The Corps is in the beginning stages of researching a new, lighter alternative ballistic body armor plate for counterinsurgency style conflicts that is nearly six pounds lighter than the legacy plates.
And on Thursday, it held an industry day with 16 companies vying to produce the Corps’ latest body armor.
The goal is to reduce battlefield fatigue and provide commanders with flexibility on the type of armor protection they decide to carry into combat, according to Nick Pierce, the armor team lead for Infantry Combat Equipment at Marine Corps Systems Command.
While the current Enhanced Small Arms Protective, or ESAPI, have been highly effective in saving lives on the battlefield, they weigh nearly a combined 15 pounds, the Corps wants to shave that down to roughly 8.6 pounds for a medium-sized Marine, Pierce said.
But don’t expect the ESAPI to disappear just yet.
The new plates are being crafted for low intensity threat environments like the counterinsurgency style wars that have embroiled American forces for nearly 20 years.
While the new plates will “defeat a preponderance of threats” in low intensity conflicts, the ESAPIs will still be “critical in some threat environments,” Pierce explained to Marine Corps Times.
But the changes to the new plates are still likely to be minimal.
The Corps has decided to keep the same basic shape of the ESAPI, and there’s unlikely to be any major changes in materials used to construct the armor plates
“The materials for plates haven’t had a big tech leap,” Pierce said. “A lot of people are trying to find that next leap.”
The Army recently fielded a new plate, but its relatively of the same construction as the ESAPI, according to Pierce.
“There may be incremental changes … like the ceramic improving a little bit,” Pierce explained.
But Pierce said he didn’t expect any major changes over the next five years.
“We are looking at some unique things,” he added.
A lot of data and analysis is being pored over, to include assessments of the threat environment by the intelligence community for the construction of the new plates.
So far, the Corps has tested a prototype of the lighter plates and found Marines had nearly eight percent faster mobility over the heavier ESAPIs.
The new plates — when combined with the new Plate Carrier Gen III system — will reduce a Marine’s load burden by a total of eight to 10 pounds, according to Pierce.
The Corps expects to award a contract sometime in fiscal 2019 for the lightweight plates, and fielding might kick off in 2020, Pierce said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.