Military trying on bomb-proof underwear for size

The Army and Marine Corps are testing out ballistic undergarments to protect deployed troops against IEDs.

The U.S. may have pulled out of Iraq and be drawing down in Afghanistan, but deployed troops continue to face a mounting threat posed by improvised explosive devices.

An abundance of money, research, development and brain power have gone into finding ways to protect service members from IEDs, including in ways you might not immediately consider.

According to Navy Cmdr. Jack Downes, integration branch chief of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the military is making strides in developing special underwear to “protect pelvic-region function.”

Last year, the Army started experimenting with heavy silk protective undergarments, and in January the Marine Corps released a request for information for the development of ballistic material-strength underwear.

“The protection provided will help lower the probability of infection to the pelvic region by limiting the amount of debridement experienced in an explosive event,” the RFI states.

Downes, who compared some versions as being diaper-like but effective, underscored the gravity of the issue when he spoke at the Soldier Technology conference in Arlington, Va., Jan. 26.

“They’re still getting after us – there’s been an increase in attacks on dismounted troops from last year total to this year total, and a significant increase from 2009 as well,” he said.

Downes described the anti-IED underwear as being made of Kevlar, the material famously used in bullet-proof vests. But troops report the Kevlar isn’t very comfortable, so the Marines are looking for something with a better fit, according to an MSNBC report.

As a solution the military is looking toward the aforementioned heavy silk, but there, too, lies a snag in the form of a World War II-era rule requiring the Defense Department to buy domestic products for food and uniforms, BusinessWeek reported. The Pentagon hasn’t found an acceptable U.S. seller of the most effective types of silk.

While the Marines and Army were given a one-time waiver to test out some British undergarments last year, American companies will need to be found to supply the shorts. Kevlar is made by Delaware-based DuPont, so that’s been given a green light; the Marines have said they’ve identified some U.S. companies to provide suitable materials as well.

That’s good news for troops facing the IED threat on a daily basis.

“A modest amount of protection can make a big difference in men being able to depart the battlefield intact,” Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, told USAToday last year.

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