January 11, 2006

US soldiers have best body armor: Pentagon

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. troops in Iraq are using body
armor that strikes a balance of protecting them while allowing
movement to do their jobs and withstand hot temperatures, the
Pentagon said on Wednesday.

The Senate Armed Services Committee summoned defense
officials to a closed briefing to explain a Pentagon report
disclosed last week that said more complete body armor could
have prevented or limited about 80 percent of the fatal torso
wounds suffered by Marines killed in Iraq.

Army officials said improvements are being made to armor
systems to provide more side protection but that mobility also
is a concern.

"We must not burden our soldiers with weight to the point
that they become ineffective and susceptible to other dangers,"
Army Major Gen. Stephen Speakes told reporters after the

Congressional Democrats have pounced on the report, which
was compiled by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at the
request of the Marine Corps, as evidence of the Bush
administration's flawed conduct of the Iraq war.

The report, which was not intended for public release,
examined the cases of Marines fatally wounded from the start of
the war in March 2003 through June 2005, and found weaknesses
in the torso protective gear.

After The New York Times obtained the study and reported on
it, the Pentagon released three of the six pages of findings,
but said the remainder would reveal vulnerabilities in
protective gear to the enemy.

The study said bullets or shrapnel hit the Marines'
shoulders, the sides of their torsos or other areas not fully
covered by ceramic plates contained in the body armor in at
least 74 of 93 fatal wounds it examined.

"Either a larger plate or superior protection around the
plate would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome,"
the study said.


Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, Armed Services
Committee chairman, said he was satisfied that the Pentagon has
"periodically upgraded the body armor consistent with facts and
findings" from the medical community, on-scene commanders and
service members themselves.

Adding more body armor to existing systems that can weigh
nearly 90 pounds could "reduce the mobility of the individual
to a point where he or she can't even protect themselves in
trying to dodge certain situations in combat," Warner said.

The Pentagon is in the process of getting new side and
shoulder protections but Democrats on the Senate panel
questioned why it did not move faster after the report came out
in June.

"Our troops not only deserve the best equipment available
but they have a right to receive this equipment in a timely
manner," said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

"Too many soldiers in Iraq have put their lives on the line
without the armor and armored Humvees they needed," said Edward
Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Major Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, deputy for the Army's
acquisition and systems management, said 230,000 sets of new
side armor were to be delivered to Iraq throughout this year.
He said a series of improvements to existing armor fielded in
January last year already was providing some side protection.

Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said he
would push legislation requiring the Pentagon to provide "the
most complete personal body armor protection to military
personnel serving in combat operations." The bill would offer a
protective equipment allowance of up to $1,100 to each service
member to buy body armor from military suppliers.

There have been 2,210 U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war,
which began in March 2003, with more than 16,000 wounded in
combat, according to Pentagon figures.