Infantry: Protective Vest Politics


May 12, 2006: Now the Department of Defense is evaluating new body armor designs from India. How did it come to this? The U.S. Army has created something of a monster because of its massive purchases of Protective Vests ("flak jackets"). So far, the army has spent some $300 million on the vests, which triggered another $100 million in purchases from the other services. That large a market has spurred development of new body armor technologies. This created a situation best described by the term, "disruptive technologies." One new design, Pinnacle's Flexible Body Armor, has caused a major ruckus within the army because some Pinnacle supporters want all existing Protective Vests replaced with the Flexible Body Armor. Meanwhile, many of the troops are protesting the weight of the new protective vests. Running up hills in Afghanistan, or through the intense heat of Iraq, is a lot more difficult when wearing any kind of protective vest, and the troops often leave some, or all, of the body armor behind when a mission requires them to be faster and more nimble.

Indian firm Anjani Technoplast, has come up with some innovative protective vest technologies, and they are being tested by the US Army. Among other things, Anjani is manufacturing protective vests with a competitor to the standard aramid fibers (Kevlar), Dyneema. This stuff is 40 percent stronger than aramid fibers, floats, and is more resistant to sunlight, moisture and chemicals. It is also a lot more expensive. Most protective vests still use Kevlar.

While the Department of Defense doesn't want to spend up to half a billion dollars replacing all current protective vests, if there are enough big technological breakthroughs in this area, the political pressure will be too great. At the same time, the new Afghan and Iraqi armies need protective vests. So it may be possible to pass on the current stuff to our less-affluent allies, and get the new stuff to replace it.


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