Eager to reduce the weight burden for dismounted troops, Pentagon researchers and others are working on new body armor that is expected to be lighter than legacy systems, without sacrificing survivability.
Ground troops sometimes carry upwards of 90 pounds of gear, according to a recent report by the Center for a New American Security titled, "The Soldier's Heavy Load." Much of that stems from personal protective equipment.
"Modern body armor has given U.S. troops an unparalleled advantage on the battlefield, improving survivability and reducing casualties," defense analysts Lauren Fish and Paul Scharre wrote.
"This protection comes at a price, however.... Heavy loads reduce mobility, increase fatigue and reduce mission performance."
Military leaders are well aware of the problem.
"Armor is not solely a function of protection. Armor is also a function of being able to move under that protection," Brig. Gen. David Hodne, director of the Army's soldier lethality cross-functional team, said at a convention in October. "A soldier who can't move, a soldier who can't shoot... is not as lethal as the soldier who can move freely on the battlefield."
To get at the problem, the service is in the process of replacing its legacy equipment with a new soldier protection system.
"The Soldier Protection System is modular, scalable and replaces multiple current systems," Lt. Col. Ginger Whitehead, product manager for soldier protective equipment at program executive office soldier, told National Defense in a written response to questions.
"The SPS improves the level of mobility, form, fit and function for male and female soldiers and provides a significant reduction in weight" while enhancing protection, she added.
The equipment will include subsystems and components manufactured by a number of industry partners including: protective inserts for vital torso protection; a modular scalable vest, ballistic combat shirt and blast pelvic protector for torso and extremity protection; an integrated head protection system; and transition combat eye protection.
The Army will continue to procure and field the soldier protection system components in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, while working with industry and academia to assess and mature new technologies that could reduce weight and improve survivability, Whitehead said. In fiscal year 2020, the service anticipates moving forward with the next-generation integrated head protection system, she noted.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is looking for better ways to protect its dismounted...