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New gear for grunts: Body armor, IED jammers and optics on the way

Jun. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Marine Corps wants to replace the protective inserts used in body armor, above, with stronger, but lighter plates. Commanders downrange have issued an urgent needs request for new sights for the M32A1 Multiple Grenade Launcher, left. (Lance Cpl. Michael S. Oxton / Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps has taken steps to address three pressing gear concerns: lighter, stronger body armor, improved sights for grenade launchers and more sophisticated jammers for improvised explosive devices.

The Marine Corps has taken steps to address three pressing gear concerns: lighter, stronger body armor, improved sights for grenade launchers and more sophisticated jammers for improvised explosive devices.

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The Marine Corps has taken steps to address three pressing gear concerns: lighter, stronger body armor, improved sights for grenade launchers and more sophisticated jammers for improvised explosive devices.

Urgent needs statements from commanders downrange prompted two of the contract solicitations to the defense industry, meaning Marines may soon see new gear. The high-profile projects:

Body armor

To better protect Marines from multiple hits by high-velocity rounds — without weighing them down — Corps officials hope to begin fielding next-generation body armor as early as October.

Marine Corps Systems Command has asked industry to develop the Enhanced Capability Small Arms Protective Insert. The goal of the program, which will replace the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, “is to protect the Marine against emerging threats without compromising mobility,” according to Barb Hamby, a command spokeswoman at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

Exactly which types of rounds the new plates must defeat is classified information available only to competing companies with the required clearance. The current plates are rated to stop up to .30- caliber M2 armor-piercing rounds.

MARCORSYSCOM has asked defense contractors to submit their state-of-the-art body armor designs. At least two contracts will be awarded for 400 plates each. Those plates will be used for further testing and development, according to a solicitation on FedBizOpps.gov, updated April 18.

Whatever industry provides, no weight increases — regardless of increased performance — will be accepted, Hamby said. The plates would likely fit in existing vests.

Should a company provide plates for testing that meet the Marine Corps’ needs, procurement officials plan to move quickly.

“If the R&D effort for the EC SAPI proves successful, then the EC SAPI is expected to be procured in FY14,” Hamby said. “The ESAPI will be maintained until such time as a sufficient quantity of EC SAPI can be procured for the entirety of the Marine Corps.”

The military began widely using ESAPI plates in 2005 to provide better protection against high-velocity, armor-piercing rounds. But eight years on, the services continue to push for stronger, lighter, more ergonomic body armor that not only provides protection but also increases mobility and helps prevent musculoskeletal injuries associated with heavy loads.

Toward that end, procurement officials launched the Marine Corps Load Effects Assessment Program, or MC-LEAP, in 2012 to determine how ever-increasing loads are affecting Marines’ ability to maneuver on the battlefield. Officials toured the fleet with a mobile obstacle course and asked Marines to perform a multitude of timed physical and mental tasks to determine how heavy loads impeded their ability to operate in battle. All pieces of a Marine’s kit were scrutinized, but body armor has consistently been identified as a concern.

Grenade launcher sights

New grenade launcher sights are being rushed to the field in response to urgent requests from commanders downrange.

The new sight is lighter and more reliable than old sights, Hamby said.

While older AN/PSQ-18A Day Night Sights produced by L3 Warrior Systems weighed 17.7 ounces, the new sights weigh 35 percent less, just 11.5 ounces. That is expected to help address complaints from Marines on the battlefield who say heavy sights cause weapon imbalance, affecting accuracy. The new sight should not affect accuracy by more than 2 minutes of angle, or about 2 inches at 100 yards, according to minimum requirements published by MARCORSYSCOM.

The new GLS will be compatible with both the single-shot M203 grenade launcher and the six-shot M32A1 Multiple Grenade Launcher, which both fire a variety of 40mm rounds.

In addition to weight savings and increased reliability, GLS should also improve first-round accuracy by incorporating ballistic data. It will not improve overall accuracy, however, which is limited by the 40mm grenade’s inherent ballistic qualities, Hamby said.

The Corps plans to buy 1,812 of the sights, according to an April 26 award notice posted to FedBizOpps.gov. L3 Insight Technology Inc. won the $2.7 million contract.

Delivery of new sights will begin in August, Hamby said. Fielding will start soon after and should be completed by the first quarter of fiscal 2014, which ends in December.

Expedited procurement efforts — announced to industry in March 2012 — were sparked by two Urgent Universal Need Statements submitted by commanders from I Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd) and III MEF.

They specifically called for a sight that is “lighter, smaller and more reliable than the current capability,” Hamby said.

The GLS will allow Marines to acquire targets during the day or night, with the ability to use an infrared illuminator to identify targets and an IR laser for aiming. The laser and illuminator can be set together or independently in high or low modes, for aiming out to about 800 meters or out to about 440 meters, respectively.

New GLS sights will not replace the Corps’ current inventory of AN/PSQ-18A sights, only augment them, Hamby said.

IED jammers

For marine expeditionary units, Systems Command is urgently seeking jamming devices that could defeat a broader range of radio-controlled bombs.

The command has asked industry to submit proposals to provide existing dismounted and mounted Counter Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare systems that will help Marines in vehicles and on foot avoid lethal IED attacks.

Two separate solicitations seek to procure 360 dismounted and 150 mounted systems in support of the CREW Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operations Capable Program.

“These systems would be an added capability for MEU SOC units and would provide them better protection against radio-controlled improvised explosive devices,” Hamby said.

Marines have used IED jamming devices since at least 2004, during the early days of the Iraq War. Since then, a series of of improved IED-jamming devices have been fielded every few years.

“While there are several CREW system designs in various stages of development, production, fielding and sustainment, there is an urgent need to provide Marines protection from current and emerging threats,” according to a statement released to industry May 8 and updated May 16.

Exact capabilities are classified, but the new jammers should provide more robust capabilities than legacy systems.

“These will be jammers equipped with the latest proven technology,” Hamby said.

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