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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army plans to issue all soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan new, lighter body armor by the end of the year, the service announced this week.

Steve Pinter, deputy project manager for soldier equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier, said the new armor will also provide more protection than what soldiers wear now, including better carriers for side ballistic plates, a better fitting throat protector, and an additional 52 square inches of protection for the rear of the vests.

The Army is expected to begin fielding the new Improved Outer Tactical Vests this month, with deliveries to Iraq and Afghanistan expected to be finished by late December, Pinter said.

Along with the protection and weight improvements — the new body armor is also three pounds lighter than the Outer Tactical Vests that soldiers wear now — the vests have a number of other advantages, Pinter said.

The IOTV has a quick-release handle that allows soldiers to drop their body armor in emergencies.

“The vest falls off the soldier in two pieces and can be reassembled in a few minutes,” Pinter said.

Other improvements include a waistband that takes much of the vest’s weight off a soldier’s shoulders, and a side opening in the armor to give medical personnel access to a wounded soldier.

The Army has been working on the new body armor since last spring, with testing by soldiers at Fort Lewis, Wash., a PEO Soldier news release said.

The Marine Corps introduced a new version of body armor this year that features two extra ballistic plates and a ripcord that allows Marines to get out of their vests easily in emergencies.

Known as Modular Tactical Vests, that new body armor came in response to a May 2005 study by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology that found several Marines died of wounds to exposed areas of their torso, such as their shoulders. The Navy has said recently it plans to buy 16,000 MTVs for Seabees.

The Marine Corps plans to introduce its next generation of body armor in the next two to three years, depending on when the industry can come up with materials that are lighter and more flexible than what Marines wear now.

The Army plans to debut its next generation body armor in fiscal 2010 or fiscal 2012, as part of the Future Force Warrior system. The new system is expected to feature six ballistic plates that will be shaped to provide more protection along soldiers’ back and sides.

But first the shaped plates must be thoroughly tested to make sure they provide as much protection as the ballistic plates in the body armor soldiers wear now.

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