WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army, under pressure to issue more protective gear to its soldiers in Iraq, has signed a $70 million emergency contract with a California company to rush ceramic body armor to the front lines. The sole-source contract, with California-based Ceradyne Inc., was approved last week and announced Friday. It comes on the heels of a Pentagon study that found side armor could have saved dozens of U.S. lives in Iraq. The Army is planning to buy 230,000 sets of the ceramic side plates. Army spokesman Paul Boyce said that one company will not be able to deliver that order in the time required, so additional vendors are being sought through an open-bid process. “Our goal is to continue providing the American soldier with the best, most protective body armor in the world,” Boyce said. “We are working with soldiers, commanders, the medical community and industry to continue these improvements while ensuring the safety of our soldiers.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card The company is expected to begin shipping the armor plates in January and to complete the order by May or June. Each of the side plates weighs 2 1/2 pounds. Earlier this week, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said he thought soldiers should be required to wear the ceramic side plates even though they added weight and may limit mobility. While his pronouncement was not an order, it reflected the military’s ongoing struggle to answer criticism that soldiers are going to war without the armor they need. Soldiers have said the added armor will weigh them down and limit their fighting flexibility.