Goverment Approved Body Armor: Catch 22?

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A week ago, SFTT received a request from a concerned parent (whose son is expected to deploy shortly to Afghanistan) inquiring whether a service member is obligated to wear “US government approved” equipment or is free to use protective gear and combat equipment purchased from other  firms.

The question is in response to numerous reports from the field that suggest that “non-authorized” equipment may be confiscated and, in fact, life and heath insurance benefits may be forfeited if a  service member is wounded or killed wearing “non-approved” gear.   While SFTT has found no written evidence to indicate that this is a standing order, a recently-retired officer confirmed that he has always operated under the assumption that service members may only carry or wear “government approved” equipment.

This issue surfaced a few years ago when service members deploying to Iraq wished to wear Dragon Skin body armor rather than the “government approved” Interceptor Body Armor (IBA).    Specifically, reports circulated that military men and women would be required to pay for his or her own medical expenses and recovery costs for any wounds or injuries suffered while wearing unapproved or disallowed body armor.

Also,  more pervasive reports suggest that service members who sought to wear “non-authorized” body armor and protective gear were advised by Army officers that their Service Group Life Insurance (SGLI) would be denied if troops wearing Dragon Skin body armor were killed in combat.

On behalf of the parents of one of his constituents, Congressman Mike Ross of the Fourth District of Arkansas, wrote to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army in August, 2007  inquiring into these allegations.  In a letter dated September 10, 2007 Mr. Pete Geren, the Secretary of the Army responded that the “Department of Defense and Department of the Army have no policy that denies medical or insurance benefits to soldiers injured or killed wearing unapproved body armor.”  Copies of these letters may be downloaded from the SFTT website.  Read Representative Mike Ross’s 2007 letter and Army Secretary Pete Geren’s response.

While one might think that Secretary Geren’s letter should have put an end to these rumors, he goes on to state in his letter that “every Soldier, regardless of rank, is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment, such as the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system.”

In effect, while there is no policy denying medical or death benefits to non-conforming service members it is simply not allowed to wear unauthorized or unapproved protective gear.  Call it Catch 22, Beltway Spin or the E-Ring two-step, but it seems to me that Secretary Geren’s response  is akin to saying  “it’s the Army way or the highway.”

Despite Secretary Geren’s strong endorsement of the Interceptor Body Armor system and insistence that “every Soldier . . . is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment” we know of many instances where “non-authorized” body armor is used by officers and enlisted personnel because they believe it provides better protection.  Furthermore, if the IBA system is so darn good, why did the GAO (“Government Accountability Office”)  issue a devastating report last fall which calls into question the Army test procedures and contract awards for body armor?  Similarly, why is the Defense Department fighting tooth-and-nail to withhold autopsy results which suggest that fatalities may have been caused by defective body armor plates?

Congressman Mike Ross has recently requested an updated position on this issue from the Department of Defense.  Personally, I believe that their response will be much the same.  For concerned parents and loved ones of men and women serving in combat, this summary of the government’s official position is hardly reassuring.

If you find the double-talk misleading and harmful write your Congressperson and State Senator and join hundreds of other SFTT Members searching for the Truth to make sure that our troops have the best body armor and protective gear possible.  Frankly, Secretary Geren’s endorsement of the IBA system is not compelling.

Richard W. May

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Military News you may have missed – October 9, 2010

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Military News you may have missed – October 2, 2010

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  •  Court Tosses $35.2 Million *Body*-*Armor* Settlement

    October 2, 2010 – This sad story never seems to go away.

  •  BAE Develops ‘Three in One’ *Body Armor* | Kit Up!

    October 2, 2010 – When military contractors talk about “add-ons” and “customization” features I see extra costs. Is this a serious piece of protective gear or just a promotional piece?

  •  Is the *US Army* serious about replacing the M4? « Strike – Hold!

    October 2, 2010 – Good question. Despite its age and inadequacies, not sure there is the commitment to change.

  •  General Dynamics Awarded $25 Million by *U.S. Army* to Produce MK47 Weapon Systems

    October 2, 2010 – New grenade launcher.

  •  *Army* establishes *Army* Cyber Command

    October 2, 2010 – Not sure I understand the mission: ARCYBER’s mission is to plan, coordinate, integrate, synchronize, direct, and conduct network operations and defense of all Army networks. When directed, ARCYBER will conduct cyberspace operations in support of full spectrum operations to ensure U.S. and allied freedom of action in cyberspace, and to deny the same to adversaries.

    Does each military branch need their own cyber security?

  • Yemen as much a threat as *Afghanistan*, report says

    October 2, 2010 – This is certainly not good news.

  •  Gates says too few in US bear the burdens of *war*

    October 2, 2010 – Interesting perspective from Secretary Gates on attracting and retaining qualified officers for the military.

  • *War* veterans’ care to cost $1.3 trillion

    October 2, 2010 – The cost of committing US troops to combat has long term consequences that are often overlooked when determining whether the “costs” justify the intended security benefits.

  • Military thwarted president seeking choice in *Afghanistan*

    September 28, 2010 – Can’t wait to get a copy of Bob Woodward’s book. Not convinced the military brass sand-bagged the President. If you seek a “military solution” then it it probably best to consult our military leadership. If you are looking for a “diplomatic” or “political” solution, then it might be better to seek counsel from other sources. Most importantly, if you are seeking to determine whether American lives lost (and maimed) and the countless billions of dollars of scare resources are worth the hoped for military, diplomatic or political “solution,” then please seek counsel from history and trusted advisors and friends who put our country’s long-term well-being ahead of any particular agenda. In other words, don’t ask the pastry chef to give you menu options.

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M2 “Ma Duce” gets overhaul

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According to press releases, the U.S. Army has awarded General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products a  $35 million order  to manufacture M2A1 quick change barrel (“QCB”) conversion kits.  According to the news release,  “the QCB conversion kits feature several direct-replacement parts to modify existing M2 heavy barrel (M2HB) machine guns to the M2A1 configuration.  Deliveries are scheduled to begin in January 2011 and will continue through December 2012. “

“‘With the QCB conversion kits, the U.S. warfighter can change the machine gun barrel in a few seconds.  The M2A1 features fixed headspace and timing, which eliminates the need to manually calibrate the weapon after each barrel change and reduces exposure time to enemy fire,'” said Mike O’Brien, vice president and general manager of gun systems for General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products.”

Since its introduction in 1921 –  Yep, 1921! –  the M2 Heavy Duty Machine Gun has been one of the most reliable weapons for US ground troops.   Earlier, Senior Editor, Roger Charles  had reported that the DoDIG had found serious deficiencies in the procurement of spare parts for the M2 in Afghanistan.  While hopeful that the logistical nightmare that plagued troops on the ground has now been remedied, we trust that the M2A1 will prove to be more effective than its predecessor.  Nevertheless, our troops deserve reliable weapons and an effective supply chain that guarantees them that the “right” parts will arrive at the “right” time.

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Call to properly equip our frontline troops

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Gen. Robert ScalesIn a fascinating article published on September 27th in the National Defense Magazine, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales argues that  the Department of Defense (“DOD”) “has failed to pay adequate attention to improving the equipment and training for small infantry units” currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Gen. Scales, a former commandant of the Army War College and military historian, claims that while “we’re still the best ground force in the world . . .”   when it comes to ground combat, the American military “hasn’t come as far as it should.  It doesn’t dominate in the tactical fight.”

In a speech delivered to a gathering of defense experts and journalists at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Gen. Scales argues that the tactical superiority the United States enjoys in the air and on the sea hasn’t manifest itself on the ground.  According to the National Defense Magazine article which

Years of combat have shown that the soldiers and marines who are the most likely to die are the ‘least trained and equipped for this dangerous calling,’ Scales says.”

Citing a “Beltway culture this is fixated on big-ticket weapons,”  policy-makers ” dodge meaningful discussions about the tactical aspects of war on the ground because close-contact combat is ‘dirty, horrific and bloody,’ says Scales. ‘People just don’t want to talk about that.’”   Citing his experiences at a recent congressionally mandated panel, Gen. Scales commented that during countless hours of testimony “I don’t believe the topic of ground combat ever came up.”  “These wonderful neat things inside the Beltway tend to trump the bloody and uncomfortable aspects” of the wars U.S. troops are now fighting, he says. “There are so few people in positions of authority who have had experience with that sort of thing.”

The Defense Department’s scientific communities have never made small units a strategic priority in research and development. Scales specifically pointed his finger at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “The greatest disappointment is DARPA,” says Gen. Scales. “It doesn’t appear that the reality of the tactical battlefield has worked its way into the scientific and technological development entities . . . We still view the preparation of small units as an industrial process of mass production.”While we spend billions of dollars on instrumented training ranges and digital simulators, Gen. Scales notes that “small unit leaders still have to gain proficiency the old fashioned way: in combat, by shedding the blood of their soldiers.”

Gen. Scales is not the first to point out that the grunts on the ground appear to get short-changed in the procurement process when it comes to making sure that they have reliable – why not the BEST?combat gear and protective gear. Are we too fascinated by the techie toys such as the Predator to consider the well-being and safety of our troops?  Perhaps, it is as Gen. Scales so eloquently argues, “there are so few people in positions of authority who have had experience with that sort of thing . . . close-contact combat is dirty, horrific and bloody!”

General Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  recently argued that “low-end” wars would become increasingly common and that these wars would call for increased emphasis for troops to be deployed in hostile war zones.   If this is a war-planning scenario that our military leadership believes probable, shouldn’t we be making haste to insure our ground troops have the best combat equipment and protective gear available.     Gen. Scales believes so – as do many of the families of troops currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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DoD Shell Game?: You be the judge.

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DOD Shell GameCan anyone tell me exactly how many US servicemembers are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan?  How about the number of Americans in uniform on 9/11? Or the number serving in uniform today?  Does anyone know the total number of servicemembers deployed to Afghanistan over the past 9 years?  Deployed to Iraq since 2003?  I’m asking these questions because all I’ve been hearing since “combat operations” ended in Iraq on September 1st is that “the troops are coming home.” Let’s take a reality check re: the number of troops still on the frontlines and then you decide if all the redeployment happy talk rings true.

When we first took stock of our military capabilities the day after 9/11, there were 1.37 million Americans serving in the military with just over 200,000, or about 15%, deployed overseas in static positions. The shell game since then has gone something like this:  The initial force deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 was 13,000 and increased to a stable force of 20,000 through 2005,  then increased to 23,000 in 2006, to 26,000 in 2007 and 2008, to 67,000 in 2009—and today Afghanistan fields approximately 100,000 US troops.  In 2003 the US invaded Iraq with approximately 175,000 boots on the ground; between 2004-2007, deployment averaged 150,000.  The 2007 troop “surge” increased the total to its peak strength of 197,000 and returned to approximately 150,000 by summer 2009.  Today, there are approximately 50,000 troops deployed in Iraq supporting Operation “New Dawn”. 

Taken as a whole, the number of troops deployed inside Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 9 years averaged approximately 225,000; the total today is 150,000.  This boots on the ground number does not include 28,000 personnel and logistic support assets deployed in Kuwait that has remained constant since 9/11.  Nor the requisite sea and air assets in the region supporting these operations, which totaled approximately 75,000 during this same period.  Even if we were to round down the numbers, we are still at 253,000 troops deployed supporting operations exclusively in Iraq and Afghanistan, while another 175,000 are deployed in static positions world-wide supporting other missions, contingencies and treaty obligations. 

The bottom line:  Don’t believe it when you hear “the troops are coming home,” because they’re not.  We still have 50,000 troops deployed in Iraq, 29,000 troops deployed in Kuwait, 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, 75,000 airmen and sailors deployed in the region supporting operations and an additional 175,000 military personnel deployed world-wide.  We’re talking approximately 419,000 troopers deployed in perpetuity from an available end strength of 1.4 million—a third of available US combat power—or a sustained 50% increase since that fateful September day over nine years ago. 

But there’s more to consider.  Since 9/11, the Army has “grown” from 480,000 to 569,000, an 89,000 Soldier increase, while our beloved Marines have ratcheted up their numbers from 172,000 to 202,000 for a 30,000 Devil Dog increase.  Why does this matter?  Because we increased our boot end strength only 119,000 over nine years or less than 10% of our total force, while keeping over 35% of our total forces deployed at any given time during this timeframe.  And remember, the majority of the 35% total have been repeatedly deployed and engaged in combat operations. 

So again, no matter how you work the numbers, “the troops are coming home” is pure spin. The harsh reality is that the troops remain deployed and strategically exhausted. And while the drawdown in Iraq is welcome news,  for every two troopers the US drew down, one returned stateside, the other deployed to Afghanistan or elsewhere. 

As I reviewed these numbers from a host of open source and non-Wiki documents available on Department of Defense websites, I decided to fact check them with an inside-the-Pentagon planner who confirmed my math.  His take on the propaganda went something like this: “. . . deployment numbers are really like a shell game . . . try to follow the shell with one pea hidden underneath it . . we’re moving some over here, and there, and then over there, and then back again . . . repeat and distract the player with song and dance . . . and guess what?  Normally you would turn over all the shells and find at least one pea under one shell.  However, now the rules have changed and the powers-that-be will lift up all the shells, but hide the pea.”  He’s got that right, it’s a new shell game.  No one really knows how many troops are deployed, and no one really knows when they’re coming home.

CLOSE HOLD   

For more stories on the “reality” of the hardships faced by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq visit CLOSE HOLD

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Military News you may have missed – September 25, 2010

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Military News you may have missed – September 20, 2010

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M4 Carbine Upgrade Kit Deployed

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In an interesting article entitled “Finally Fixing The M4 Carbine,” Strategy Page reports that “the U.S. Army has begun delivering upgrade kits for its M4 carbines. The kits replace the barrel, receiver and auto-loading system with one that is easier to keep clean. There is also a heavier barrel and the ability to fire full automatic. There are also stronger rails on top of the barrel, for mounting scopes and such. The army is distributing at least 10,000 of these kits this year.”

According to the the Strategy Page article, “this conversion kit addressed years of complaints about the M-4 and M-16 assault rifles . . . the main change was replacing the main portion of the rifle with a new component that contains a short stroke piston gas system (to reduce buildup of carbon inside the rifle) and a heavier (by 142 gr/five ounces) barrel (which reduces barrel failure from too much heat, which happens when several hundred rounds are fired within a few minutes.)”

Test various weapons under dusty weather conditions confirmed that the “M-4 had nearly eight times as many jams as the XM8, the rifle designed to replace it. The M4 had nearly four times the jams of the SCAR and 416, which were basically M4 type rifles with a different gas handling system. Any stoppage is potentially fatal for the soldier holding the rifle. Thus the disagreement between the army brass, and the troops who use the weapons in combat.”

Long a source of complaints by troops in the field who find the M-4 unreliable and subject to jamming, Strategy Page writes that “if the issue were put to a vote, the troops would vote for a rifle using a short-stroke system (like the XM8, SCAR or H&K 416). But the military is not a democracy, so the troops spend a lot of time cleaning their weapons, and hoping for the best. The debate involves two intertwined attitudes among senior army commanders. First, they don’t want the hassle, and possible embarrassment, of switching to a new rifle. Second, they are anticipating a breakthrough in weapons technology that will make a possible a much improved infantry weapon. This is likely to happen later, rather than sooner, but the generals kept obsessing over it.”

Judging from the comments to Strategy Page’s article, not too many weapon’s specialists felt this was a long-term solution for a weapon that is certainly showing its age. Hopefully, this quick fix will reduce the number of jamming incidents reported in Afghanistan, but this is a critical component of combat gear for our troops and they require a reliable weapon to accomplish their mission.

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