Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan Drove Developments in Body, Vehicle Armor

Contributor:  John M. Doyle
Posted:  01/17/2013  12:00:00 AM EST
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The challenges of counter insurgency and unconventional warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan have sparked innovation in armor development for both individuals and vehicles over the past decade.

Roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), were the biggest source of U.S. casualties in Iraq until 2007 when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that getting heavily armored, blast resistant vehicles to Iraq and Afghanistan was the Pentagon's highest equipment priority. Before the introduction of the mine resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, up-armored Humvees – the general purpose vehicle that was never intended for frontline duty – was the main transportation vehicle for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
More than 28,000 MRAPs were produced at a cost of $47.4 billion between 2007 and October 2012, when production was halted. In all, 24,059 of the vehicles with the V-shaped hulls were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The all-out production effort resulted in “a whole lot of young women and men coming home in one piece,” Vice President Joe Biden said at a ceremony last Fall marking the end of MRAP production.
 
 
Meanwhile, Defense Department labs pressed ahead with research to protect troops when they were outside armored vehicles.
Scientists and engineers at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Army Research Laboratory, FS Technologies, and Oklahoma State University developed a protective equipment system for extremities that was designed to reduce the likelihood of severe injury to arms and legs.  NRL also  worked on protecting Marines and sailors from bomb blasts utilizing GelMan human surrogate technology.
 
Using a model of the human thorax made from modified ordnance gelatin – formulated to simulate human body density – researchers were able to record and analyze responses to blast pressure and impacts with and without body armor. GelMan-Brain systems research studied the effects of blasts and the effectiveness of equipment in reducing traumatic brain injury.
 
In 2009, the Army began a program to design female-specific body armor . After years of gathering feedback through annecdotal reports from deployed female soldiers as well as surveys and focus groups, the Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick, Mass. discovered that about 85 percent of women in the Army were wearing an Outer Tactical Vest one size too large. Even the smallest vest designed for men was too loose and too long, making them uncomfortable, movement constricting and dangerous because they left gaps in armor coverage. 
 

The designers at Natick came up with eight different sizes of female body armor in two different lengths although they use the same protective plates as generic body armor. The designs were tested for fit by 120 female soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Fort Benning, Ga., and the Massachusetts National Guard in Milford, Mass.
Army officials hope to produce 3,000 of the new vests, designated the Generation III Female Improved Outer Tactical Vest, and deliver them by summer 2013.
 
The threat from IEDs won't be left behind as U.S. and coalition forces leave Afghanistan, according to commander of the unit charged with mitigating the threat of roadside bombs and other booby traps.
 
These asymmetric weapons will remain a threat to our forces [overseas] and here at home for decades,” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, commander of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) told Congress last year.
The Defense Department's budget request for Fiscal 2014 is still under wraps, but last year the Pentagon sought $5.1 billion for force protection – including body armor and protective gear – in its 2013 budget  request.
 
New armor technologies, challenges and developments in protective equipment for vehicles and personnel will be among the topics covered at the ArmorCon 2013, Military Armor Conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (http://www.idga.org/).The conference runs  Feb. 26-27 at the Waterview Conference Center in Arlington. Va.
John M. Doyle Contributor:   John M. Doyle


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