The U.S. military has now had more than 20,000 troops wounded in Iraq and nearly 2,700 more killed. More than 9,100 of the wounded were unable to return to duty -- their injuries taking them home to their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and children. In the statistical tables and graphs released by the military, they are just numbers with no mention of what combat wounds really look like.
At combat hospitals across Iraq, medics see limbs completely blown off, head "shots and blasts," burns, contusions, compound fractures and bullet wounds to name just a few. An improvised explosive device -- the phrase the military uses to describe the deadliest of insurgent weapons -- doesn't just send shrapnel into the body, it tears the body apart. Americans hear this term every day, as if it's another regular item in the daily news.
What they don't see is what it does to the soldiers. The human body literally shatters and tears. As one doctor told me, "You realize that all we are is a very thin bag of water."
MILITARY.COM recognizes the issues.....
“We are currently gathering data and information from Marines returning from OIF and OEF," said SysCom spokeswoman, Capt. Geraldine Carey, in an Aug. 7 email statement to Military.com.
"Once all the data is collected and analyzed, we will approach industry for possible new designs and or changes to the current body armor." The new plate carriers are essentially a slimmed-down version of the MTV, with larger arm holes, thinner shoulder straps and a shorter chest profile. The reduction in weight and lower silhouette of the plate carriers "would allow greater mobility with reduced thermal stress in high elevations, thick vegetation and tropical environments," SysCom said.
In 2004, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit purchased plate carriers for its Marines during a deployment to the scorching deserts of southern Afghanistan. Since then, many troops have favored the uncomplicated plate carriers over their more weighty counterparts, which incorporate ballistic yokes, chin guards, groin protectors and various ballistic add-ons, depending on the mission.
"Now the Marines who are wearing [the MTV] repetitively don't like it so much," Conway explained. "It is heavier. It gives a little more protection -- that is one of the net positives with it. We still need a lighter vest that gives us the same amount of protection."
In March 2007, the Corps received an "urgent needs statement" from field commanders requesting the plate carriers for forces in Afghanistan and units deployed to Asia -- where hot, jungle environments make wearing the 30-pound MTV impractical. Since then, the Corps made plans to buy nearly 10,000 plate carriers and has made them available to vehicle crewmen as well.
"For the most part, we think the vest has particular application in Afghanistan because, once again, if you're climbing up and down mountains you want to be protected, but you don't want to be weighed down so much that you're just going to be sapped," Conway said of the SPC vest.
The issue of body armor and the balance between ballistic protection and mobility has been a controversial one, particularly since casualties mounted in Iraq from powerful roadside bombs and armor-piercing sniper rounds. As the blast injuries increased, the services added on new ballistic protection to their vests.
But the boost in protection came at the cost of comfort and weight; some vests topped 35 pounds with various accessories and stronger plates. That prompted some commanders to ask for leeway in how they outfit their troops, given the security environment and the type of terrain units operated in.
"I like the idea of modularization as long as you had some pieces that you could add or subtract" from the carrier, said David Woroner, a body armor expert and president of Survival Consultants International. "Personal protection should be just that, it's a personal choice at some point."
In January, the deputy commander for Marines in Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Allen, told Military.com he was on the verge of allowing his troops in Anbar province -- which had seen a steep reduction in violence and roadside bomb casualties -- to strip down their armor, leaving their chin guards, groin protectors and side plates at the base while on patrol.
First bit of news comes from an official with the Army's combat developments directorate at Fort Benning who described some upcoming "soldier protection demonstrations" that will take a look at various new technology solutions to common problems on the battlefield. This is the same way the Army came up with its vastly-improved body armor, or IOTV.
The first initiative is a combat vehicle crewman armor suite that recognizes the tight confines of a vehicle and its various entry ports and takes advantage of the vehicles inherent armor protection. But the official, John Yancey, recognized that Humvee gunners and other vehicle gunners might need more armor for blast mitigation in an IED scenario.
It all needs to fit into a new philosophy the Army wants vendors to adhere to in armor design that calls for modularization in armor components. In other words, Yancey wants to give commanders the leeway to add or subtract armor components based on mission and threat. A door kicker only needs a plate carrier, a vehicle gunner needs arm, shoulder, face and neck protection, he said.
Another SPD going on right now at Benning is looking into hearing protection and enhancement. Kinda like "hunters ear" already on the market.
Yancey also talked about an upcoming SPD on lower extremity protection, including six vendors who've submitted products such as ballistic shorts, pants and chaps. Yancey admitted no Soldier was going to have to wear Kevlar pants on patrol, but a vehicle gunner might really appreciate them. He also mentioned that the Army was taking another look at whether the current padding system in the advanced combat helmet is making the grade.
The Army is in full and complete compliance with the FAR, DFAR, source law and current policy in every case concerning body armor procurement.
The fact that the Defense Department Inspector General was not completely able to verify testing and approval of first-article testing or aspects of contracting files does not mean the body armor did not meet specifications.
The Army requires two levels of performance verification prior to acceptance of body armor issued to Soldiers: First Article Test (FAT) and Lot Acceptance Test (LAT). These two test requirements verify that body armor meets U.S. Army standards before being issued to Soldiers and ensure production processes remain in check. The Army's response to the draft report states that first-article testing is a regular and consistent current business practice for purchasing body armor.
The current body armor is doing what it is designed to do: stop or slow bullets and fragments, and reduce the severity of wounds.
As a commenter on the Military.com story put it:
"Yeah, it's too bad they cut through all the red tape to rush this equipment out to the troops instead of the usual procedure that keeps new gear in the prototype phase until years after the need has passed and the technology has become obsolete."
Army Seeks Body Armor for New Threat
The Army has issued an industry-wide request for a new kind of body armor that can defeat even more powerful rounds than the current ceramic plate and has opened the door for the new armor construction that includes flexible systems many say are more comfortable than today's vests.
The new armor insert, dubbed "XSAPI," is intended stop armor-piercing rounds more deadly than the ones the current "enhanced small arms protective insert" can defeat, will weigh less than a pound more than today's ESAPI and could have more coverage than the rigid ceramic plates currently fielded to U.S. troops in combat.
The Army's latest solicitation - dated June 20 - marks yet another chapter in the ongoing debate over allegations that the Army has ignored armor technology that could yield more protection and comfort than its current "Interceptor" vest. In May, an NBC investigative report raised questions over whether a certain type of body armor called "Dragon Skin" was stronger than the Interceptor - which is worn by most American troops in the field.
The NBC report - and the Army counter-attack that followed - gained the attention of the top lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee, which held a hearing on the subject June 6 and demanded a new set of tests to prove once and for all whether Dragon Skin - or other armor using similar technology - was better than Interceptor.
Dragon Skin employs a flexible system of interlocking ceramic disks that the manufacturer, Fresno, Calif.-based Pinnacle Armor, says is more comfortable and can endure more rifle shots than Interceptor. The ESAPI employs a series of rigid ceramic plates inserted into the front, back and sides of the Interceptor "outer tactical vest."
After the congressional hearing, the Army revised its earlier May 27 request for new armor to test, adding the XSAPI specs and opening the offer to flexible, or "scalar," systems. The Army also extended the period for manufacturers to submit their proposals by 30 days - until the end of August - a move congressional staffers say will give Pinnacle plenty of time to submit the vests needed for testing.
"The Army seems to be accommodating Pinnacle as far as it can," a top House Armed Services Committee aide told Defense Tech.
The Army declined to comment on the new XSAPI requirement or on upcoming tests until after the service has determined a contract winner.
Pinnacle president Murray Neal faced sharp questions from skeptical Armed Services Committee members during the June 6 hearing, many of whom wondered how earlier Army tests that showed massive failures of Dragon Skin could jibe with the NBC report and Neal's own contention that the government tests were inaccurate or rigged.
Neal demanded another "independent" test of his armor with outside government observers who could verify the truthfulness of the Army evaluation.
"I would like to recommend that the Army Test Center facility located in Aberdeen, Md., be used. It is independent of all parties [and] is the only [Pentagon] oversight ballistic laboratory capable of doing such testing left in the U.S.," Neal said in a recent letter sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Download Neal's letter
"My company stands ready to cooperate in any reasonable manner with your staff and designated agents when they begin the process that will result in the requested comprehensive technical assessment."
The Army acquiesced, writing in a June 22 letter to top Armed Services lawmakers in the House and Senate that both flexible and rigid ESAPI and XSAPI armor would be tested at Aberdeen and would include officials from the Operational Test and Evaluation office of the Pentagon.
In an effort Army officials have said was designed to deflect criticism that armor tests at Aberdeen could be rigged in their favor, the service has conducted most of its ballistic body armor evaluations at H.P. White labs, a civilian-run ballistic test facility in Street, Md.
"All potential body armor suppliers, including Pinnacle Armor, are welcome to compete," acting Army Secretary Pete Geren wrote lawmakers. "Pinnacle Armor has never submitted a proposal for a U.S. Army body armor solicitation. However, the U.S. Army stands ready to fairly evaluate their product and all products in response to the current solicitation."
Download Geren's letters
The House committee aide added that representatives of the Government Accountability Office - the investigative arm of Congress - would also be present at the tests, satisfying lawmakers' desire for oversight.
The new armor solicitation also makes good on the Army claim that the service is always looking for new ways to protect its troops from enemy threats that continue to grow in sophistication and lethality. In late 2005, Army and Marine officials were shocked to find earlier versions of their rifle-defeating plates penetrated by a type of armor-piercing round previously unseen in Iraq.
Both the Army and Marine Corps moved quickly to strengthen their plates, fielding hundreds of thousands of ESAPIs within months.
The call for XSAPI technology raises the bar on armor protection offered to Army troops by providing a vest that can resist both 7.62mm and 5.56mm rounds with velocities much higher than the ESAPI and bullets with construction that might penetrate current plates, the Army says.
Penetration Failure Mechanisms of Armor-Grade Fiber Composites under Impact
B. L. Lee, T. F. Walsh , S. T. Won , H. M. Patts
The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, University Park, PA 16802
J. W. Song
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command RD&E Center, Science & Technology Directorate, Natick, MA 01760
A. H. Mayer
U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Vehicles Directorate, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH 45433
The penetration failure mechanisms of "armor-grade" fiber-reinforced composites with very low resin content were assessed under transverse impact loading in comparison with those of dry reinforcing fabrics. Failure of dry fabrics consisted of the successive fracture of individual yarns along the periphery of the penetrating head as well as the movement of yarns slipping off from the penetrator. In contrast, the principal yarns in the composites, which faced the penetrating head, failed to carry the load mostly through fracture due to the constraint of the resin matrix and the reduced yarn mobility. As a result, the composites absorbed more energy than the fabrics. The ratio of the number of broken yarns in the fabrics to that of the composites correlated quite well with the corresponding ratio of energy absorbed, confirming that fiber straining is responsible for most of the energy absorption in penetration failure. Numerical modeling was utilized to show that yarn slippage in the fabrics results in a smaller effective penetrator radius leading to a decrease in energy absorption capacity with equal penetrator masses. Although the resin matrix itself did not absorb significant amounts of energy, it certainly had an indirect effect on the energy absorption capacity of composites by influencing the number of yarns broken. Stiffer resin matrix prevented the yarn movement to a greater degree and thereby forced the penetrator to engage and break more yarns. Up to the thickness of 3 mm, the dependence of the kinetic energy for full perforation of composites on the laminate thickness was close to the case of ductile monolithic materials such as polycarbonate or aluminum but in less linear fashion. The deviation from the linearity was attributed to a unique mode of tensile failure of armor-grade composites in which a critical level of kinetic energy for full perforation is lowered by the mobility of yarns