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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005





Part IV

Sustaining the Campaign


Chapter 12
Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations

 

Personal Body Armor

The use of improved personal body armor by the Army and Marines during OIF has saved thousands of lives. But this success story was also not without controversy. Early versions of body armor were developed and tested in the late 1990s in the Balkans and elsewhere.86 Given budget realities before 2001, the Army planned to issue the updated Interceptor Body Armor to its Soldiers over an 8-year period between 2000 and 2007. Initially intended only for Soldiers engaged in direct combat, the new body armor got is first test during OEF in late 2001 and 2002. Using a combination of synthetic fiber (Kevlar, as used for years in the Army’s helmets) and ceramic plates called Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI), the body armor could stop high-powered rifle rounds, unlike its predecessors.87 This was a revolutionary development in protection for ground forces.

When US forces crossed into Iraq in March 2003, not every Soldier had been issued the latest version of Interceptor Body Armor. Major General Walter Wojdakowski, the CJTF-7 Deputy Commander, like many of his Soldiers, wore the older style flak vest when the invasion began.88 Based on the effectiveness of the Interceptor Body Armor, the Army accelerated its fielding during OIF. In May 2003 the Army ordered the new body armor for every Soldier in OIF, and then extended the requirement to include all DOD personnel operating in CENTCOM. These two policy decisions increased the demand more than tenfold. The Army requirement for the special plates rose from roughly 10,000 in December 2002 to 110,000 by March 2003, and then, to just over 475,000 in December 2003.89

The national industrial base was unable to meet the spike in demand. Two critical materials were in short supply, both for the vests and the hard ceramic plates that fit into the vest. It also took some time for material producers and manufacturers to ramp up production. DuPont Chemicals was the only domestic producer of the Kevlar fiber panels used in the vests in 2003. The DOD approved an exception under the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations allowing vest makers to use another type of fiber panel, manufactured in the Netherlands, as a replacement for Kevlar panels. The shortfall in ceramic plates was caused by a shortage of a material called Spectra Shield, made only by Honeywell in 2003. Plate producers dealt with the shortage of Spectra Shield by manufacturing plates using Kevlar and other aramid fibers. In April 2004 DSM Dyneema, a foreign firm that produces Dyneema, a Spectra Shield equivalent, opened a production facility in the United States to meet the demand.90

Thus, between October 2002 and September 2004 Interceptor Body Armor was not available to every Soldier, Marine, and DOD civilian in theater who needed it. The effectiveness of the new body armor was immediately evident and many Soldiers and Marines were saved from wounds or death because of it. Some Soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq during this period resorted to buying their own commercial body armor, because they incorrectly believed they would be forced to conduct combat operations without the latest version. The Congressional Budget Office later estimated that as many as 10,000 personnel may have purchased vests for which the Army, with Congressional support, promised to reimburse them.91 Officials in the AMC worked with US and foreign producers and manufacturers to deliver over 100,000 additional vests and associated ceramic plates by the end of January 2004, some 8 months after major combat operations were declared over.92 As was the case with other aspects of OIF, the benefits of this revolution in Soldier protection were obscured by controversy.


Chapter 12. Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations





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