DOD Body Armor Testers Ignore Protocols

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In previous news articles for SFTT, I had reported on the rather cavalier (“incompetent”  or “negligent” might be better words) treatment given to body armor testing by the DOD and the US Army.  When in doubt (and there should be no doubt when lives are at stake!), these body armor testers consistently skewed test results in favor of contractors to the detriment of  soldiers in combat who have no legal alternative than to use “approved” military-issue protective equipment.

For years, SFTT has consistently argued that US Army and DOD test procedures have been compromised by less than impartial testing and these arguments have now been confirmed by the GAO which in October, 2009 issued it’s damning indictment of US Army test procedures  to Congress:  “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.”

In yet another example of their flawed test procedures, the GAO reports on how DOD testers interpreted “partial” body armor penetration.    The GAO observed  the penetration of small debris through a plate that the DOD testers had counted as only a partial penetration.  Test protocols require that penalty points be assigned when any fragment of the armor material inbeds in, or passes into, the soft under garment (Kevlar backing) behind the plate.

The GAO observed small fragments from the armor three layers deep inside the Kevlar backing, and noted that this shot should have received 1.5 penalty points, causing the tested body armor to have failed phase two testing (First Article Testing).

DOD testers counted the shot as only a partial penetration, contending because no Kevlar fibers in the backing were broken, it did not meet criteria for being counted as a complete penetration of the plate.   When GAO pointed out that the requirement for broken fibers is consistent with DOD’s approved, written test protocols, they acknowledged that the criterion for broken fibers was “not described in the testing protocols or otherwise documented . . . ”

That’s right.   When GAO pointed out that the written test protocols did not require “broken fibers,” the DOD testers admitted that GAO was right, and still improperly assigned the test shot as only being a “partial penetration”!

And in case you have not already guessed, this blatant denial of DOD’s test protocol was effectively bypassed by DOD testers who effectively wrote their “own test standard protocol.”  This allowed a contractor’s armor to pass Phase 2 Testing when it should have been evaluated as a failure.

The GAO study notes that this armor design was also one of the designs that would have failed had BFD been measured at the deepest point of the depression, rather than at the point of aim, during the Phase One (Preliminary Design Model) tests.

So, this particular contractor essentially required two “waivers” from DOD testers for their product to be given a passing evaluation. Not a problem for the DOD testers; the design got a “pass,” and were it not for the GAO oversight, these plates would have been issued to our frontline troops.

Still keeping score?:  Contractors – 3,  Soldiers – 0.

As a retired military officer, it pains me to see grown men quibbling over body armor test procedures and interpretations of test results.  When the lives of men and women serving our country in hazardous combat zones are at stake, there can be no room for error.  Our heroes deserve better.

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

Review the GAO Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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Flawed Army Test Procedures for Body Armor

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I had previously reported that the GAO had found that the Army’s practice of incorrectly rounding down back-face deformations (“BFD”) would have caused two body armor designs that passed First Article Testing to “have failed if the measurements had not been rounded.”   This is just one of many testing anomalies  chronicled in the 110 page GAO report entitled:  Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.

Not satisfied with the advantage granted contractors by rounding down BFD, the Army and DOT&E team found another blatantly suspect maneuver that placed Soldiers at higher risk while decreasing the risks and costs to contractors.   This  scheme involved the question of where to measure Back-Face Deformation (“BFD”)?  Seems like it’s a non-issue:  Take the measurement at the deepest point of the depression in the clay backing. 

GAO thought so, and said:   “According to original testing protocols, back-face deformation, was to be measured at the deepest point of the depression in the clay backing . . .  According to Army officials, the deeper the back-face deformation measured in the clay backing, the higher the risk of internal injury or death.”  

Not so fast.  The Army and DOT&E team decided that what counted, and what should determine where the measurement of BFD was taken, was the point of aim for the test shot.  They bandied about some convoluted trigonometric gobbledygook involving “plate curvature variances,” degrees of obliquity, and “the reference plane across the diameter of the indentation.” (There’s more, but I will spare the reader. For those so inclined, see pages 16-21 of the GAO report for the Army DOT&E technical bunkum, and the GAO’s devastating rebuttal on pages 78-84.)

GAO makes this additional point:    “Army Research Laboratory and [Department of Justice]-certified laboratories use the benchmark process of measuring back-face deformation at that deepest point, not at the point of aim.”

There is it is:  Both the Army’s own premier research laboratory, and the Department of Justice agency responsible for testing all domestic law enforcement equipment, both require that BFD be measured at the deepest point.

When you add the “Rounding Down” practices previously reported  to the “pick your point of impact” practiced by Army testers, you have test results that are simply a joke.  Unfortunately, for our brave young men and women serving in harm’s way, this is no laughing matter.

For those keeping score:  Contractors – 2   Soldiers – 0

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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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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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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