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Naval Aircrew Specific Body Armor Release


RT&L FOCUS AREA(S): General Warfighting Requirements


OBJECTIVE: Optimally design and develop an innovative, affordable body armor release capability for Rotary Wing Naval Air Crew.

DESCRIPTION: Combat rotorcraft operators strongly desire the capability to jettison negatively buoyant hard plates from their body armor in water survival situations without jettisoning their entire survival vest, especially in the event flotation fails to inflate. Hard plates are worn inside the vest and under gear, and usually load from the bottom which is then secured with hook/loop tape. Typical quick-release designs are gravity-based and rely upon the survivor to find and pull a strap to open the bottom. These gravity-based designs have been found to require multiple pulls and re-gripping the pull strap at ever higher positions to open the bottom. The hard plate’s downward drop is also resisted by the specific gravity of water, as well as frictional resistance from the tight, compressive fit of a heavy vest load. Pin-and-cable quick-releases in typical “maritime” or “marine” vests are an improvement over pull-strap with hook-and-loop designs, but often require complicated rigging and careful donning, which are not often compatible with rapid launch operations. Automatic quick-release mechanisms may work but can pose other hazards; an automatically released plate in a submerged aircraft will contribute to the debris field through which survivors must swim (crews can number up to 40 individuals). An automatic system can also rob the surfacing survivor of his ballistic protection in what may well be a combat environment.

Additionally, it is important that the hard plate release design avoid imposing additional dressed weight and bulk to the already burdened operator. In terms of dry weight, Crew Chiefs dressed in the summer combat configuration carry 52-60 additional pounds; most of it is carried on the front torso. The gear and armor load adds 3-6 inches to the front profile. Possible sources of confusion in an emergency are the round-beaded handle for flotation actuation, and the lozenge-beaded handle that releases the fall-arrest tether. These two releases are located near one another on the upper right and left chest. Although not required, it is highly recommended to work in coordination with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to ensure proper design and to facilitate transition of the final technology.

Aircrew need a hard plate release that, with commanded action and when retrofitted to existing vests that incorporate the ineffective gravity-based quick release, enable the below metrics.

a. releases a single hard plate with a single motion, only requiring one gloved left or right hand by a typical male or female, blind-folded operator;

b. releases respective sizes of Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI)-cut, “shooter’s cut”, and “swimmer’s cut” hard plate forms;

c. does not appreciably increase the weight and bulk burden of the armored vest system;

d. operates in windy or calm air and in turbulent or calm water conditions;

e. operates at a submerged depth of less than or equal to 30 feet;

f. operates in cold water (32 degrees F) through the range of freshwater and seawater salinities;

g. operates in chlorinated swimming pool water;

h. operates reliably in cold and hot ambient air;

i. separates the plate from the vest within 2 seconds of actuation;

j. resists inadvertent actuation while: traversing ship ladders/hatches, operating within 120 knot rotor outwash, conducting pre-flight inspections and boarding aircraft, flying routine missions, flying combat missions, and egressing aircraft in routine or emergency situations;

k. does not create hazards (injury, foreign object debris, snag/trip, static discharge) in any mission or survival operations to include survivable vertical crash loads (those less than or equal to 5Gs);

l. does not interfere with vest or vest gear, inflatable flotation, seat harnesses, fall arrest tethers, helmets or head-mounted gear, communication cords and devices, clothing or other body-mounted gear;

m. does not impede water survival or land survival procedures to include raft boarding and hoisting;

n. does not contribute to wearer’s burn injury hazard;

o. does not give away wearer’s position in covert day or night operations;

p. is resistant to naval aviation environments (salt spray, humidity, drop impact, exposure to petroleum/oil/lubricant contaminants; exposure to sun);

q. has an obvious visual indicator for correct rigging.

Note: NAVAIR will provide Phase I performers with the appropriate guidance required for human research protocols so that they have the information to use while preparing their Phase II Initial Proposal. Institutional Review Board (IRB) determination as well as processing, submission, and review of all paperwork required for human subject use can be a lengthy process. As such, no human research will be allowed until Phase II and work will not be authorized until approval has been obtained, typically as an option to be exercised during Phase II.

Note: Any textile components used to develop the resulting material must be entirely manufactured in the United States of constituents wholly grown and/or produced in the United States.

PHASE I: Develop a plate release and demonstrate feasibility for retrofit and operation in any military approved commercial vest that incorporates a typical gravity-based quick release design. Resulting concepts should include a background section with explanatory figures describing the basic principles of the proposed technology concept, and publications or other references that outline the application being considered. Provide a 3-tiered work breakdown structure with a Gantt chart of Phase I design activities, and include make/break criteria and events. Submit Technical Performance Measures (TPMs) that will be tracked throughout Phases I-III for Government review and approval and include at a minimum: dry weight, bulk/profile, time from actuation to plate separation (from vest structure) while submerged in swimming pool water, human-operated reliability, and maintainer mean time to rig, inspect, and certify mechanism “safe-for-flight”. Provide experimental work that shows the technology concept will quickly release hard plates in air and in water by an operator with a single hand and a single action. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

Note: Please refer to the statement included in the Description above regarding human research protocol for Phase II.

PHASE II: Develop and validate the plate release technology by incorporating it into a Government-identified vest system design. Provide a detailed, 3-tiered work breakdown structure with a Gantt chart of Phase III activities that include make/break criteria and events, perform required quality assurance testing utilizing approved quality assurance measures, and track performance against agreed upon TPMs throughout Phase II. During the Phase II Option, perform testing of the technology in the form of a system level demonstration while incorporated in multiple size small and size x-large armored vests in a swimming pool. Include, in this non-exclusive list of desired Phase II deliverables, raw data, photography and/or video recording, data recording sheets, documentation of test devices (manufacturer, model, serial, accuracy, calibration status, etc.), test reports, draft engineering drawings, an interface control document, and a performance specification.

Note: Please refer to the statement included in the Description above regarding human research protocol for Phase II.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Finalize the developed armor plate release technology and provide a technical data package to include a performance specification, interface control document, and engineering drawings in accordance with military standards. Develop and assist with required qualification testing and training. Finalize all testing. Document the quality assurance test program in accordance with industry best practices. Transition the technology to the Fleet as a retrofit, and to new procurements as required.

This topic may benefit the private sector in recreational equipment for which quick divestment of structure-mounted or body-mounted gear carriers are desirable or required for safety. Examples may include boat deck go-bags, back-packs, tool vests for workers at height, and tool vests for oil rig workers.


  1. Kovach, G. “Deadly Osprey crash spurred safety changes.” The San Diego Tribune, June 30, 2015.  
  2. Quinn, R. “Beach Marine one of four killed in Iraq copter crash.” The Virginian Pilot, December 7, 2006.
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