Plastic may sound like a terrible idea for stopping bullets and shrapnel, but this plastic is lightweight, modular, and affords all the same protection of current gear. The Army's Program Executive Officer (PEO) Soldier, the office responsible for cost and scheduling in DoD acquisitions for soldiers' equipment and protective gear, has been field testing armor weighing only 23 pounds. This new lightweight armor is known as the Torso and Extremities Protection System and is 25 percent lighter that current body armor.
Image from PEO Soldier
The key is Polyethylene. The plastic is also replacing kevlar in soldiers' personal protective armor and in replacing helmets. Furthermore, manufacturers of ceramic plates are also refining the process of making the plates, which will drive the weight down even more.
"The Army is constantly trying to make soldiers' loads lighter," Lt. Col. Kathy Brown told Stars and Stripes. Brown is a program manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier. "We are looking at further developing the system," she said. "We think we can lose more weight."
The new armor will cost less to produce and will allow troops to wear more or less armor, depending on mission risk and requirements. The new flexibility also offers the wearer increased mobility. For missions with less risk involved, soldiers can wear a "ballistic combat shirt," a soft armor which protects the upper back, check, neck, and arms under their jackets. Ceramic plates can be added for increased protection.
The new armor has been field tested at Army and Marine Corps units across the U.S. for the last two years and has received a 95 percent positive feedback rating from troops who tested it. In addition, the Army tried to take into account all the previous efforts to make armor more comfortable for female wearers. So this armor is designed to be unisex and all-encompassing for both male and female soldiers.
The new armor is expected to be available for Army-wide soldier use in 2019.