Procurement: June 8, 2004

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The U.S. Department of Defense has managed to speed up the evaluation and purchase of new equipment in the last few years, but new weapons still run into institutional resistance. An example of rapid procurement is the new PCU (Protective Combat Uniform), an interchangeable 15-piece, seven-level clothing system that can be worn in layers depending on the weather and the mission. In early 2002, when Winter was at its worst in Afghanistan, and hundreds of Special Forces troops were running around in the mountains, some got in touch with the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center and suggested that the army adopt some of the superior commercial Winter clothing that some Special Forces troopers were buying with their own money. The army responded in what is, for the normal procurement process, record time. In less than two years, the PUC was available for the troops. The PUC ensemble handles temperatures from -50 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit The layers are lightweight and use modern fibers that allow sweat to escape while keeping body heat in. All the clothing is commercially available for Winter sports and activities. The army is making bulk purchases. Only the items likely to be worn on the outside have to be some kind of camouflage pattern. The new PUC is actually lighter, and less bulky, than the older Winter clothing that was issued to the troops.

Ammunition, however, is another matter. A firm called RBCD Performance Plus, Inc. recently invented a new 5.56mm bullet using a blended metal process. This produced a bullet that was armor piercing, but had limited penetration on a human body. Thus it would not just pass through people it hit, but would stop and do a lot of damage. The bullet is called APLP. The 60 grain bullet will penetrate metal or other hard objects, but when it hits a warm body, it fragments rapidly. The effect is similar to an explosive round, and turns a non-fatal wound into a kill. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has so far resisted adopting the round, largely because tests on gelatin did not show the explosive wounding effect. This is because the blended metal does not fragment when it hits cold objects, and the SOCOM tests used the standard gelatin moulds to represent a human body. The gelatin has a temperature of 36 degrees Fahrenheit, while humans and animals are at least 60 degrees warmer. Tests on warm, but dead, animals, show the effect. This was demonstrated in late 2003 when a former SEAL, working for a contractor in Iraq, got into a firefight with Iraqis and hit one in the butt with an APLP round, and killed the Iraqi. The former SEAL had medic training and was able to examine the dead Iraqi and verified the dramatic effect of the APLP round. 

The APLP bullet is not recommended for regular troops, because any incident of friendly fire would likely be fatal. But for commandos, it would probably be used exclusively, for these men get into battles where every shot counts.  SOCOM allocated money to test the round, but refuses to accept the temperature angle, insisting that the gelatin test shows no fragmentation and thats that. They are not interested. But those who have used the round on live animals continue to insist that the APLP bullet works as advertised. This would not be the first time the army, or SOCOM, got on the wrong side of an ammunition procurement debate and just dug in their heels in the face of evidence they disagreed with. Some observers suspect that the SOCOM resistance to the APLP round is because SOCOM fears acceptance of the APLP bullets will interfere with SOCOM efforts to get the army to adopt a 6.8mm round for the new M-8 assault rifle. 

 


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