Infantry: March 9, 2002


The Army has had difficulty getting enough ceramic reinforcement plates to equip the flak vests issued to troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Less than half of the troops have them, although new production lots are being shipped as fast as they come off of the assembly lines. US soldiers have worn flak jackets since Vietnam. These provide protection for the torso from shrapnel and low-energy bullets such as 9mm pistol rounds. Higher energy rifle bullets will, in many cases, penetrate the vests, but in war more soldiers are hit by fragments than bullets and reducing the overall casualty count is the goal. The new series of "Interceptor" flak jackets are just as effective as the old ones, but much lighter. These are designed, however, to have ceramic plates slipped into pockets in the front and back, and those plates (which basically cover the heart) can stop 7.62mm rifle and machinegun bullets. There are not enough to go around, and these are being given to the troops most likely to get shot at. In some cases, a pair of plates is used to provide two soldiers with frontal protection (and neither with protection from the rear). Even when the Army receives all of the plates it has asked for, only a third of the troops (frontline foxhole infantry) will have the plates in their flak jackets. Those troops in the rear support and headquarters units are considered less likely to come under direct enemy fire, and as the plates are expensive the budget won't buy them for everybody. --Stephen V Cole


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