Flawed Body Armor Tests: “Rounding” Measurements

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The October, 2009 Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) report to Congress, entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding,”  confirms deviations from approved US Army testing protocols, “the majority of which seem to make the testing easier to pass and favor the vendors . . .”   One glaring example of this skewed testing in favor of military suppliers are “Rounding” Measurements of Back-face Deformation (“BFD”).

When a test bullet strikes the target ceramic ballistic protective plate and does not penetrate the plate, the impact of the strike can make a depression in the clay backing placed behind the plate to simulate the plate being worn on a torso.  In the ballistic testing world, this depth of this depression is called BFD, and the degree of BFD is can be cause for assigning a “limited failure” or even a “catastrophic failure” to that specific test plate, depending on the measured BFD.  (Visualize the depth of the BFD to the clay backing of a test plate and then visualize having your sternum or spinal column depressed by 1.7 inches to 1.9 inches to get an idea of why BFD  is a “BFD”.)

For the testing reported on by this GAO inquiry, for a first test shot a BFD greater than 43 millimeters (1.7 inches) but less than 48 millimeters (1.9 inches) is evaluated as a “limited failure,” while a BFD “greater than 43 millimeters on a second shot” also qualifies a “limited failure.” Any BFD on any shot equal to or greater than 48 millimeters is evaluated as a “catastrophic failure.”

During these Back-Face Deformation Tests (“BFD”), the GAO noted:  “Army testers rounded down back-face deformation measurements which is not authorized in established testing protocols . . .”    Take a deep breath, and read that sentence again.   The Army and the DOT&E had a choice when it came to rounding (if they wanted to do it at all). They chose to round down.   Here’s an example cited in the GAO report:  On one shot with a BFD measured as 43.306, the Army recorded the 43.306 mm BDF as a 43 mm BFD, and the shot went from “failed” based on empirical data, to passed (with no penalty).  

GAO wrote about the overall test sample (of 14 shots) from which the immediately preceding BFD data was taken:   According to official test data, only 7 of these 14 shots were failures (50 percent). This is due to the Army’s practice of incorrectly rounding down back-face deformations during First Article Testing [phase 2].  One shot that resulted in a back-face deformation of 43.306 was officially rounded down to 43 and not penalized, but had Army testers [and their DOT&E overseers] followed the protocols and not rounded this result down, 8 of the 14 shots would have resulted in penalties.

The result is crystal clear: When presented with an opportunity to select an option that could have decreased risk to Soldiers while increasing risk/cost to contractors, the Army and DOT&E chose the opposite. DOD chose the option that increased risk to Soldiers while reducing risk/cost to contractors.

 Pouring salt into the Army/DOT&E festering sore, GAO wrote:  “. . . officials we spoke with from one private industry ballistics testing facility said that their practice was to always round results up, not down . . . As a result of rounding [down], two designs passed First Article Testing that would have failed if the measurements had not been rounded.”

If you are keeping score:  Contractors – 1   Soldiers – 0

Unfortunately, there is more to these consistently contrived test procedures that I will report in subsequent news articles for SFTT.

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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GAO Report Slams Body Armor Test Procedures

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The October, 2009 Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) Report to Congressional Requesters, titled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding,” contains this devastating observation:

“Due to these deviations [from approved testing protocols], the majority of which seem to make the testing easier to pass and favor the vendors, we continue to believe that it is necessary to have an independent external expert review the results of First Article Testing and the overall effect of DOD’s deviations on those results before the plates are fielded.”

The GAO study confirms what SFTTand others have been saying for several years:  Flawed test procedures and the failure of the US Army to apply their own test protocols fairly and impartially has likely resulted in inferior body armor for US troops serving in harm’s way.    No wonder the Pentagon and its congressional enablers have tried to pretend that the report says something different from what GAO wrote into the official record.

In subsequent News updates for SFTT, I will cite specific examples as to why the GAO report is so devastating to the US Army and the Department of Defense and how contractors have generally been favored to the detriment of the safety of our frontline soldiers.

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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SFTT Website Now Live

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After several months of redesign, the SFTT website is now back online to spread the message that we can all help to ensure that America’s frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear. 

Soldiers for the Truth (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation founded by the late Col. David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England to insure that our frontline troops have the best available leadership, equipment and training.   SFTT is a non-partisan, apolitical foundation to provide our brave defenders and those who care deeply about them with a national platform that spotlights critical issues directly affecting their chances of both winning battles and surviving combat.

We are deeply thankful to Inguna and Gvido Trepsa of Ante Merdiem Design for their tireless effort to design a compelling and state-of-the-art website to support SFTT’s campaigns to support our front line troops. 

Learn how you can add your voice to the thousands of other that care deeply about the enormous sacrifice these young men and women make each day to defend our country.

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Honoring my father, Col. Lowell E. May (USAF)

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As a small child, I remember sitting down with my father leafing through a scrapbook of pictures that he had taken in North Africa during WWII. While the scrapbook was sadly lost in a fire, I vividly recall that many photos of his fellow B-26 Martin Marauder pilots and crewmen had crosses inked-in beside them.  My dad patiently explained that these brave men had lost their lives in the war and this was his way of honoring their memory. 

While he rarely talked about his combat experiences, I do recall him telling me that 60 of the 200 aircraft that had made the trip across the Atlantic to North Africa had been lost at sea due to mechanical failure, lack of fuel or some other non-combat related cause.   While my dad passed away many years ago, I still recall his sadness that these brave young men had unnecessarily perished because their equipment was not tested properly.

Now some 60 years later, it is difficult to believe that our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan still don’t have adequate protective gear.  When will our military leadership wake-up to insure that our troops have the proper equipment to have a fighting chance to come home alive and in one piece?   

Richard W. May

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Remembering P.F.C. Theartis Watts, Jr., (USMC)

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Theartis Watts was an 18-year old rifleman in my Marine infantry platoon in Viet Nam in 1968. He was a big-city kid from Philadelphia with an incredible knack for finding delicious Vietnamese fruits and vegetables to augment our C-rations, and he had one of the most brilliant smiles I’ve ever seen. When he smiled, which was often and in the most dire circumstances, his entire face lit up. Theartis won a Bronze Star with Combat “V” for conspicuous gallantry on April 13, 1968 in a nasty firefight a few kilometers east of Hue City. When my platoon sergeant and his radioman were killed, Theartis took over the radio and established comm with our company commander. Since my radioman had been wounded, and his radio rendered inoperable by enemy machine gun fire, Theartis’ action to secure an operable radio, while under heavy enemy fire was critical to making higher headquarters aware of the severity of our tactical situation.

 

After I transferred out of the platoon, Threartis remained behind. It was in this position on August 17, 1968, that he led a night-time patrol of Marines in an area south of Da Nang. When in their ambush position, Theartis detected a group of shadowy figures approaching. Under his Rules of Engagement, he was authorized to open fire without further action, but due to ongoing problems with RVN Popular Force (local militia loyal to Saigon) patrols wondering into Marine-only areas, Theartis challenged the approaching group. The response was immediate bursts of automatic weapons fire from the group, which proved to be a hard-core VC patrol.

 

Theartis was fatally wounded in the first bursts, but his Marine patrol was able to return fire from their concealed positions and secure the ambush site, forcing the VC patrol to flee. Theartis knew well that by issuing this challenge when he could have just opened fire on the unidentified figures he was taking upon himself the risk that by giving up the element of surprise he would both forfeit the Marines’ tactical advantage and put himself at mortal danger.

 

P.F.C. Theartis Watts gave his life in an attempt to insure that no friendly Vietnamese forces would suffer another “friendly fire” encounter as long as this 18-year old Marine was in charge.

 

[ See  here for Theartis Watts, Jr. on the Virtual Wall. ]

 

Contributor:  Roger Charles

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Levin, McCain Request Review of Body Armor Systems

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By Roger Charles

President’s Note:

Well, folks, sometimes things move much faster in Washington than experience would lead one to expect. This happened Monday and yesterday (May 21 and 22) when Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain, Chairman and Ranking Minority Member respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee short-circuited the public dispute between the Army acquisition mafia and NBC News about recent NBC reporting (assisted by SFTT and DefenseWatch) that showed Pinnacle Armor’s Dragon Skin performed “significantly better” (the words of retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing) than the DOD issued Interceptor Body Armor system in the first-ever comparative “shoot-off.”

SFTT/DefenseWatch have had as our final objective on the body armor issue for over a year and a half: “best-available” body armor for America’s frontline troops, and as the first intermediate objective we have called for full and fair ballistic tests of all feasible body armor systems to determine what is truly “best-available.” Once such testing takes place, America’s Grunts and their families and friends will finally have a definitive answer to the question as to what body armor these great defenders of freedom should be wearing on the killing fields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Continue Reading →

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Webb & Clinton Call For Investigation Into The Effectiveness Of Body Armor Issued To Our Troops

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Washington, DC – In light of recent media reports suggesting that a particular body armor system may offer better protection than the system currently being used by our service members, Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) — both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee — today called on Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker to initiate a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation to reassess the body armor systems currently being issued by all the military services and the Special Operations Command for effectiveness and reliability against the threats facing U.S. troops in combat.

“For several years, I have heard reports from active duty troops and military experts that Dragon Skin body armor is more effective than that currently being used,” said Senator Webb. “We owe it to those who are in harm’s way to examine conclusively whether this is true.”

“With United States troops risking their lives daily in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, we owe it to them to make sure they have the best equipment possible,” Senator Clinton said. Continue Reading →

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Army 4-Star (Ret): Dragon Skin “Significantly Better” Than Interceptor In First-Ever Comparative Test (Conducted By NBC News)

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President’s Note:

Tonight, May 17, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams has aired their first piece dealing with the body armor controversy. Tomorrow morning, Today will air a piece, and Sunday night, Dateline NBC will air a longer piece, with much more detail about the comparative test NBC News conducted — the first true comparative test of Interceptor Body Armor and Pinnacle Armor’s Dragon Skin (SOV 3000 Level IV).

We at SFTT/DefenseWatch are very pleased at the outcome — Dragon Skin performed as expected, and at a level substantially superior to that of the Interceptor ESAPI (Level IV) plates. Gen. Wayne Downing, a retired 4-star (and consultant to NBC News), who observed the comparative test, reported that Dragon Skin performed “significantly better” than Interceptor’s ESAPI plates.

It is now up to the American public — to all who appreciate the service and sacrifice of America’s Grunts — to demand that these great servicemen and women be provided the “best-available” body armor. Continue Reading →

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West Pointers At The Heart Of The Body Armor Scandal

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By Roger Charles

Those readers of DefenseWatch who have followed SFTT’s efforts over the past year and a half to get honest and completely transparent comparative testing of all available both armor, including, but not necessarily restricted to both Dragon Skin and the currently issued Interceptor Body Armor system, know that from time to time there’s been a tad — okay, maybe more than a tad — of anger in my writings on this subject. After all, it’s truly an issue of life-or-death importance to America’s Grunts.

This column is however, written much more in sadness and sorrow than in anger.

West Point graduates have contributed so much, for so many years, to the defense of our great nation, and in other areas as well. Two have been presidents.

But, it is on our country’s many battlefields over the last two centuries that The Long Gray Line has earned the respect and gratitude that distinguishes West Point from all other institutions in our nation.

Two of the warriors that Hack respected most are West Point grads who continue to serve their country by being members of the SFTT Advisory Board: Lt. Gen. Henry E. “Hank” Emerson USA (Ret.), Class of 1947, and Lt.Gen. Harold G. “Hal” Moore, USA (Ret.), Class of 1945. Their records of distinguished and heroic performance as combat leaders speak for themselves, and need no repeating here.

Consequently, to have discovered that several West Pointers have played key roles in ensuring that inferior body armor continues to be issued to our great troops is a particular and sharp disappointment to this writer.

Before I get into the specifics of who are these “disappointments,” and what just what were their roles in continuing the status quo when undeniable evidence proves a better body armor is available, I want to quote from an email received just this morning.

Like the combat leadership achievements of Hank Emerson and Hal Moore, this email speaks for itself. I will identify the sender as a father of an sergeant of infantry, with one combat tour in Iraq behind him, and another tour coming up later this year. (Due to this father’s diligence, SFTT has recently obtained some amazing information that will be shared with our readers in the next few weeks. Stand by.)

Mr. Charles,

It amazes me that I could get this information and nobody else could!

I am nobody from nowhere, except I will fight doggedly for what I deem to be right! This is a fight that I am willing to take as far as I can! If any of my actions help rectify this injustice and help our troops get better and safer equipment I am deeply gratified!

The sad fact as we both know is that Soldiers die in war, but we have Soldiers dying needlessly because we have the technology to better protect them!  I am so proud of my Son and his service to our country, I can hardly put into words!  The military experience and his time he served in Iraq, (with all of the negative experiences he had while there), I believe have made him a better man and a true leader!

It is an indescribable feeling to be able to say that your Son is your hero!  And mine is! He is a true Patriot!

Editor’s Note: Some text has been deleted.

A Justifiably Proud Father

Now, back to the sad spectacle of four West Pointers who have failed to live up to the transcendent motto of their famous alma mater, “Duty-Honor-Country.”

The following is a list of the four “ring-knockers” who have contributed to this sad and scandalous state of affairs wherein inferior body armor is issued to our warfighters. They’ve made their contributions either by their active obstructionism, making them knaves, or by their permitting the abuses and corruption by others to continue, which makes them at best, incompetent fools.

Major General Jeffrey A. Sorenson, West Point Class of 1973, who has been exposed for his bald-faced lies by DefenseWatch. (See: Sorenson’s Mission — Kill Dragon Skin ) Here’s the official DOD announcement of his recent nomination for promotion to Lieutenant General and assignment as Chief Information Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, G-6, U.S. Army: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, U.S. Army, for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and assignment as Chief Information Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, G-6, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C. He is currently serving as Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), Washington, D.C.

Brigadier General (Retired) James R. Moran, West Point Class of 1979, Program Executive for Program Executive Office-SOLDIER from its inception on June 7, 2002, until his retirement in the summer of 2006.

Brigadier General R. Mark Brown, West Point Class of 1977, Program Executive for Program Executive Office-SOLDIER from the summer of 2006 through the present.

Colonel (Retired) John D. Norwood, West Point Class of 1980, former Project Manager for Soldier Equipment under PEO-SOLDIER, from 2003 until his retirement in the summer of 2006. He is currently a new Vice President of the Aerospace & Defense Group of Armor Holdings, one of the principal manufacturers of Interceptor Body Armor. The products listed under the Aerospace & Defense Group includes a listing for “Individual Equipment,” and under that is “Body Armor”.

Note that the key roles played by these four West Pointers during the period that DefenseWatch has identified and brought to public attention the unconscionable situation of our troops wearing clearly inferior body armor, when substantially better body armor in the form of Dragon Skin was, and is, available.

It’s also worth pointing out that three of the four are General Officers, signifying that the institution of the U.S. Army finds them to be its “best and brightest.” That may have some relation to the lack success we’ve seen in Iraq when it comes to dealing with IED’s, suicide bombers, shortage of up-armored Humvees, shortage of “V”-hulled vehicles, etc.

Hack and I talked often about West Point, and the split-personality nature of its graduates — either the best, or the worst (with a fair share of mediocre thrown in). But, given the sacred responsibility granted these graduates — the defense of our nation and the stewardship of its most precious resources, young soldiers –much should be expected.

And those who are care more about self-promotion than selfless service to our country must be identified and purged from positions where their actions result in the needless death and maiming of the best among us, of those young Americans who stand guard on the ramparts of freedom.

Hack identified to his wife (and now CEO of SFTT, Eilhys England Hackworth), two particularly pernicious characteristics that West Point seemed to imbue — a sense of elitism, and a reluctance to speak out against another ring-knocker, regardless of the issue.

It is this omerta-like reluctance to speak truth when it might harm a fellow graduate that caused me to write this piece. I’m hopeful that somewhere out there is at least one West Point graduate who will contact me at SFTT — and it can be off the record — with an explanation of why our Army continues to foist inferior body armor on our great troops when better is available.

For those in the know to remain silent in the face of such corruption will only prolong the day of reckoning, and lengthen the casualty lists grown far too long already.

SFTT President Roger Charles is an Annapolis graduate, a retired USMC Lt. Col. who commanded an infantry platoon in I Corps during the Vietnam War, is the winner of the prestigious Peabody Award for news coverage, and was a protégée’s of the late Col. David H. Hackworth.

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Government Accountability Office (GAO) Investigating Why America’s Grunts Continue To Bleed & Die In Second-Rate Body Armor

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By Roger Charles

As you read this Update, please keep in mind SFTT’s Final Objective: the “best-available” body armor for all of America’s Frontline Troops.

DefenseWatch readers are all too painfully aware that the Pentagon currently issues demonstrably inferior body armor when superior body armor is available, and that based on extensive research, SFTT believes “Dragon Skin” (manufactured by Pinnacle Armor of Fresno, California) is the “best-available.”

It is important to emphasize that SFTT wants all feasible body armor alternatives fully & fairly tested. (If there is a “better” body armor than Dragon Skin out there, we want to hear about it, and hear about it quicky because lives of America’s Grunts are at stake.) Continue Reading →

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