- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

The Army has begun a search for the next generation of bulletproof body armor.

Pentagon-supervised live-fire testing was recently completed at the Army’s Aberdeen, Md., Proving Ground. Further tests are scheduled before the service chooses a successor to ESAPI, or Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert. It is a system of super-hard ceramic plates designed to stop armor-piercing rounds. ESAPI slides inside an Outer Tactical Vest, creating the Interceptor Body Armor System.

A retired Army officer who has toured Iraq and Afghanistan to poll service members on their armor needs told The Washington Times that one theme stands out: the war fighters say that whatever new plates are chosen, they want the Interceptor to remain relatively lightweight at under 30 pounds. Added weight, they say, restricts mobility and thus increases the chance of being shot.

“They would rather keep the Interceptor at current weight. They don’t want any more weight,” said the source, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press in his current government job. “The soldiers feel safe and protected in terms of it working, but they want it lighter, if possible.”

An Army spokesman declined to comment on the competition.

Warning to Israel

A defense industry executive who has contact with Israelis says they tell him that the Bush administration is sending strong signals to Jerusalem not to strike Iran - at least not before the November election in the U.S.

But truth be told, the Pentagon does not want Israel to hit Iran’s nuclear targets this year, or perhaps ever. Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, made it clear at a news conference earlier this month that he does not want a third front - in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan - with a war with Iran. He said he does not now have sufficient troops to send badly needed reinforcements to Afghanistan.

Iran has promised a robust counterattack against Israel - and against U.S. assets in the Middle East - if the Jewish state launches its F-16 and F-15 fighters to disable Tehran’s network of nuclear research-and-development sites.

Coming home

The last of five reinforcement brigades have left Iraq, officially ending the troop surge. The exit leaves 15 Marine and Army brigades. Now begins a period of assessment that may well lead to President Bush approving a second drawdown at the end of the year.

If retired Army Gen. Jack Keane has his way, U.S. troop strength will remain at 15 brigades for a while.

“For the rest of 2008, we have to not squander the gains we have made,” Gen. Keane, an adviser to commanders in Iraq, told The Times. “Getting down below 15 brigades probably isn’t warranted, given we want to make certain when we pull the five brigades out that all of our assumptions are correct, and it will take awhile to understand that.”

The two key assumptions are the enemy’s strength and the Iraqi military’s capability.

“Those are the two assumptions that we got wrong in the past,” Gen. Keane said. “We underestimated the enemy, and we overestimated the Iraqis from 2003 to 2006.”

Marines vs. Army

As might be expected, there is tension between the storied Army Special Forces (better known as Green Berets) and the Marine Corps’ first special-operations command.

Green Berets have made their mark not only by fighting irregular wars, but also by traveling abroad to train the personnel of friendly nations in the art of counterinsurgency. The mission is called Foreign Internal Defense (FID).

What irks the Green Berets are statements by some Marine brass that the Corps will be doing a lot more foreign defense training in the coming years and may eclipse Special Forces.

A Special Forces veteran told The Times: “If the Marine Corps develops a widespread attitude that they are the experts on Foreign Internal Defense, they will show themselves to be asses.If SF digs in their heels and won’t provide training materials, a huge rift will develop. I don’t think that will happen. With the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, the entire military recognizes the need for foreign training. There are plenty of missions for everyone.”