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Corps plans more body armor upgrades

Jun. 29, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
MCSC Individual Armor Team knows one size does not
Maj. James Pelland, team lead for Marine Corps Systems Command's Individual Armor Team, scoots over an obstacle to demonstrate the mobility provided by the Modular Scalable Vest. The new vest will combine attributes from the Corps' two most recently fielded protective vests. (Monique Randolph / Marine Corps)
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Marine Corps gear developers are working on two new body armor initiatives, one to accommodate smaller Marines and another that will provide the fleet with a single highly adaptable vest for every mission.

First, later this year, officials at Marine Corps Systems Command plan to purchase about 3,800 new “short” sizes of the service’s Improved Modular Tactical Vest. The new sizes will include small-short, medium-short and large-short.

Within the next two years, MARCORSYSCOM wants to buy something entirely new: the Modular Scalable Vest. It’s been in development for about a year and a half, and will consolidate the capabilities provided by the IMTV and the newer Plate Carrier.

What you need to know:

Finding the right fit. Current IMTVs are designed to fit 90 percent of all Marines. The other 10 percent skew a bit small — or a bit large — and are forced to wear vests that don’t suit their build. That can increase fatigue and decrease mobility.

MARCORSYSCOM measured a large segment of the force and determined the greatest need was for smaller vests. Additionally, officials conducted an online survey this spring, asking Marines for ideas about improving fit for existing body armor and what they’d like to see in future gear.

It became evident that ill-fitting body armor was a problem for some men and women.

“It wasn’t as much a male-female issue as a stature issue that’s related to the length of the torso,” Maj. James Pelland, team leader for the MARCORSYSCOM’s Individual Armor Team, said in a Marine Corps news release.

The Army has undertaken efforts to procure armor for smaller soldiers. However, it has focused on accommodating women. In fact, the Army is the first service to develop female-specific body armor and has plans to field 600 vests to women in Afghanistan by August.

What’s coming next. Currently, Marine commanders choose whether their Marines wear the IMTV or Plate Carrier based on battlefield conditions. While the IMTV offers more fragmentation protection, the Plate Carrier is light and more suited to hot climates and high-speed missions.

The new Modular Scalable Vest will eliminate the need to take two vests downrange. Marines will be able to strip the SMV to its bare bones when missions are lower risk or Marines need to be light and mobile, especially in hot and humid climates.

If a mission or operating conditions call for more protection, especially from fragmentation, Marines will be able to add components to provide extra coverage.

“The number of components has yet to be determined, but could include components such as additional front and back soft armor, neck/collar protection and groin protection,” said Barb Hamby, a MARCORSYSCOM spokeswoman. Research is ongoing, she said, and officials intend to examine multiple scenarios and user feedback.

Additionally, the new vest could include a central load management system, which will help transfer weight from a Marine’s shoulders to his hips. That could cut down on fatigue and reduce back injuries.

Body armor can weigh between 30 and 50 pounds before Marines attach grenades, magazines and other gear, Pelland said. Officials are lab testing a prototype of the load distribution system with hopes it could reduce the risk of fatigue and injury by helping Marines conserve energy.

MARCORSYSCOM’s Individual Armor Team is working with engineers from the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center and designers from the Navy’s Clothing and Textile Research Facility to refine the vest, according to the news release. Officials intend to procure the next-generation vest within the next two years.

Stronger plates. The Marine Corps recently asked the defense industry for stronger plates. Officials want a product that weighs the same or less than current plates.

While details are classified, these future plates would be able to stop more powerful rounds without weighing down the Marine who’s wearing them. Dubbed Enhanced Capability Small Arms Protective Inserts, they could be fielded as early as October.

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