The Corps is gearing up to field its new lightweight body armor plates, designed to be worn in the Corps’ low intensity or counterinsurgency style conflicts.
On Friday the Defense Department announced the Navy awarded a nearly $216 million contract to Point Blank Enterprises for the purchase of up to 680,706 of the new lightweight plates.
Maj. Ken Kunze, a spokesman for Marine Corps Systems Command, told Marine Corps Times that the Corps expects to kick off fielding the new plates during the second quarter of fiscal year 2020 and complete by 2023.
The new body armor plates will protect “against the preponderance of likely threats while improving mobility” and will reduce the hard body armor weight burden on Marines by 38 percent, Kunze said.
The Corps has been in the hunt for lighter body armor as the force tries to reduce the weight burden and combat load carried by Marines and grunts, which a government watchdog report said can be as high as 117 pounds to 119 pounds.
One solution was to field a set a new set of armor plates that would provide commanders flexibility to match body armor with the threat in the region the Marines were operating in.
That means Marines don’t always need to slap on the nearly 15 pound enhanced small arms protective, or ESAPI plates, while operating in low intensity conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, where a lighter, more mobile armor plate would be sufficient.
The heavy ESAPI plates will still be important, especially as the Corps faces down near-peer rivals equipped with better and more capable weapon systems.
Nick Pierce, the armor team lead for infantry combat equipment at Marine Corps Systems Command, previously told Marine Corps Times that the Corps was seeking to shave the 15 pound ESAPI plate down to roughly 8.6 pounds for a medium-sized Marine.
Marines can shed a total of 8 pounds to 10 pounds from their combat load when the lightweight plate is used in conjunction with the Corps’ new Plate Carrier Gen III system, Pierce explained.
The Corps is also looking at new polymer based ammunition and a lighter helmet for grunts to help shave the pounds carried by infantry Marines.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.