iraqi.
The Army is making changes to the protection system, Spoehr said, but has to be careful to balance changes with mission. "You could outfit a soldier from head to toe in armor, and he would be completely useless," he said. "We have to be sensitive to the weight burden we put on soldiers in that arduous environment over there. Every ounce that we put on the back of a soldier could mean the difference between their ability to accomplish the mission or not."
Weight is a huge factor, officials said. The average infantryman carries 85 pounds of gear into battle, according to officials at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga. This includes weapons, ammunition, water, protective gear and so on. The Interceptor armor - the vest and SAPI plates, along with neck and groin protection - weigh in at about 16 pounds.
But the improvements planned for the Interceptor armor will increase the weight. Enhanced SAPI plates will add 3 pounds to the weight, and side-panel plates another 3 pounds. Other shoulder and side protection adds 5 pounds. Wearing all pieces of the Interceptor armor could add about 27 pounds to soldiers' burden.
By comparison, the "flak vest" of Vietnam came in at about 25 pounds, and the original flak vest worn by airmen during World War II weighed around 40 pounds, Air Force Museum officials said.
But in addition to weight, commanders have to look at constriction and how much ability soldiers have to move their arms and legs and get in and out of vehicles quickly, Spoehr said. "It's not as simple as going to a catalog and ordering it," he said.
He said the commander has to control this factor. The body armor is modular, and commanders can assess the threat and how much armor soldiers should wear.
"We're going to be producing a new side-armor plate," Spoehr said. "If the mission doesn't accommodate wearing that new side armor plate, then the commander can direct, 'Don't wear that today.'"
For example, while the side armor adds 3 pounds, it does provide more protection. "We want to give that type of an option to commanders," Spoehr said.
Army officials said they continue to monitor all aspects of fielding the armor. A check of the books revealed that 8,000 of the vests did not go through inspection, Spoehr said. The Army recalled those vests on Nov. 12, 2005, and would not issue them. No piece of armor will be issued to soldiers without undergoing a painstaking inspection process, he emphasized.