Fort Irwin, CA. PFC Bryan Southers of Alpha Company, 1-113 Field Artillery Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, North Carolina Army National Guard, puts on his IBA equipment before a training exercise. Southers is a Paladin 109 Howitzer gunner and is part of 4000 other Soldiers assigned to the 30th HBCT are undergoing field combat exercises at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, all of which are preparing them for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. PAO Photo released. N.C.N.G. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen, North Carolina National Guard.

The armor plates used in the plate carriers and IOTV Soldiers wear in combat are safe — maybe too safe.

The ceramic enhanced small arms protective inserts worn in the improved outer tactical vests and lighter plate carriers are designed to provide ballistic protection to Soldiers in combat. But they are heavy, and industry is at an impasse when it comes to developing new armor technology that is as safe, yet lighter, said Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, Program Executive Officer Soldier.

“We don’t see anything that is game-changing or anything in the near term that is going to change our ability to provide increased protection at a lighter weight,” Fuller said of the plates. “I think the next (thing) we need to look at is what is our requirement and is it a validated requirement?”

Fuller spoke March 17 before the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on tactical air and land forces to discuss, among other things, the amount of weight Soldiers now carry on their bodies, as part of armor, gear, power and weapons, when they go into battle. That weight can sometimes be more than 120 pounds.

The general told lawmakers that perhaps the plates themselves could be made lighter because today, they are really over-engineered. He said a “holistic,” head-to-toe review of body armor has shown the Army could provide a lighter plate to Soldiers because, Fuller said, “we have technically overbuilt our plates right now. We overbuilt them because of our testing process.”

Fuller said the Army simply set the bar for protective capability of the plates too high.

“The way I say it is, we wanted to ensure you could go in the ring with Mike Tyson and if you could take two hits from Mike Tyson, then when Fuller climbs in the ring you knew you would be able to survive those rounds,” he said.

Today, he said, body armor worn by Soldiers in the field may be unnecessarily heavy because it has been designed to protect against “a round that is not on any battlefield in the world,” Fuller said. “We set that bar for a reason. Now we are trying to evaluate — if that bar causes us to have increased weight, do we want to adjust the bar? ”

Fuller also said as an effort to reduce weight on Soldiers, the Army is “trying to do a better job of systems engineering at the Soldier level.” He said while the Army does a good job of systems engineering for large platforms “we’ve treated the Soldier as … a Christmas tree — we just hang things on Soldiers.”

Fuller told lawmakers the Army must pay more attention to the amount of weight Soldiers carry on their back, and must do a better job of understanding “the physiological challenges of adding more kit regardless of its capability and the impact it will have on our Soldiers ability.”

The general explained that a Soldier’s cognitive skills diminish when they get tired from carrying so much weight, and “that’s not what you want in a combat environment.”

Fuller also said distributing loads across a combat unit might be one way to reduce the weight burden on the individual Soldiers.

“Can we distribute some of this capability across a unit? What’s the risk and the advantages so we don’t weigh down everybody with the same capability but distribute capability across the unit?” he asked.

Source: C. Todd Lopez

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