Congress Orders Next Generation Body Armor Study

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Development for the next generation of body armor got a boost yesterday when a Congressional committee ordered the Defense Department to issue a report within the next 180 days on its strategy to reduce the weight of body armor by at least 20 percent.

The House Armed Service Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee wants the military to invest in research in developing new materials for body armor rather than rely on ones already in existence.

In 2011, a federally funded report found “the only way to achieve significant reductions, 20 percent and higher, without sacrificing safety and survivability would be through robust, sustained R&D funding over a number of years that focuses on developing new materials, as well as pursuing a modular, tailorable approach to body armor systems.”

Body armor has long been a focus for the military and plenty of lawmakers as the Defense Department tries to develop better ways to protect troops. The military has seen improvements throughout the past decade, but there is still interest in significantly reducing the weight.

The Army has made significant improvements to body armor plate technology throughout the war, making it stronger but not lighter. In 2005, the service fielded the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert in response to a growing threat of armor-piercing ammunition on the battlefield. It proved very effective but was slightly heavier than the standard SAPI model it replaced.

A few years later, the service developed the XSAPI to deal with emerging AP threats, but field commanders were not interested in it because it increased the weight of each plate by about 10 percent. Industry officials maintain that the plates could be made lighter if they didn’t have to stop multiple rounds — a requirement the Army has refused to abandon.

Congress wants details on the work the Defense Department plans to pursue to develop this light weight body armor. Subcommittee members requested Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to issue a report that outlines “the costs, schedules and performance requirements for all solutions currently under development for body armor weight reduction,” according to the legislation.

The subcommittee also requested a report on all “solutions and materials currently under evaluation by the Department, the feasibility and technology readiness levels of these materials and solutions, resourcing levels of these materials and solutions, [and] resourcing strategy for future initiatives.”

— Michael Hoffman contributed to this report.

About the Author

Matthew Cox
Matthew Cox is a reporter at Military.com. He can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.
  • Greg

    Make it in size of the old RBA, then you’ll really reduce size and weight!

  • JCitizen

    With all the new advances in materials, it think it is time to re-invent body armor. Now that aluminum glass has been invented, I’d think a composite of this weird wonderful material could revolutionize armor itself, not just body armor! That is only one example of how technology has advanced. From what I read on Global Spec, the costs of manufacturing are going down on many of the processes for making such things, so it may be cheap insurance for the future!

    • Bob

      Transparent aluminum? Like in star trek?

      • JCitizen

        Yes – at least similar – I saw a sample of it on Global Spec, and it was amazing! It can take quite a beating with minimal spalling, so I figure it has a place as window material for armored vehicles in the very least! From what I saw of the manufacturing process, I can’t see why it couldn’t be included in some new kind of composite structure as well, which might improve its armor capable features even more.

        It also looked like it made way better armor per thickness than T-6 or other high quality solid aluminum.

      • http://N/A Virgil Hilts

        Ah…Laddie…wouldn’t we all like to have some of that stuff! Forget the whales…save the humans. But remember, as that fine engineer Montgomery Scott noted, “The more they overthink the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain. K.I.S.S.

        Keep it simple, stupid!

  • Reece

    There are several compines in North Dakota that already make milti hit plates in level 4 that less than 20% of issued plates.

    http://midwestarmor.com/
    and
    http://dkxarmor.com/

  • lance

    Since the army is out of money I don’t see this going anywhere soon. And the fact there is no real light weight armor better than what the army has. Most of this tailoring crap is for stinking women who complain too much about current armor. As Congress made the army do the crappy ICC crap in 08 we can see where this BS will lead…… nothing! Tell congress to stay out of the militarys darn business.

  • paul

    just remember NIJ standard is not multi-hit.

    weight savings starts with the equipment, not the actual armor. get rid of the cumbersome IOTV and the ridiculous amount of over-redundant soft armor coverage. this would save a lot of weight and we didn’t even need to do R&D/T&E.

    I have a pair of issued ballistic upgrade plates from ceradyne that are a ton lighter than ESAPIs. Not sure why these aret being issued to everyone in the first place.

    but, it is time to start looking at lvl4 stand alone plates and get rid of ICW plates. they already exist – stop wasting money “looking” for solutions. the SOHPC is a perfect example – run soft armor in the cummerbund with level 4 stand alone plates in the front and rear. done.

    • John

      Agreed. There are some awesome nylon options out there now that work wonders at reducing weight and bulk, but levels above reality insist on talking too much and thinking too hard.

  • SLag

    Congress is once again trying to justify their jobs while not actually doing anything useful. Like the old saying “If progress is about moving forward, what does congress mean?”

  • Doc Rob

    OMG how hard is this going to become make a plate carrier that go go from front and back plate only, to one that has cummerbund with side plates and that you can attach all the bullsh*t soft Kevlar attachments if you want. I’ve been on two deployments and haven’t see soft Kevlar stop ANYTHING that they claim its supposed too. Only plates stop anything worth a dam.

  • Rich McKinney

    So which congressman put that in and who donated to his/her campaign?

  • Luke

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen plastic plates (dyneema? UHMW composite?) that claim to stop AP rounds. Expensive sure, but light as hell. I’d be willing to carry thicker/bulkier plates for a weight savings.

  • John Harkins

    Midwest is a great company to deal with. Absolutely top notch and their MASS III is awesome (disclaimer: I have a pair). It’s really quite unbelievable how little they weigh.

    Military Arms Channel did a great review and comparison of them to other plates.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1FgutJeyr8