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Army to field improved body armor plate

Posted on January 20, 2009 - Filed Under Body Armor |

Three defense contractors will begin making the next generation of body armor plates for soldiers in combat early next year, Army officials said Wednesday.

The Army has tapped BAE Systems Aerospace & Defense Group Inc., Ceradyne Inc. and The Protective Group to produce X Small Arms Protective Inserts as part of three Oct. 3 contract awards worth more than $6 billion.

Body armor officials began searching for the new protective plate technology in May 2007 in an effort to equip soldiers with armor that outperforms the current Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts currently fielded.

The body armor soldiers wear in Iraq and Afghanistan consists of vests designed to protect against shrapnel and 9mm rounds, fitted with protective composite ceramic ESAPI and Enhanced Side Ballistic Inserts. Together the system protects against large caliber ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds.

Program Executive Office Soldier officials would not release specifics on XSAPI’s performance, but said “ESAPI protects against the current ballistic threat and XSAPI will defeat potential emerging ballistic threats, as well as protecting against current ballistic threats,” PEO Soldier spokesman Adam Warfield said in a Sept. 15 written response to Army Times questions.

But the increased protection that comes with XSAPI could mean more weight for soldiers to carry into battle.

“The next generation of small arms protection, the XSAPI, could potentially weigh 10 percent heavier than the current ESAPI,” which weigh 5.45 pounds each, according to a recent “special notice” posted on Federal Business Opportunities.

“As a result of providing the highest level of protection possible to the warfighter as soon as possible, the weights of armor systems have continued to creep upwards,” the notice stated. “The desired outcome of this effort is to develop an XSAPI armor system while weighing equal to or less than the currently fielded ESAPI.”

The contracts the Army awarded to the three companies are for both ESAPI and XSAPI plates.

BAE Systems award was for $2.8 billion, Ceradyne’s award was for $2.4 billion and the Protective Group’s award was for $1.2 billion.

“Each vendor that was awarded a contract received an initial delivery order for 500 sets” each of XSAPI and ESAPI plates, said Warfield.

Testing on XSAPI is scheduled to begin in November, Warfield said. The Army is scheduled to make a production authorization decision on XSAPI in December and production is slated for early 2009, he said.

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