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Marines Award $62M Contract for Lighter, Stronger Plate Carriers

 Staff Sgt. Jason Browning, operations chief for Embedded Partnering Team, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), scans the horizon through his rifle combat optic after dismounting during a week-long convoy from Kabul, Oct. 30, 2011. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Timothy L. Solano)
Staff Sgt. Jason Browning, operations chief for Embedded Partnering Team, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), scans the horizon through his rifle combat optic after dismounting during a week-long convoy from Kabul, Oct. 30, 2011. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Timothy L. Solano)

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- Marines will start receiving next-generation plate carriers as soon as next summer as the service fields a new lightweight body armor system that offers better mobility with improved fits.

New Jersey-based Vertical Protective Apparel LLC was awarded a $62 million contract to produce and deliver up to 225,886 Plate Carrier Generation IIIs, defense officials announced Thursday. The new carriers come in eight sizes and offer better ballistic protection compared to the current designs, according to the announcement.

Infantry, schoolhouse and reconnaissance Marines, along with vehicle crewmen and combat engineers, will be the first to get the vests when fielding begins around June 2019. All of the plate carriers are expected to be delivered by September 2023.

The Plate Carrier Generation III comes in three new sizes for Marines of smaller stature, Flora "Mackie" Jordan, the body armor engineer for Marine Corps Systems Command's infantry combat equipment team, said in a release. And since it's lighter than the legacy system, it helps cut down on the fatigue Marines face in the field.

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"We wanted to give as much mobility back to Marines as possible by reducing the weight and bulk of the vest without decreasing ballistic protection," Jordan said. "We were able to reduce the weight of the vest by 25 percent."

To do that, excess material was removed from the shoulders and another inch-and-a-half cut from the bottom of the plate. That will allow Marines' packs to fit better when they're wearing their body armor.

The Plate Carrier Generation III is also made from a laminated laser-cut material, which cuts down on water absorption. The new system takes on about 7 percent of water, compared to the 70 percent absorbed by the current system.

The Marine Corps is also on the hunt for lighter, more flexible body armor. When combined with new lightweight plate prototypes -- in place of the existing Enhanced Small-Arms Protective Inserts -- Marines testing the new plate carriers could remove and reassemble the vest in less than three seconds, according to the release.

"It has a vastly improved quick detach system for Marines to act fast while on missions," said Capt. Frank Coppola, a project officer with SYSCOM's infantry weapons.

Cutting the amount of weight troops carry into battle has been a priority for the Marine Corps and Army. Marines and soldiers were found to have carried upward of 120 pounds on patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That not only slowed them down, but was found to have decreased situational awareness and shooting-response times, according to a new report from the Center for a New American Security.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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