Marine Corps to introduce nearly 40% lighter bulletproof vests in 2020

The Marine Corps is preparing to field new lightweight body armor plates designed for Marines to wear in low-intensity and counterinsurgency-style conflicts.

The Defense Department announced Friday that the Navy has awarded Point Blank Enterprises a contract for about $216 million to buy up to 680,706 of the new lightweight plates.

Maj. Ken Kunze, a spokesman for Marine Corps Systems Command, told Marine Corps Times that the Marines will begin fielding the new plates during the second quarter of fiscal year 2020 and are on track to complete the rollout by 2023.

Kunze said the new body armor plates “provide protection from the majority of potential threats while improving mobility” and reduce Marines’ weight burden from hard body armor by 38 percent.

The Marine Corps is seeking lighter body armor to reduce the weight and combat load that Marines and infantrymen carry on their backs, which can weigh as much as 117 to 119 pounds, according to a government watchdog report.

One solution was to field a new set of armor plates that would give commanders the flexibility to adapt body armor to the threats in the areas where Marines are operating.

That means that when operating in low-intensity conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, Marines won’t need to wear Enhanced Small Arms Protection Plates, or ESAPI plates, which weigh about 15 pounds, all the time when lighter, more maneuverable armor plates will suffice.

Heavy ESAPI plates will remain important, especially as Marines face off against near-peer rivals equipped with more sophisticated and capable weapon systems.

Nick Pierce, armor team leader for infantry combat equipment at Marine Corps Systems Command, previously told Marine Corps Times that the Corps is looking to reduce the weight of the 15-pound ESAPI plate to about 8.6 pounds for medium Marines.

Pierce explained that the lightweight plates, combined with the Marine Corps’ new plate carrier Gen III system, will allow Marines to reduce their combat weight by a total of eight to 10 pounds.

The Marines are also looking at new polymer-based ammunition and lighter helmets for infantry soldiers to reduce the weight they have to carry.

Sean Snow is a senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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