Faster procurement of body armor for women is an unfunded priority for the U.S. military

Providing better-fitting bulletproof vests for women and smaller service members has long been on the Pentagon’s to-do list. Three years ago, female veterans introduced a bill in Congress to advance this issue. Pentagon leaders told Congress on Monday that they have enough blueprints for bulletproof vests and the funding needed to begin production of bulletproof vests, but the Army is asking for an additional $81 million to accelerate the program by three years. .

Following a request for additional funding to “accelerate” the modernization and deployment of personal protective equipment, submitted as part of the Army’s “unfunded obligation” wish list that was removed from the President’s defense budget request, some lawmakers are questioning whether the Pentagon has given women’s body armor the proper amount of funding and attention it needs.

During the House Armed Services Subcommittee’s Tactical Air Force hearing on the Army and Marine Corps ground systems modernization programs on Monday, Rep. Saldo Carvajal, D-Calif., said President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2022 budget request would be sufficient. I asked Pentagon leaders if funding was included. “Appropriately researching and procuring” PPE for female soldiers and Marines.

“Absolutely,” replied Gen. John Murray, head of Army Futures Command.

In the president’s budget request, the Army earmarked $155 million in 2022 for better-fitting body armor and cold-weather gear, especially for future Arctic operations. Defense News According to reports, the Biden administration’s initial budget request documents do not include line items for bulletproof vests and “personal equipment,” two accounts that cover items such as helmets, bulletproof plates, and other equipment. However, funding for bulletproof vests has fluctuated significantly, according to the Defense Department’s request last year. In 2019, the Army spent a total of $245.4 million on bulletproof vests and $107.9 million on personal equipment. These totals were expected to fluctuate significantly in 2020, with $176.8 million for bulletproof vests and $180.3 million for other PPE. For 2021, the Defense Department requested an increase in bulletproof vests to $234.6 million and a decrease in PPE to $127.2 million.

The Army did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on how much of its $5.5 billion 2022 budget request would be earmarked for short body armor.

Progress in equipping women in the military has been slow. In June 2020, the Air Force’s Women’s Fit Programs Office awarded the first contract for improved female-specific body armor. The branch began fielding the equipment one unit at a time by the end of last year. Provisions for female-specific bulletproof vests are included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, and the Army plans to roll out a modular, expandable vest for smaller soldiers at the 82nd Airborne later this summer.

Murray said the Army’s latest ballistic vests for female and smaller male soldiers have “improved manufacturing and cuts” to accommodate a “significantly expanded” size range. Efforts to modernize the PPE have considered specific undergarments, plate carriers, shooter cuts and lighter weight materials.

“Research and development in Natick is almost continuous,” Murray said, referring to the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center. “And as we make these breakthrough advances, we will deploy them into production and continually improve the protection of body armor for warfighters.”

Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, told lawmakers that the Marines are “working in lockstep” with the Army to find the best, lightest body armor.

“We have the funds to do it. We have what it takes,” Smith said.

But without further funding, this slow pace is likely to continue.

Rep. Miki Sherrill (D-Jersey) asked why an additional $81.7 million was being requested on the Army’s unfunded priorities list when she believes both the Army and Marine Corps have the funding they need.

“Unfunded items are beyond the scope of the budget,” said Douglas Bush, acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. “I think the unfunded list presents that as an opportunity to accelerate deployment.”

The Army’s unfunded list document states that without additional funding, smaller soldiers will continue to use bulletproof vests that don’t provide the maximum level of protection, calling this risk a “significant” risk.

“This body armor for women, this body armor for smaller bodies, seems like a really important piece of funding,” said Sherrill, who served as a helicopter pilot in the Navy. “I myself have had the experience of being in the military wearing equipment that didn’t fit, and I had the experience of not being able to fly over water, especially in cold weather, because my dry suit didn’t fit.This is a very important piece of equipment. It seems to me.”

Sherrill said the Army’s budget request for mines seems less “mandatory” than a better-fitting bulletproof vest as competition with neighboring countries shifts to greater powers.

“I would like to know if you foresee the use of landmines in any future conflict with China,” she said.

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