Interceptor Body Armor: End of a Chapter, Stench Remains

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A colleague at Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) sent me an email a few days ago informing me that David H. Brooks, the founder and former chief executive of DHB Industries, died on Thursday at the age of 61 in a prison in Danbury, CT.

david brooks and co

David Brooks and co-defendant Sandra Hatfield, photo source unknown

Convicted in 2010 of insider trading and “fraudulently enriching himself” with company funds, Mr. Brooks was a contractor who supplied bullet-resistant vests and other body armor to the military and other law enforcement agencies.   In particular,  DHB Industries and its successor, Point Blank Industries, supplies Interceptor Body Armor to the U.S. Army.

Interceptor Body Armor

My colleague has been following this tragic story for approximately ten years from the perspective of “boots on the ground” who rely on government-issued protective gear to insure their safety.

As readers of SFTT are aware, senior U.S. Army officials have consistently claimed that the U.S. has “the best body armor in the world” and that there have been no battlefield fatalities as a result of defective body armor.

Of course, none of these outrageous claims are true, but the U.S. Army apparently went one step further arguing that medical and survivor benefits might be withheld if personnel were wounded or died if they were not wearing mandated government-issued body armor.

There have been many GAO and IG reports condemning flawed testing procedures by the military on body armor, but little was done to correct these deviations from well-established testing protocols.   After the stench of incompetence and, perhaps corruption, could no longer be contained, in 2009 the military brass decided to kick the process into a higher sphere of bureaucratic red tape: the National Research Council.

Since then, there have been periodic recalls of defective ceramic plates, despite repeated claims by the military brass that “the recalled plates have passed all ballistic tests so Soldiers who may have been using the plates were always properly protected.”   Clearly, if the ballistic tests were flawed (and they were), then it follows that our Soldiers were not adequately protected.

In fact, for any military officer in authority to assert that that our troops were “properly protected” despite repeated IG and GAO claims to the contrary should – in my opinion – be Court-martialed.

Of course, we know that will not be the case as subsequent actions by the Beltway spin-doctors showed.

Roger Charles, editor of SFTT,  filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to have the autopsy records released on 103 military personnel who had sustained fatal wounds to the torso.  Some of these bodies were shipped back with their body armor strongly suggesting that the body armor was flawed.

Although Mr. Charles received a favorable ruling by a Federal Judge to have the records released in 2010, those records continue to remain secret as a result of continued legal gymnastics by Defense Department lawyers.  Ir is unlikely that these records will be released anytime soon.

As someone who has served in the military, I find it difficult to believe that our military leaders would expose the brave young men and women in uniform to hostile fire without the best possible protective gear.   Sure, everyone knows that military equipment may sometimes be compromised, but we would expect after action follow-up to insure that improvements are made to improve reliability.

In the case of Interceptor Body Armor, I find little evidence of a sincere effort by military leaders to deal with this problem.  Rather than face up to faulty test procedures and clear evidence of deficiencies in the body armor, our Beltway military leaders tried to spin a tale to convince Congress, the public and the men and women who serve our country that they were wearing the best protective gear.

These frauds know it was a lie. Anyone with common sense knows it is a lie. Many serving in harm’s way knew it was a lie.   Frankly, continued denial by our military leaders that consciously misled our troops on the effectiveness of body armor disqualifies them from a position of leadership.   You know who you are.

Now, you can continue to deny responsibility in the coverup, but try explaining your complicity to grieving family members who have lost a loved one through your gross incompetence and lies.

While Mr. Brooks death in prison closes one chapter in this painful saga, the stench of self-serving incompetence, dishonesty and possibly corruption continues to foul the air.

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Think Tanks and Leadership with Integrity

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I was fascinated by a recent article which appeared in the New York Times entitled “How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America’s Influence.”

More to the point, I was surprised to see the naivete of influential people like Harvey Cox of Harvard University who couldn’t believe that think tanks could act unethically.

Sadly, the lines between “thinking” and “lobbying” have long been blurred and “corporate America” isn’t the only culprit. There are far too many instances where the DoD and the U.S. Army have employed theoretically disinterested parties to hide outright incompetence and questionable behavior from the prying eyes of the public and the warriors they lead.

Interceptor Body Armor

One needs to look no further than the despicable cover-up of the U.S. Army’s shoddy testing and deployment of substandard “Interceptor” body armor.  This cover-up has been amply covered by SFTT for close to a decade and has been the subject of several damning Inspector General Reports and the media:

For instance, take the GAO (Government Accountability Office) report of October, 2009 which recommended independent testing of body armor after their investigations had uncovered much of the same shoddy body armor testing now chronicled in the latest DOD IG report.   We listened to much of the same nonsense and double-talk from our military leaders, but in bowing to public pressure the Secretary of the Army asked the National Research Council to investigate body armor testing procedures.

I am not sure what became of this National Research Council study, but I suspect that its sole purpose was to lead Congress to think that “things are under control.”  Clearly, they aren’t.

Actually, the National Research Council is a “think tank” often employed by our government to put distance between themselves and potentially harmful setbacks to their careers.   While many believe that contracting academics will provide a “dispassionate” and science-based opinion, academicians rely on government grants.  Cynically, I for one have a difficult time believing they would bite the hand that feeds them.

In any event, the mandate of the National Research Council is to recommend new testing procedures but not opine on the blatant disregard of existing test procedures and guidelines that led to the GAO’s and IG’s damning reports.

I am quite sure that Lt. Gen. Phillips and his cohorts like Col. Cole, Project Manager for Soldier Protection, and US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center, are thrilled to see that a “disinterested” third-party had intervened to cover up their gross incompetence.

Despite much evidence to the contrary that only a blind man could ignore, Lt. Gen Phillips stated that ”I am not aware of any incident down range where the body armor (Interceptor) failed to protect against a round that it was designed to defeat.”  Ummm …

If this were true, why did the DoD turned loose a bevy of beltway lawyers to keep autopsy records secret that clearly indicated that the U.S. Army was sending men and women into combat with defective body armor?

With the support of brilliant pro bono legal representation by a team from the NYC office of Kirkland & Ellis, LLC, a federal district judge in D.C.  issued a ruling in 2010 on SFTT’s editor’s request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for forensic records held by the Department of Defense regarding the performance of government-issued body armor.

Despite the fact that the U.S. Government lost its appeal under the FOIA some 6 years ago, the autopsy records remain under wraps thanks to the continued efforts of DoD lawyers to “bury the truth.”

In preliminary filings DOD admitted that for the two calendar years (2006 and 2007) for which records were requested 103 KIA’s died from ballistic wounds to the torso. It further admitted that only 51 of these 103 KIA’s (49.5%) had body armor plates shipped back to the US for forensic examination,  and that these 51 KIA’s had a total of 155 plates returned with the “service members.”

Of these 51 KIA’s, 18 had “body armor description sheets with information responsive” to the SFTT editor’s FOIA request. (By DOD’s own definition, a “body armor description sheet” indicates that the “body armor is not perfectly intact.”)

Assuming that only one body armor protective plate was struck in each KIA’s tactical engagement, that means that a staggering 35.3% (18 of 51) of the plates were “not perfectly intact.”

It’s hard to imagine that DOD would not release these records if they proved that although 35% of the KIA’s during the specified two-year period for whom even fairly complete records exist had “not perfectly intact” plates, not a single KIA resulted from penetration of the plates.

As a former banker who suffered through countless countless consulting firms (with a well-scripted mandate) and now a close witness to the tragedy of the military cover-up of defective body armor, I have sadly learned that “think tanks” are no substitute for ethical leadership.

The brave men and women who serve our country so valiantly deserve leaders who put the safety of their troops before their own careers.  Is this asking too much?

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PTSD and the Super Bowl

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As we all settle in to watch the Super Bowl tomorrow, let us reflect on the large number of brave Veterans who have suffered from PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Indeed, there are enough wounded Veterans from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to fill several Super Bowl stadiums.

PTSD and CTE

Nevertheless, I suspect that sports’ pundits will be more focused on CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – found on the brain of former pro quarterback, Kenny Stabler caused by “repeated blows to the head.” Indeed, there is now a list on Wikipedia that lists the number of deceased pro football players that were diagnosed with CTE.

Veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and/or TBI now exceed some 200,000 and they are simply not receiving the treatment they require to reclaim their lives.  The Veterans Administration’s preferred solution is to mask the symptoms of brain trauma with an often lethal cocktail of pharmaceuticals. At the same time the VA blocks other far more inexpensive technologies, like Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy,  used around the world.  Why?

PTSD by the Numbers

Less we forget, please find below a video from the late Navy S.E.A.L, Chris Kyle who explains how difficult it is for some Veterans to adjust after they come home from war.  We now believe that some 20% of Veterans are affected by some form of brain trauma, although many experts believe that the number is far higher.  Listen to Chris Kyle:


via: PTSD by the Numbers: Battling Post Traumatic Stress Video

As we watch the Super Bowl, let us reflect on the conditions of our brave Veterans and the personal demons they face each day.

UK Troops Suffering from PTSD and Depression

Traumatic brain injury is not only prevalent in the US, but the British Armed Forces are also coping with serious problem.  Based on the statistics below, they are probably underestimating the scope of the problem, but it is clear that they see clear evidence of “alcohol-related” behavioral disorders and Veterans try to “self-medicate.”  Substance abuse is rampant among Veterans in the US, particularly with those who suffer from PTSD.   One health specialist suggested it could be as high as 90%.

See what the British say about traumatic stress among their own troops:

Of those, 1,235 have been awarded compensation and discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder. The figures, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, show 718 were discharged for depression, while 130 were suffering from alcohol-related behavioral disorders.

Speaking yesterday Patrick Rea, of the charity PTSD Resolution, said: “Assuming that most of these cases involve the Army, it brings us to a ratio nearing one in 10. Previous figures suggest that around two per cent of troops across all branches are suffering from PTSD. Of course, the problem is that there is a latency about PTSD that may not show up in official figures.Then, five years after they leave, it results in breakdown of their marriage, loss of employment and even criminality.”
via: Rising toll of stressed out troops suffering from PTSD and depression

Mental Health Week: PTSD and Suicide

Jenny Hale, a Public Relations graduate student at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, discusses below the relationship between PTSD and suicide.   While Jenny is right to suggest contacting the CRISIS LINE at 1-800-273-8255 for help, the Veterans Administration has not done a good job in helping Veterans with PTSD.  I would take the advice provided below with a grain of salt.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like war, assault, an accident or disaster. Symptoms can start immediately after an event or can develop years later. These symptoms usually include flashbacks or memories, sleep problems or nervousness. Indicators lasting longer than a month may be related to PTSD.

Since 2002, 128,496 service members have been diagnosed with PTSD after being deployed in post-9/11 wars. The highest numbers reported were in the year 2012, with over 20,000 total cases between deployed and non-deployed soldiers.

If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, there are several outlets for both civilians and military to find help.

  • VA Center—All VA hospitals have care for PTSD. Contact your nearest VA Medical Center for an appointment.
  • Consult a therapist—The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies can help locate a clinic near you. Find a list here.
  • Call the Veterans Crisis Line—Family and friends, as well as veterans, can speak to VA workers 24/7 online or by phone for confidential support. 1-800-273-8255 or chat with a professional here.

Suicide is another serious mental health issue among veterans. A veteran commits suicide every hour, while a service member commits suicide every day. 8,000 veterans commit suicide every year.

24 percent of suicides include veterans with PTSD symptoms and 66 percent of those have been deployed. Over 50 percent of veterans had no sign of behavioral health disorders prior to their death.

Suicide is preventable. If you or someone you know is showing feelings of guilt, saying that life isn’t worth living or expressing failure, seek help through the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.
via: Mental Health Week: PTSD and Suicide

While I too will be sitting around the television watching this great American tradition of the Super Bowl, I will think of our many Veterans suffering from PTSD who don’t have access to the latest therapies available to help them reclaim their lives.  CTE has surfaced as a “big issue” within the NFL.  I only wish Veterans with PTSD and/or TBI would receive the same level of national attention.

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U.S. Government Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records

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Thanks to superb pro bono legal representation by a team from the NYC office of Kirkland & Ellis, LLC, a federal district judge has issued his ruling on SFTT’s editor’s request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for forensic records held by the Department of Defense regarding the performance of government-issued body armor. The ruling was characterized in the following way by a news service covering legal issues:

U.S. Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records

 (CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it.   (For the complete Courthouse News article, see: http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/08/16/29630.htm )       

As supporters of SFTT know, we have, to no avail, for several years requested that these records be reviewed by the appropriate oversight bodies of the US Congress. It was only after this baffling refusal that SFTT’s editor requested the records under the FOIA. To no one’s surprise, DOD denied SFTT’s request.   Under the brilliant guidance and with the incredible support of Kirkland & Ellis’ NYC office, SFTT’s editor filed a new request, and that request was basis for the complaint in federal district court upon which the judge issued this ruling.    

In preliminary filings DOD admitted that for the two calendar years (2006 and 2007) for which records were requested 103 KIA’s died from ballistic wounds to the torso. It further admitted that only 51 of these 103 KIA’s (49.5%) had body armor plates shipped back to the US for forensic examination,  and that these 51 KIA’s had a total of 155 plates returned with the “service members.”

Of these 51 KIA’s, 18 had “body armor description sheets with information responsive” to the SFTT editor’s FOIA request. (By DOD’s own definition, a “body armor description sheet” indicates that the “body armor is not perfectly intact.”)

Assuming that only one body armor protective plate was struck in each KIA’s tactical engagement, that means that a staggering 35.3% (18 of 51) of the plates were “not perfectly intact.”       

It’s hard to imagine that DOD would not release these records if they proved that although 35% of the KIA’s during the specified two-year period for whom even fairly complete records exist had “not perfectly intact” plates, not a single KIA resulted from penetration of the plates.

 

So, why has DOD not released the responsive records, i.e., the Firearm Wound Charts and body armor description sheets?

Roger Charles

Editor SFTT

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Taliban snipers test body armor and helmets

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A recent article by Terri Judd of London-based The Independent entitled “Sharp rise in Army deaths from small arms fire prompts inquiry into Taliban snipers,” suggests that troops may not have the proper helmets or body armor to deal with the changing tactics of the Taliban.   

According to the article, “commanders in Afghanistan are examining whether a sharp rise in troops being killed by gunfire is a sign that a better trained or equipped Taliban is targeting soldiers with snipers.   More soldiers have been killed by small arms fire in the past four months than in the whole of any previous year. While deaths by bullet accounted for just 13 per cent of those killed in combat in 2009, that figure has risen to almost 40 per cent in recent months.”  Many of these deaths are attributable to single shots from sharpshooters, or even trained snipers.

American General James Conway recently told the US House Armed Services Committee: “Right now, the biggest threat in Marjah is not necessarily the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) for our killed in action. It is the sniper that takes a long-range shot and can penetrate our protective equipment, particularly the helmet.”

Some of those interviewed for this article suggested that it was too early to tell if the high incidence of deaths caused by small arms fire signals a change in enemy warfare tactics, but if so we need to place increased emphasis on upgrading body armor and helmets to deal with this new threat.

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US Army Body Armor Recalls: A matter of trust

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In the midst of yet another example of deficient body armor, the US Army continues to insist that body armor and body armor plates supplied to US troops are safe.    In late January,  Secretary of Army Pete Geren stated that ‘there is nothing more important than the safety of our Soldiers, their confidence in their equipment, and America’s confidence in their Army.”

He went on to say that “out of more than 2,300 body armor tests conducted by the Army, the DoD IG (Department of Defense Inspector General)  is questioning three of them. DOT&E (Department of Defense’s Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation), the government’s preeminent independent expert, says the plates passed those three tests. And let’s not forget, since 2002, we have produced and fielded over 2 million plates of body armor. That body armor has saved the lives of thousands of Soldiers.” 

Perhaps so Mr. Secretary, but the real question is how many lives have been lost or soldiers seriously wounded are attributable to defective and/or improperly tested body armor?   This specious argument by Secretary Geren is equivalent to Toyota’s management saying that they have manufactured thousands of “safe” automobiles and only a few have defective brakes. 

The assertion by Secretary Geren that the DOT&E is “the government’s preeminent independent expert” suggests a lack of responsibility or accountability by the US Army in the testing of body armor.  As we well know from the October, 2009 GAO (Government Accountability Office) Report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding,” and the DoDIG Report, the DOT&E is not the “independent expert” called for by the GAO.   Quite the opposite, the DOT&E is complicit in shoddy test procedures.

The latest recall of ceramic body armor plates further calls into question the integrity of US Army test procedures and, indeed, the credibility of military leaders who continue to insist that “‘there is nothing more important than the safety of our Soldiers.”  The DoD IG and GAO reports suggest otherwise.

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More Body Armor Plate Recalls

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In what is now becoming a regular occurrence, the US Army is recalling body armor plates that may have failed to meet manufacturing specifications.

According to the June 14th news release, the US “Army recently issued a message for all troops and units to inspect their body armor, specifically the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, or ESAPI, in search of a specific model that was not made according to contract requirements.”

The US Army claims that “the recalled plates have passed all ballistic tests so Soldiers who may have been using the plates were always properly protected.”   Nevertheless, they are recalling the plates “to receive replacement plates under warranty” with the manufacturer.

According the US Army News release, “the nonconforming plates were produced by Armor Works, who have provided 150,000 ESAPI plates, about 10 percent of the Department of Defense’s total supply. Of these 150,000, about nine percent (13,500) were not made according to specification.”   Found below is information on how to identify defective ESAPI plates manufactured by Armor Works.

How to Identify Defective Body Armor Plates

ESAPI plates that should be turned in to the Central Issue Facility for replacement will display the contract number SPM1C1-08-D-1023 along with one of two design codes – DD3V2 or MP2.

The contract number and design code are both located on the data tag on the back of the plate. The contract number is in the upper right corner of the data tag, and the design code is the last three to five characters of the DOM/LOT number.

It should be noted that SFTT recently asked the US Army to let the public know the test results of 2,000 potentially cracked ceramic plates which the US Army has steadfastly stated that there has never been a single  incidence of cracked ceramic plates.   Could it be that clear evidence of “cracked ceramic plates” now exists and these deficient ceramic plates were sufficient to demand a recall?   Also, for the US Army to suggest that the recalled plates passed all ballistics tests seems to overlook the scathing report by the Government Accountability Office which recommended independent testing of military body armor.

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Army Tests 2,000 “Potentially Cracked” Ceramic Body Armor Plates: Where Are Results?

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Buried inside the devastating Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) October 2009 report on the Pentagon’s inability to demonstrate “overall reliability and repeatability” in body armor tests is this intriguing statement:

“Testing was halted for other high-priority tests involving 2,000 plates from Iraq that were identified as potentially cracked by nondestructive testing performed by the Army.” [Footnote 14, page 12,  GAO-10-119 Warfighter Support.]

Whoa . . . these are the very same ceramic protective plates that the Pentagon claims have never failed. Never.  Never  ever! Not a single time.  Not once in the past eight and one half years of combat in Afghanistan; not once in the past seven years of combat in Iraq.

By the way, this is the same GAO report that led to more than $121 million of ceramic plates being withheld from issuance to our frontline troops due to testing flaws that resulted in these plates not being certifiable as meeting the government’s performance specifications.

So, what gives?

Here’s just a bit of the back story on this battlefield miracle that sees no US grunt getting shot at (and hit) while wearing a ceramic protective plate before it develops cracks.  Bear with me while we examine the tortured logic behind the Pentagon’s incredible claim of “no failures” by going through the sequence of events leading to the discovery of “potentially cracked” plates.

STEP ONE:

Action:  Protective plate issued to trooper.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  100% pristine, perfect condition (no cracks, according to Army and DoD).   [Editor’s Note: Each plate is issued with “HANDLE WITH CARE” stenciled on the strike face. “HANDLE WITH CARE” for gear to be issued to frontline infantry?  If any reader knows of another item of personal gear issued to frontline troops with a similar label, please contact the SFTT Editor.]

STEP TWO:

Action:  Troops wear plates in combat operations until plates are selected for X-ray tests.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Unknown percentage of plates develop cracks, in spite of “HANDLE WITH CARE” warning.

STEP THREE:

Action:  Nondestructive X-ray examination by Mobile X-ray system.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  X-ray system detects cracks in plates not detectable by visual inspection.  [Editor’s Note: Percentage of all plates X-rayed that were designated “potentially cracked” is unknown.]

STEP FOUR:

Action:  “Potentially cracked” plates pulled from use and 2,000 sent back to US for “priority tests.”

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Unknown percentage of “potentially cracked” plates failed tests.

STEP FIVE:

Action:  Pentagon and Army press offices continue to claim “zero failures” for ceramic ballistic plates.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Frontline troops continue to wear plates that are not “potentially cracked” until discovered to be so by X-ray system.

Yep.  The Pentagon and the Army would have the mothers and fathers of America’s Grunts believe that every plate with cracks is magically detected by X-raying before ever receiving an enemy shot.

Anyone interested in this issue might query your elected representative and ask them to obtain the results of the “high- priority tests” of 2,000 “potentially cracked” plates as cited in the October 2009 GAO report.  Sound Off now and make sure that our troops have the best protective gear and combat equipment available.

Roger Charles

Senior Investigative Reportor and Editor SFTT

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Chairman Towns Opens Inquiry into Quality of Troops’ Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

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In an important new development Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY), Chairman of the Committee for Oversight and Government Reform asks  Defense Secretary Robert Gates for explanations about the management of the Department of Defense’s (“DoD”) troop armor procurement and testing programs.  What follows is a reprint of the release:

The inquiry follows a DoD Inspector General (“IG”) report issued recently that identified problems with the Army’s body and vehicle armor testing process.  Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, DOoD has consistently struggled to deploy safe and reliable body armor to troops on the front line, and the IG has issued several reports outlining the challenges to DOD’s armor procurement policies and potential solutions. Chairman Towns, an Army veteran, is committed to ensuring the safety of our troops.

“For almost a decade, our troops have sacrificed life and limb to defend our nation.  At the same time, DoD has repeatedly struggled to manage its programs and testing related to protective armor, including body armor,” said Chairman Towns.  “If we are going to continue sending troops into harms way, we must know that DoD is doing all it can to provide effective and save body armor and armored vehicles.”

A January 2009 DoD IG report identified problems with the U.S. Army’s testing processes. The IG found, among other things, that testing of some body armor was not consistently conducted in accordance with contract requirements—and that body armor that was recorded as having passed testing had actually failed. A separate review of body armor testing by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) the Army did not follow established testing protocols, did not maintain certain internal controls, and recommended an independent assessment of armor test results.

The letter from Chairman Towns to Secretary Gates is the latest in a series of inquiries from the House Oversight Committee into Federal procurement and waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars.  In the letter to Gates, Chairman Towns requested that DoD brief the House Oversight Committee on the Department’s efforts to ensure that our troops have effective and safe body armor and armored vehicles, as expeditiously as possible.

Specifically, the Chairman requested an overview of key ongoing armored vehicle and body armor acquisition programs of the Services, including the Army’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle program (MRAP); contractors involved in the maintenance or procurement of body armor or armored vehicles; and field experience with the effectiveness of protective armor, including body armor, along with any analysis comparing experience in the field with the results of laboratory testing.

“I am aware that DoD has made some progress addressing past problems with the body and vehicle armor provided to our armed services,” said Chairman Towns.  “However, I want to make sure DoD’s progress continues.  There is nothing more important than providing our troops with the best protection possible.”

SFTT Editor Comment:  We applaud Chairman Towns, Congressman Jim Webb and other Congressional leaders for their perseverance in helping to insure that our troops have the best protective gear possible.  Nevertheless, it is  reprehensible that our military leaders have taken little action over the past several years to deal with the disturbing issues raised in the March, 2008 IG report and the October, 2009 GAO Study.  The unreliability of body armor presently issued to our troops, shoddy test procedures and cozy relationships between military “testers” and armament suppliers have been well documented. It is disgraceful and does not reflect well on our military leadership who are entrusted to field an army with the best combat gear possible.  By letting our troops down, we let our country down.

When will the “true” military leaders emerge to make sure our troops have the best protective gear possible?  Studies are useful, but concerted action now would save lives and prevent traumatic injury.    We implore Secretary Gates to clean up the mess in our military procurement process.  We realize that billions of dollars are at stake, but so are the lives of the young men and women serving in harm’s way.  Let’s get our priorities straight.

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Body Armor Reports by National Research Council

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On November 20, 2009, Secretary John McHugh formally announced that the National Research Council would perform an independent evaluation of the US Army’s body armor test procedures.  The announcement by Secretary McHugh followed a month of Pentagon-spin by military wordsmiths intent on undermining the devastating findings of the General Accountability Office (“GAO”) in their Report to Congressional Requesters, entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.

Thanks to the efforts of Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and others, Congressional leaders were not side-tracked and continued to insist that the Department of Defense address the issues raised in the GAO report.    “In his October 22 letter to Secretary Gates, Senator Webb noted a disturbing lack of consensus between the GAO and the Department of Defense Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) in their evaluations of Army body armor testing.  ‘Continued controversy over the reliability of new body armor can undermine public confidence,’ Senator Webb wrote. ‘Ultimately, those who rely on this armor for protection may also question its performance.'”   Senator Webb is too kind, I had suggested that a general recall of body armor might be in order if this had been an automobile with defective brakes.  Where is the outrage?

Senior Investigative Reporter and Editor for SFTT, Roger Charles has written extensively on the 110-page GAO report.   Mr. Charles sadly concludes that despite shoddy test procedures against protocol test standards that are more than 30 years old,  the US Army (fully supported by the Department of Defense) selected the option that increased risk to the Soldier, while decreasing risk/cost to the contractors!

The National Research Council (“NRC”) has now released two reports in response to Secretary McHugh’s request to evaluate the US Army Test Procedures.  The Phase I NRC report on body armor was issued on December 30, 2009,  In this initial phase, the NRC committee evalutated to following subjects:

  • “The committee will comment on the validity of using laser profilometry/laser interferometry techniques to determine the contours of an indent made by a ballistic test in a non-transparent clay material at the level of precision established in the Army’s procedures for testing personal body armor. If laser profilometry/laser interferometry is not a valid method, the committee will consider whether a digital caliper can be used instead to collect valid data.
  • The committee will also provide interim observations regarding the column-drop performance test described by the Army for assessing the part-to-part consistency of a clay body used in testing body armor.”

The Phase II NRC report on body armor test procedures was released on April 22, 2010 and contains 19 specific recommendations to improve the integrity of body armor test procedures.   The report was issued on behalf of the committee by MG (ret) Larry G. Lehowicz to J. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation for the DOD.

In the Phase II NRC Body Armor report (p. 11)  recommends that the “Army’s medical and testing communities should be adequately funded to expedite the research necessary both to quantify the medical results of blunt force trauma on tissue and to use those results as the updated mathematical underpinnings of the back face deformation (BFD) body armor testing methodology.

“Regardless of the current imperfect correlation between existing medical data and the BFD approach, the committee believes that the current methodology for testing body armor should be continued, mainly because this approach has allowed the Army to send body armor with adequate survivability characteristics to soldiers in combat. Importantly, the committee was informed earlier by the Program Executive Office–Soldier that no soldier deaths are known to be attributable to a failure of the issued ceramic body armor.”

While it is certainly reassuring that body armor reliability and testing integrity will be improved by the application of modern technology applied in a consistent manner, I find it surprising that the US Army has decided to withhold critical field data from the NRC to determine to determine the effectiveness of currently approved body armor.  Is it true that “no soldier deaths are known to be attributable to a failure of the issued ceramic body armor?”  Indeed, the New York Times reports that the US Army has autopsy reports that confirm that defective body armor has contributed to the death of our troops.

What is the truth?  The NRC is quite right in asking to examine US Army and Marine Corps autopsy records to further determine the level of protection afforded by our frontline troops.  Why is the US Army deliberately withholding this information?  The US Army, our Congressional leaders, the American public and, most importantly, our troops deserve  the comprehensive report that was promised them when Secretary McHugh requested the intervention of the NRC.  Anything less is reprehensible.  

There is still time for the NRC to insist on receiving autopsy data from the US Army.  For the NRC report to have any level of credibility, the inclusion of actual battlefield data based on autopsy studies is essential to determine the effectiveness of current body armor.  

Richard W. May

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