The Marine Corps is five years away from finding a lighter and equally effective body armor for deployed Marines, according to a service official spearheading the effort.
Dan Fitzgerald, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and the current program manager for Marine Corps Systems Command’s infantry combat equipment division, told Inside the Navy his program is open to anything, but has yet to receive any proposal for lighter body armor that meets current Marine Corps performance specifications.
Fitzgerald said he visited the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX, to consult with scientists and researchers about how and when the next ballistic armor plate technology could be developed.
“The lab has Ph.D rocket scientists working there,” he explained. “And I took them aside and said, ‘Where do you think this . . . ballistic plate technology is going to come from?’ They’re baffled. They said, ‘You got what you got — we see five years beyond before anything would happen.’”
That is assuming everyone is working hard, Fitzgerald noted. “And I’ve heard that from a lot of different people . . . and other test labs,” he said. “For the threat that we’re telling them and the performance, there’s nothing right now.” He added, “We’ve got soft armor, all this stuff out there, but it doesn’t pass the test.”
Last week, Maj. Gen. William Catto, head of Marine Corps Systems Command, said the current armor weighs too much. “We need to get lighter body armor,” the two-star general said at his command’s advanced planning briefing to industry in Baltimore April 13. Catto’s comments at the National Defense Industrial Association-sponsored event echoed statements he made recently at Navy League’s annual conference and in testimony on Capitol Hill.
Lighter body armor reduces combat load
The average basic combat load for a Marine on day patrol is between 75 and 80 pounds, which includes a day pack, M-16 rifle, ammunition, grenades, radio, water and body armor. Body armor alone accounts for over 20 pounds of weight on each Marine deployed outside the wire in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Marine Corps.
Marine Corps Systems Command evaluates lighter body armor from a variety of sources: congressional inquiries, individual business solicitations and additionally has Marines monitoring Web sites around the globe for innovative solutions.
“I look worldwide,” Fitzgerald noted in regard to trying to find lighter body armor. “There’s nothing working better right now than what we have.”
Fitzgerald said people come to him regularly and say, “Hey, this only only weighs two pounds and it can stop this,” but unless the armor meets Marine Corps standards, Fitzgerald’s reaction is, “Hey idiot, it doesn’t stop what you need to stop.”
Fitzgerald told ITN “There are a lot of people working toward lightening the load, but I don’t see anything in the next couple years that going to make a significant difference.”
“If you can find the next-generation lighter body armor in commercial industry right now, you’d make a bucket full of money,” he said. “If you can take the same ballistic protection we have today and reduce the weight of that significantly, we’d be all over that.”