Three brigades with the 82nd Airborne Division began receiving the Army’s newest body armor and plates this past week.
The Modular Scalable Vest fielding isn’t the first to soldiers — that went to the Security Force Assistance Brigades — but paratroopers are getting new plates with the “shooter’s cut” as well as a range of different sizes and tailorable fits for smaller stature and female soldiers.
The MSV replaces the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, which debuted in 2008.
The 82nd was prioritized in the MSV fielding due to its Global Response Force mission, said Lt. Col. Stephen Miller, product manager for Soldier Protective Equipment. More Army units are to follow and the Air Force also chose to upgrade their body armor to the MSV.
The MSV fielding to the division is one year ahead of schedule, he said. An estimated 6,000 soldiers in the division, all close combat forces, are receiving the MSV in the coming weeks.
The fielding will continue across close combat forces, starting in 2022, before other soldiers receive the new body armor.
Miller and Capt. Kim Pierre-Zamora, with Program Executive Office-Soldier, told Army Times in a phone interview Thursday that even the process for issuing the gear has changed.
That’s important, because if soldiers don’t know how to fit the vest correctly, then the new features won’t be used.
Trained fitters help the soldier find the right range of size and help adjust it, Miller said.
All of the fit is based on the plate, and that new plate, or Vital Torso Protection, is an update too.
Though the MSV was issued to SFABs and some deploying units nearly two years ago, the item issued this past week is actually second generation — the plates are updated with a data-driven design. They allow for greater mobility, lighter weight and the same or better protection.
The protection factor comes through data pulled from battlefield damage to body armor and how shots hit soldiers in the past.
By measuring where shots or shrapnel hit troops, designers were able to literally shave some corners off the old rectangular plates, cutting weight and improving comfort.
Right now, the system comes in the Operational Camouflage Pattern common to the standard field uniform.
Beyond fit and weight, the “scalable” part of the system is what helps differentiate it from older models. With the Ballistic Combat Shirt and blast pelvic protector, soldiers can scale up or down levels of protection.
They can go from a “low visibility” carrier setup, which allows them to conceal much of the protection beneath other clothing and add elements to beef up protection when needed.
The BCS and BPP are not yet part of this fielding but will flow to the units at a later date, Miller said.
The MSV has all of the legacy sizes of body armor, but some people fall between sizes. Perhaps someone has longer legs and a shorter torso. Or a smaller stature male soldier might need a different fit. Bone and body structural differences among female soldiers also play a role for correct sizing.
New sizes include small-short, small-long and extra-small, short. Those are in addition to the original sizes of extra small, small, medium, large and extra-large.
As Capt. Pierre-Zamora noted, certain sizes can rub the hip bone creating discomfort and a poorly-fit vest can prevent a soldier from shouldering their weapon properly. Even a new notch cut into the collar allows female soldiers to wear a ponytail, which helps the helmet fit better, as well.
After sizing, Pierre-Zamora noted, two female soldiers continued to wear their body armor when they left and got into their cars.
That was a good sign.
“Nobody wants to wear body armor for fun,” she said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.