10 years ago
With the genesis of the Interceptor Body Armor System, Marines had access to significantly improved protection compared to the older flak vest. It was lighter (at 16.4 pounds) than the flak vest (at 25.1 pounds), but studies showed a high mortality rate associated with rounds taken in the side of the torso, neck, shoulders, arms, groin and legs. The currently deployed Interceptor system was provided with add-on packs, including hard side torso plates and removable components to protect each of the exposed areas (groin, upper arms, shoulders and neck). The add-on components bring the total weight closer to 40 pounds rather than 16 pounds, more than doubling the original weight. Press reports have even documented the fact that the weight of the body armor is so onerous to the Marine and instrusive to maneuverability that some have chosen to jettison it and go into combat without protection.
The Marine Corps has awarded a new contract for body armor to Protective Products International (hereafter PPI) for a new system called “Modular Tactical Vest.” Marine officials hope to start producing a 60,000 vest order in October, with deployment of the vests starting early 2007. The new Modular Tactical Vest costs about $560 each, and doesn’t promise to weigh less. Rather, its promise is to distribute the weight more efficiently, thus making its load easier to bear, while also protecting more of the torso than the Interceptor System.
Hopefully, body armor manufacturers and the USMC have learned from past mistakes regarding the testing, quality assurance and deployment of body armor. The Marine Corps Times exposed an attempt to continue deployment of the Interceptor System even after tests had shown catastrophic failure (picture of failed vest showing complete penetration of round) of one test vest. As a result, several lots were rejected. The QA (Quality Assurance) program was appropriately and correctly called into question, but in order to continue the deployment of the vests, waivers of the QA program had to signed by both industry and military authorities.
PPI has already addressed questions related to some of its components, and hopefully the QA program is robust enough that the recalcitrance associated with refusal to “stop work” and recall armor will not exist with PPI or this new body armor system. QA programs in industry around the world have to meet specifications and standards, including some structures, systems and components that have to meet a zero failure rate. The notion that it is necessary to deploy body armor that may be defective points to a military-industrial complex that has routinely not held industry accountable for meeting standards. In most commercial industries, a failure to meet standards redounds to financial harm to the corporation and overtime for the workers who have to re-manufacture goods in order to avoid legal liability and meet schedule, not waivers signed by the recipient of the goods and services. Military standards have not been high enough. At least in the instance of body armor, failure is not an option.
The new body armor is intended to be deployed with Marines beginning early in 2007. The Captain’s Journal will be contacting Camps Lejeune and Pendleton, along with PPI, to ascertain what units will be deployed early in 2007 and whether they will have the new system. We will publish their response(s).
Finally, we have covered the issue of traumatic brain injury to our troops due to IEDs. Brain injury is the signature wound of the Iraq war. The Marine Corps Times is also reporting that the webbing or sling suspension system currently being used in combat helmets will be replaced with a system of pads designed to reduce the force of non-ballistic blunt impact. The Captain’s Journal will also contact Camps Lejeune and Pendleton concerning the timing of deployment of these new helmet padding systems. We will publish their reponse(s).