By Nathaniel R. Helms
At the time of this report, despite repeated inquiries, the Department of Defense and the US Army had not commented on this report.
So-called “SAPI” plates do not provide complete protection from sniper bullets because of gaps in coverage around the torso.
Two weeks ago the Armed Forces Network (AFN) radio in Iraq reported enemy snipers are now shooting their intended Coalition victims between the so-called hard armor SAPI (Small Arms Protection Inserts) plates attached to the Interceptor OTV body armor, reporter Michael Yon told DefenseWatch after hearing the broadcast warnings in Iraq. The Interceptor’s OTV SAPI plates are intended to defeat most common rifle ammunition used by enemy soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, because they are gaps between the plates the wearer is not fully protected from a well-aimed shot.
Dragon Skin plates, called “panels” because they are flexible and cover the entire upper torso, are not susceptible to the sniper’s deadly new tactics, Pinnacle Armor officials said. Despite being a better design the Defense Department in 1999 rejected Dragon Skin without comment in favor of its home-gown Interceptor OTV armor although its inferior SAPI plate arrangement then as now presents gaps in the coverage of its hard armor plates on the wearer’s front, back and sides, Pinnacle Armor founder and patent holder Murray Neal said.
The Interceptor body armor system has been in production since 1999. At the time Natick, who designed and approved the body armor, awarded five-year contracts to manufacture it to Second Chance and Point Blank Body Armor of Oakland Park, FL. Armor Holdings didn’t get its share of the pie until later on.
In 1999, Point Blank was losing millions for its parent company DHB Industries. Things didn’t get much better until the events of 9/11 sent the United States to war. In 2001 and 2002 the lucrative DOD contracts provided to the Florida-based company boosted its profits to $10.1 million and $16 million respectively on a combined $228.3 million in revenue, according to industry sources.
Soon after the company received another $9.2 million contract in 2002 to produce body armor for Army engineers charged with disposing of landmines a labor dispute revealed that company was allegedly putting profits before quality. Attorneys for the labor union involved (UNITA) in the dispute submitted 150 pages of evidence in a Florida court that alleged quality problems with Point Blank’s body armor. Among the documents were Department of Defense reports from American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The DOD documents showed 43 percent of soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom complained that Point Blank’s body armor “hindered their mobility,” the court records showed.
In 2004 the Marine Corps found “major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank,” Marine Corps officials announced. One month later, on August 24, 2004, the military rejected two orders from Point Blank after tests revealed that the vests did not meet safety requirements. Faced with a severe shortage of body armor the Army decided that nine Point Blank orders that did not meet safety requirements would be sent to troops overseas anyway, according to the court records filed in the UNITA case showed.
On May 3, 2005 Point Blank hired retired four-star Army Gen. Larry Ellis to lead the beleaguered company. Before retiring Ellis was the commander of US Forces Command (FORSCOM). FORSCOM is the Army’s largest major command, consisting of more than 760,000 active Army, U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers. Formerly, Ellis served as deputy chief of staff for operations and plans at the Pentagon. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor. On July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government. Apparently it doesn’t hurt to know somebody, one Pentagon wag exclaimed. As the reader will discover in Part III of this series it really doesn’t hurt to know someone.
During the course of its investigation into the matter DefenseWatch spoke with several contemporary armor experts who are currently doing business with the Department of Defense supplying either expertise, technology, or both to Puzzle Palace procurement officers and officials. With the exception of Pinnacle’s Murray Neal they declined to go on record and spoke only after multiple assurances of anonymity.
One of these men, who began developing and selling body armor and associated products to the DOD before the Vietnam War, said speaking publicly about the procurement procedures used by the good ol’ boys in ultra-plush E Ring charged with obtaining equipment for America’s war fighters is tantamount to committing professional suicide.
“Just check the last three contracts awarded for helmets – three old boys,” he explained. “They didn’t get them talking about it. I can only be a background source mainly because I don’t want people to home in on me.”
In Part III DefenseWatch will explore just who those good ol’ boys are and how they control who gets what on the battlefield.
DefenseWatch Editor Nathaniel R. “Nat” Helms is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, long-time journalist and war correspondent living in Missouri. He is the author of two books, Numba One – Numba Ten and Journey Into Madness: A Hitchhiker’s Account of the Bosnian Civil War, both available at www.ebooks-online.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send Feedback responses to email@example.com