updated 1/11/2006 11:08:51 PM ET 2006-01-12T04:08:51

The Army plans to send thousands of ceramic body armor plates to Iraq this year to better protect soldiers while the Marine Corps already is delivering such gear, military officers said Wednesday.

In a private appearance before members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the officers defended the body armor available to U.S. troops. A Pentagon study done last summer but only disclosed recently found that improved armor may have prevented or minimized torso wounds that proved fatal to Marines in Iraq.

The committee chairman, Sen. John Warner, said he was satisfied the military was ensuring that U.S. troops had adequate body armor. “Everything that can be done, is being done,” said Warner, R-Va.

But some Democrats urged more congressional oversight on body-armor issues. “Our soldiers and their families deserve nothing less,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said he planned to offer legislation to force the Pentagon to give troops serving in combat zones “the most complete personal body armor protection.” The legislation also would create a $1,100 allowance to each service member to buy body armor from properly certified military suppliers.

230,000 sets
After the briefing, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson said the Army decided to send soldiers side protective plates after troops driving military vehicles made the suggestion over the past year.

He said the Army has finished determining the specifications for the plates and hopes to begin production soon that 230,000 sets can be provided this year.

Sorenson said the protective vest that soldiers now wear has been improved seven times. “It already has some side protections” that were added a year ago, he said. The vest also contains ceramic plates covering the chest and back.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said soldiers in Iraq will get 3 1/2 pound ceramic side plates as well as the Velcro-attached pouches into which the plates will fit on the vest.

The Marine Corps said that since June it has shipped to Iraq 9,000 sets of side plates and that a total of 28,000 will be in the combat zone by April.

Unreleased study
“We’re fielding the best body armor and equipment available, we think, in the world today, and as we have the opportunity to upgrade the equipment, we do that,” Marine Maj. Gen. William Catto said.

The unreleased study that prompted the briefing was done last summer by the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner. It looked at 93 fatal wounds from the start of the war in March 2003 through June 2005. The study found that of 39 fatal torso wounds in which the bullet or shrapnel entered the Marine’s body outside of the ceramic armor plate that protects the chest and back, 31 were close to the plate’s edge.

“Either a larger plate or superior protection around the plate would have had the potential to alter the final outcome,” the report concluded.

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