The Army and Marines Are Racing To Make Lighter Body Armor As Soon As Possible

Gear
Helmets and body armor belonging to Soldiers of the 100th Brigade Support Battalion from Fort Sill, Okla., are lined up prior to departure at the passenger terminal at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, in preparation for unit’s flight to Afghanistan.
Photo via DoD

U.S. Army and Marine Corps troops downrange carry a hell of a lot of stuff. According to a new Government Accountability Office report on the branch efforts to improve personal protective equipment, or PPE, Marines fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2016 humped an average 117-pound load. For the Army, it was 119 pounds, and that figure will likely increase for personnel deployed to Afghanistan in 2017.


This, the GAO report notes, is generally bad news: The 1990 Army Field Manual 21-18 insists that fighting loads should not exceed 48 pounds and approach march loads not exceed 72 pounds. Weighing down troops with excessive loads risks “negative effects on personnel mobility, lead to earlier fatigue onset, and exacerbate the risk associated with high-temperature operational environments,” all things you generally don’t want when you’re risking a three-hour firefight with the Taliban.

Luckily, there’s a clear solution: not just lighter body armor, but better, too. The Army and Marine Corps want to reduce the weight of existing protective systems by 40 to 50%, or six to seven pounds, and according to the report.

Primary personal protective equipment and approximate weight specifications based on U.S. Army and Marine Corps data from 2016.Photo via GAO/DoD

Between the tactical vests, plate carriers with hard armor ballistic inserts, combat helmet, goggles, and gloves, PPE systems alone add 27 pounds to troop loads. As Army Times notes, service officials believe the branches’ body armor standards are "not reflective" of current efforts, and in 2016, initiated efforts to incorporate the latest protective technology into new designs to increase mobility.

In April 2017, PEO Soldier announced that the Army could see a replacement body armor system as soon as 2018, including a new tactical vest and a futuristic, motorcycle-style helmet. The new torso and extremity protection system (or TEP), isn’t just five pounds lighter, but designed for operational flexibility with a scalable vest, ballistic combat shirt, pelvic protection system, and battle belt.

The new torso and extremity protection system (TEP) with scalable components.Photo via PEO Soldier

While the TEP could see action downrange as early as 2018, troops will have to wait a little longer for new headwear. The lightweight Integrated Head Protection System features a “mandible” jaw protector, visor, and “ballistic applique” that serves as a protective layer. Not bad considering the Army just authorized light-to-dark reactive sunglasses on top of that.

The Integrated Head Protection System will make its debut in 2020.Photo via DoD

In the meantime, the Army’s working on another, more immediate option for tactical headgear. The polyethylene Advanced Combat Helmet Generation II will, if PEO Soldier gets its way, weigh 24% less than the existing 15-year-old Kevlar model. Although this difference actually comes out to just a pound of difference between the two models , but that small bit of extra mobility could make all the difference during an ambush by ISIS thugs outside of Mosul.

Of course, there other options for reducing troop loads: “precise and on-demand resupply,” namely through aerial delivery systems like the Joint Precision Airdrop System implemented in recent years, or the Army’s prototype unmanned dual-rotor  DP-14 Hawk could help rapidly and efficiently deliver food and water, arms and ammunition to troops deployed in hard-to-reach spots.

But until the Pentagon engineers the ultimate take-out service for warfighters downrange, we’ll take the future of personal body armor anyway. And if the GAO report is any strong signal to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., it’s that there’s no price tag too high when it comes to giving troops downrange the next-generation combat armor they deserve.

The wreckage of an airplane is seen after a crash in Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan January 27, 2020. (Reuters photo)

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where a U.S. military aircraft crashed, officials said on Tuesday, as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold.

On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft crashed in the province of Ghazni, but disputed Taliban claims to have brought it down, without saying how many were aboard or if any had been killed.

Read More
U.S. Army Spc. Preston Seach, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, participates in an emergency deployment response exercise, East Africa, May 17, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that U.S. strategic goals could include drawing down troops in Africa despite French pleas that American support is "critical" to countering the growing strength of terror groups in the region with links to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

"My aim is to adjust our footprint in many places," including Africa, to free up forces for a "great power competition" against China and Russia, he said at a joint Pentagon news conference with French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

Read More
Nothing says joint force battle management like a ride-sharing app. (Task & Purpose photo illustration)

The Air Force's top general says one of the designers of the ride-sharing app Uber is helping the branch build a new data-sharing network that the Air Force hopes will help service branches work together to detect and destroy targets.

The network, which the Air Force is calling the advanced battle management system (ABMS), would function a bit like the artificial intelligence construct Cortana from Halo, who identifies enemy ships and the nearest assets to destroy them at machine speed, so all the fleshy humans need to do is give a nod of approval before resuming their pipe-smoking.

Read More
U.S. Marines with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines assigned to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) 19.2, observe protestors toss Molotov Cocktails over the wall of the Baghdad Embassy Compound in Iraq, Dec. 31, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Kyle C. Talbot)

One person was injured by Sunday's rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Task & Purpose was learned. The injury was described as mild and no one was medically evacuated from the embassy following the attack.

Read More
The wreckage of a U.S. Air Force E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node aircraft is seen after a crash in Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan on January 27, 2020 (Reuters photo)

A U.S. E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node aircraft crashed on Monday on Afghanistan, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has confirmed.

Read More