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Army to test lighter gear and weaponry

Sgt. 1st Class William Corp of PEO Soldier wears the lightweight body armor that Special Operations Forces now wear. The Army will test lighter body armor next week with plans to field up to 100,000 sets beginning in August.

JEFF SCHOGOL / S&S

By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 7, 2009

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — The Army will test lighter body armor next week with plans to field up to 100,000 sets beginning in August, said Lt. Col. Robert W. Myles Jr. of Program Executive Office Soldier.

The tests will take place May 11-22 in Yuma, Ariz., and will involve 10 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and 25 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division, Myles said Wednesday.

Soldiers can carry a load of about 100 pounds of gear, body armor and ammunition. The Improved Outer Tactical Vests that soldiers currently wear weighs about 31 pounds with all four ballistic plates, Myles said.

The Army will evaluate four new types of body armor, each weighing about 24 pounds, as well as body armor already worn by soldiers, Marines and Special Operations Forces, he said.

The body armor will be evaluated based on ballistic tests, form, wear and comfort, and cost, Myles said.

As a stop-gap measure, the Army will soon issue a battalion of soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division the lightweight body armor that Special Operations Forces wear, he said.

"We want to lighten the load as quick as possible; that’s our No. 1 goal," Myles said.

In January, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, told reporters that an increasing number of soldiers were becoming nondeployable in part due to musculoskeletal injuries from the heavy loads they carry.

"You can’t hump a rucksack at 8,000-11,000 feet for 15 months, even at a young age, and not have that have an impact on your body," Chiarelli said during a roundtable with reporters.

Another way the Army is trying to lighten a soldier’s load is by building lighter machine guns, said Richard G. Audette of PEO Soldier.

A variant of the M-240 machine gun weighing seven pounds less than what soldiers have now is expected to go into mass production next summer, Audette said. It can’t be mass-produced sooner because the weapon is made out of titanium, which has a long lead time.

The Army also is working on a lightweight shotgun that could be issued to soldiers in the first or second quarter of fiscal 2010, said Lt. Col. Christopher Lehner, also of PEO Soldier.

The M-26 holds five rounds in the magazine and one round in the chamber, and it is modular so it can be attached to an M-4 — meaning soldiers don’t have to switch from their shotgun to their rifle after blasting a door down, Lehner said.

For now, soldiers can replace the butt stocks on their M-16s with more compact M-4 butt stocks, he said.

Starting in November, the Army will issue kits with the M-4 butt stocks and a more reliable buffer, which absorbs the recoil, Lehner said.


Army Lt. Col. Christopher Lehner shows off a new lightweight shotgun being developed by Program Executive Office Soldier that could be issued in the first or second quarter of fiscal 2010.
JEFF SCHOGOL / S&S