US military to equip with lightweight body armor

As part of a broader effort to better equip soldiers on the battlefield, the U.S. Army has introduced a lightweight bulletproof vest that soldiers can quickly remove in the event of an emergency. The new vest is currently being fielded to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with an innovative combat ration designed to be consumed on the move.

The Improved Outer Tactical Vest, manufactured by Armor Holdings and priced at $2,600, is equipped with a quick-release mechanism reminiscent of a parachute pull cord. By simply pulling a canvas loop just below the neck, the vest can be separated into several sections and reassembled in minutes. During the demonstration, Lt. Col. Robert Miles, Army product manager overseeing soldier survivability, emphasized that the quick-release feature improves the survival chances of soldiers trapped in a burning vehicle or submerged in a canal.

At least 16 soldiers have drowned in Iraq, according to unofficial data compiled by the respected website. Miles noted that the new vest weighs about 30 pounds, as opposed to the 33 pounds of the older model currently in use. Additionally, the new vest offers better protection in the groin and underarms. The 49th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Iraq is currently testing the new vest, and all troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are expected to be equipped with the latest vest model by April of next year.

The Army and Marine Corps are rapidly deploying thousands of new, $1 million-a-piece Mine-Resistant and Ambush Protected (M-RAP) vehicles to Iraq, along with improved bulletproof vests and enhanced food options for soldiers in combat.

Meals ready-to-eat (MREs) remain the primary food source for combat soldiers, but a new, lighter alternative is set to be introduced in Iraq and Afghanistan this fall.

Unlike MREs, which rely on chemical heating elements, the new First Strike Ration (FSR) features main dishes such as French toast and honey barbecue beef pocket sandwiches that can be easily eaten on the go with minimal preparation.

FSRs provide three meals per pack and are half the size and weight of three MREs — a big advantage for Soldiers who are already carrying large amounts of ammunition and gear. FSR menus include chunk chicken, protein bars, and teriyaki beef snacks, as well as high-energy foods like maltodextrin “Zapple Sauce” and caffeinated chewing gum.

Special Forces and other units operating in remote areas are already receiving “Unitized Group Rations-Express,” a ration provided by the Department of Defense that feeds 18 soldiers in boxes the size of a computer printer.

UGR stacks four trays containing an entree, vegetables, starch and dessert and places them between the heating units. Pulling one of the tabs delivers saline solution to the heater, producing a fully cooked hot meal in just 35 minutes.

Having been successfully field-tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, these UGRs have proven extremely popular and troops are eager to get their hands on them.

“We have 2.2 million combatants, all with weapons, and we don’t like pitting them against each other,” Kathy Lynn Evangelos of the Defense Department’s Combat Feeding Program said humorously.

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