Army testing body armor for women

benw@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 20, 2012 

In an effort to protect soldiers on the battlefield, the Army is looking to field body armor specifically for women by next summer and tests are continuing on the XM25, described as a game-changing weapon for squads.

The two pieces of the equipment are among many items the Army is testing to improve the effectiveness of soldiers on the battlefield. Many items were on display Thursday as military leaders gathered for a roundtable discussion with local and national media at Fort Benning's Red Cloud Range.

Col. Robert Mortlock, program manager of soldier protection and individual equipment, said the changes to body armor for women come after receiving feedback directly from female soldiers in Afghanistan. At the end of a two-year effort, Mortlock said the Army has purchased 100 systems of female body armor.

"They are going through use testing," Mortlock said. "We look to field female-specific body armor by next summer."

In feedback on current armor, women complained they couldn't fire their weapons properly and it needed improvements in the chest area.

It also was difficult to move around in the vest.

"When they were running to get on an airplane or sitting down, the body armor was too long and chapping their hips and thighs so we shortened the vest," he said.

In the new design, the new vests fit better around the waist and hips.

There may be eight new sizes when the vests are available next summer.

Other changes are under way to protect soldiers from insects, as are helmets that help medical staff treat traumatic brain injuries.

This fall, the Army Combat Uniform or ACU will be treated with permethrin to provide protection against ticks, insects and other mosquito-borne diseases.

The treated uniforms have been used two years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It is a natural progression of taking care of our soldiers," Mortlock said.

"This is a readiness issue."

To help determine if a soldier has been impacted by a blast, Mortlock said helmets will be fitted with a palm-size sensor that will store data if a soldier is impacted on the battlefield.

"Why are we doing this?" Mortlock said. "We don't really understand the effects of high-energy impact, of how it impacts soldier's brain. These tiny devices measure blast pressure."

The information may be downloaded into a database after an event or monthly.

It can help guide the soldier's supervisor and medical staff on possible treatment.

To give the nine-man squad more fire power, soldiers are testing the XM25, a weapon that may fire bursts of 25mm rounds at objects even behind walls and windows.

Col. Scott Armstrong, project manager of soldier weapons, said the gun was tested in Afghanistan.

"The weapon performed very well in 14 months of combat operation," he said.

Feedback from soldiers has led to 100 design changes to further improve the weapon, he said.

Command Sgt. Maj. James Carabello said his 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division unit used the weapon at his last assignment in southern Afghanistan.

"When the XM25 was deployed, it was a game changer," he said.

"The enemy recognized that. That absolutely defeated any enemy force when we deployed the XM25."

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