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Lighter than its bulky predecessor, the Navy's redesigned Aircrew Endurance (AE) Survival Vest recently attained initial operational capability (IOC), a key milestone in the development of the life-saving equipment, the service announced Dec. 18.

The upgraded AE survival vest provides improved ballistic-protection, superior load distribution and a new universal color for deployment in a wider variety of terrains, Navy officials said, adding that the improvements will decrease the physical burden on rotary-wing aircrew during extended missions.

IOC status, a pivotal gauge in the military procurement process, is achieved when a system or product can meet the operational capabilities for users before proceeding to full operational capability (FOC). With IOC reached Nov. 27, the AE vest is scheduled to achieve FOC during the first quarter of 2016.

"The Aircrew Systems Program Office [PMA-202] is focused on identifying solutions to improve performance and safety for the human element of the weapons system," said Capt. Nora Burghardt, program manager for PMA-202, which is aligned under the Naval Air Systems Command based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. "Under the Aircrew Endurance program, the Navy will field a family of products all focused on reducing physical fatigue and stress during longer missions now being conducted by Navy and Marine Corps aircrew."

The new AE system resolves deficiencies existing in legacy aircrew survival vests and fields upgraded armor protection. Two configurations of the new AE system are being deployed, one for mobile aircrew and another for those aircrew who remain seated during flight. The AE mobile aircrew vest weighs 29.6 pounds and the AE seated version 19.5 pounds — about 7 pounds lighter than legacy AIRSAVE survival vests.

Worn over the flight suit, the vest provides protection from shrapnel and bullets. The mobile crewman configuration provides an 80-inch tether connection to the aircraft allowing crewmembers to move freely about the cabin as they carry out normal duties. It prevents ejection from the aircraft in a crash and incorporates a quick-disconnection release from the aircraft during an emergency egress.

As a survival item, the vest provides locations to carry emergency-signaling devices, radios, medical kit, emergency underwater breathing devices and an inflatable life preserver. In a rescue situation, the vest provides a harness used for hoisting the aircrew into a rescue helicopter.

PMA-202 manages all systems that directly support the aircrew, troops and passengers in the performance of their missions. The program office supports more than 780 products common to many naval aircraft platforms and aircrew, including ejection seats, flight deck cranials, flight deck and aircrew clothing as well as chemical biological, nuclear protective equipment.