U.S. military members serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other dangerous areas will soon receive revamped armored vests that provide more side protection, senior officials said here today.
The vest changes are designed to prove effective in protecting servicemembers from shrapnel fragments, especially those who operate gun turrets atop vehicles, said Army Maj. Gen. Steven Speaks, the Army's director of force development.
"What we're seeing, obviously, is continuing evolutions in the nature of the threat that we face," General Speaks said. The shrapnel-producing improvised explosive devices and other terrorist weapons encountered by U.S. forces in Iraq have prompted changes in servicemembers' armored vests, he said.
Stepped improvements to armored vests are the result of continual adaptation in response to constantly changing enemy tactics, General Speaks said.
He countered media reports that the U.S. military is behind the power curve in providing appropriate force protection gear for troops deployed in the global war against terrorism.
"Those headlines entirely miss the point," General Speaks said. The effort to improve body armor "has been a programmatic effort in the case of the Army that has gone on with great intensity for the last five months.”
The enhanced vests are designed so infantrymen, truckers or troops in any military occupational specialty can use them, General Speaks said, including men and women.
The improved vests should be fielded to servicemembers sometime this spring, General Speaks said.
"The protection of Soldiers is our No. 1 mission," he said. "Continuous evolution of this protection is absolutely essential."
It's equally important to take servicemembers' needs into account when designing force-protection equipment, said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army's acquisition chief.
For example, heavy, bulky armor can compromise a servicemember's need to move quickly during combat conditions, General Sorenson said, as well as tax physical endurance.
He said providing better armored vests for servicemembers represents just one portion of military force-protection capabilities.
"We've (also) done the armoring of the vehicles," General Sorenson said. The U.S. military, he added, also has developed and fielded electronic countermeasures to find and defeat IEDs.
"All these are generated to try to improve a Soldier’s ability to be better protected with respect to force protection," General Sorenson said.