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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.

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