Military Body Armor Supplier Files for Bankruptcy

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Point Blank Solutions Inc.,  who claims to be the leading manufacturer of body armor,  filed for bankruptcy protection on April 14, 2010.   Citing Court filings, Reuters reports that the Florida-based (Pompano Beach) company “supplies more than 80 percent of the U.S. military’s soft body armor vest requirements . . .”  

Claiming mounting legal bills in the trial of former CEO David Brooks – currently on trial in New York for securities fraud and other related crimes – Point Blank Inc. and three affiliates  filed for Chapter 11  protection in US Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.  Tom Hals reports that  “former CEO, David Brooks, was listed as the company’s largest shareholder with a 22.6 percent stake. The company has also been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, is the subject of a shareholder lawsuit, and spends about $600,000 a month on legal fees, according to court documents.”

The South Florida Business Journal reports that Point Blank CEO and Chairman of the Board, James Henderson issued a news release stating that “We have won several key contracts, paid down a substantial amount of our debt and realigned our business to return to profitability.  Without a financing facility and with mounting legacy expenses, however, we had to take this step to reorganize.”

The South Florida Business Journal goes on to report that “in 2007, Point Blank sued its former CEO  (Brooks)  for the return of more than $4 million and other company assets.  Also, in 2008, the company settled a class action lawsuit and a shareholder derivative suit for $34.9 million in cash and 3.18 million shares of its common stock.”

Formerly known as DHB Industries, Point Blank was also cited for supplying body armor to the Marines in 2004 that didn’t meet specifications.  As reported by Nathanial Helms for Defense Watch, “as early as July 19, 2004, according to memos obtained by the Army Times newspaper, the Marine Corps found ‘major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank.’ 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 court records. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor.”   Despite the fact that Point Blank had been consistently supplying the U.S. Marines with substandard equipment, on July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government.”  Go figure. 

It does seem grossly negligent that the US Army and Defense Department continues to employ contractors whose very public financial problems, questionable integrity and lax quality standards should be allowed to bid upon body armor contracts let alone supply our troops with critical protective gear.   SFTT, families of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the media have been questioning US military body armor procurement practices for years.   At every step of the way, we have been stonewalled. 

The October 2009 GAO report recommending independent body armor testingconfirms what everyone knows:  there is something rotten in the State of our military procurement process.   Why should our frontline troops and their families continue to suffer because our military leadership has for so long turned a blind eye to this situation?  Will the bankruptcy of Point Blank finally bring about needed changes? 

If past history is any indication, our military leadership will coddle Point Blank through their bankruptcy reorganization.   Our military leadership needs to make a clean break with Point Blank and get our troops the body armor they deserve.  Let’s hope they do, but we will be vigilant.

Richard W. May

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Is Secretary Rumsfeld responsible for the lack of military leadership?

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As an Army 2nd Lt stationed at the Pentagon during the Viet Nam war, I still vividly recall the military brass scrambling to deal with one crisis after another while pretending that they were in control of a war that had already been largely lost. With Robert McNamara at the helm, competent military leaders were replaced by faceless  bureaucrats who were more adept at tabulating body counts than combat itself. Working at the Pentagon during that period was a surreal experience and one that has no doubt contributed to a somewhat cynical attitude toward our military leadership.

The emergence of Secretary Rumsfeld as spokesperson for the Iraq War reignited this cynicism as evidenced by his response to an young enlisted man requesting better protective gear: “You go to war with the Army you have – not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”  Many consider this to be a public admission that Rumsfeld was far more interested in military tech toys and hardware than the troops that were fielding this equipment.  Human resources – our frontline troops – were seen as little more than just another military asset to be deployed in  a way to support the overall mission as defined by our military leadership. In other words, how much firepower or protective gear does a soldier need to accomplish the mission the military leadership has set forth for them? With this vague philosophy and “value judgement”, our military leadership can justify providing our young men and women with  “adequate” equipment rather than the “best” equipment to have a chance to survive combat.

No where is this more evident than the US Army’s blatant disregard for the safety of our frontline troops in its testing and procurement practices for body armor. In October 2009, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a 110 page report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed before Fielding.” This devastating report proved conclusively what many had been saying for years: Army and DOD test procedures were flawed and overwhelmingly skewed in favor of contractors rather than our brave young men and women serving in combat areas. Read senior investigative reporter Roger Charles’ insightful analysis of the GAO report on body armor on the Soldiers for The Truth.

The Soldiers for the Truth Foundation (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation established 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. In the past four-plus years SFTT’S active campaign has focused on ensuring America’s frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear.

Thanks to the persistent efforts of organizations like SFTT and concerned Americans, our military may soon get the leadership our troops deserve.

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Does New War Doctrine Expose US Troops to greater danger?

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With a 2,600 page Health Reform Package, one doesn’t have time to read the fine print.  At other times, US government policy statements are often so broad in scope that one has difficulty piecing together the implications.

In a recent address that was not picked up by the press,  Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, articulated what some consider to be a change in US War Doctrine.  In a fascinating article picked up by Fred Edwards in Crosshairs – Miltary Matters in Review, Mr. Edwards notes that Admiral Mullen may be laying out a new War Doctrine for the United States.  Mr. Edwards  notes that Admiral Mullen is suggesting/proposing the following:

  • In future wars, the United States must use measured and precise military strikes, and not overwhelming force. 
  • Policymakers should consider the use of military force not as a last resort solution in a crisis, but as part of an early response to a conflict or a natural disaster.
  • Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools available to policymakers. Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy.”

I certainly agree with Mr. Edwards, that under this doctrine, military commanders (and political leaders) certainly have a lot more leeway in determining what a “precise” rather than an “overwhelming” strike might be.   With military leaders now asking our troops to leave their protective gear behind to befriend civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, it certainly appears that Admiral Mullen’s new War Doctrine is already in practice.

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Unreliable Body Armor Tests Place US Troops at Risk

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For those who have been following my summary for SFTT of the October 2009 110-page report on the GAO report to Congress entitled Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding, (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf) I salute you. While one tries to remain as objective as possible, this damning report by the GAO proves conclusively that our military leadership has not been candid with the American public.

As a retired military officer, I wish I could take for granted that our military leadership will do everything possible to insure that our frontline troops have the best possible combat equipment to accomplish their mission and return from combat safely and in one piece. But, based on my previous investigative reporting, now confirmed by the October, 2009 GAO body armor report, there is no question in my mind that our brave young men and women do not have properly tested body armor. I fear for their safety and well-being.

The GAO report and my persistent inquiries to get to the bottom of this disgraceful body armor testing process should rock every citizen’s core belief in the integrity of the military chain of command.  This uneasy feeling in my stomach has now been compounded by the DOD and US Army “spin” on the GAO findings.

The GAO has now documented (with empirical data backing up their claims) what the Army, with Secretary of Defense concurrence, actually did to test body armor: They consistently failed to follow established test procedures and gave a “pass” to protective gear that would have failed normal testing procedures!

The DOD seems to be invoking the “bigger picture” argument to cover-up their blatantly flawed test procedures. Make no mistake, our front-line troops is simply a “low-threshold asset” to the DOD as it considers its military procurement priorities.  Specifically, GAO has documented how the DOD and the US Army collaborated to control test protocols and tests that weaken, degrade and gut “factors of safety” to levels demonstrably below the “threshold operational requirement” that they claim define their own standards.

And, if after reading the GAO report and SFTT’s previously posted analyses, the reader has any lingering doubt about the Army/DOD clear bias in favor of contractors, here’s one more GAO quote dealing with the specific issue of whether to measure Back Face Deformation (BFD) at deepest point or at point of aim: The DOD stated that “this decision was made by Army leadership in consultation with the office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, because this would not disadvantage any vendor.”

There you have it. The “smoking-gun” admission that the default-driver for Army acquisition decisions regarding body armor is not what’s best for our frontline troops; it’s “not disadvantaging any vendor.”

Why would the Army leadership overrule its technical experts and it’s direct line-supervisor on such an issue? The GAO comments only that it “did not independently assess all factors being considered” by the Army leadership when it made this stupefying decision. (Might Congress want to make just such an independent assessment?)

The DOD and the US Army, trying to defend the indefensible make this incredulous statement about their joint commitment to providing the best personal protective equipment to America’s frontline troops: “Inherent in this process was consideration by the DOD to incorporate into the contractual requirements, where appropriate, factors of safety above the threshold operation requirement.”

Please note the “where appropriate.” Behind this seemingly innocuous admission lies the Army’s startling acknowledgement that military procurement practices take precedence over the lives and safety of the brave men and women serving in harm’s way!! I can’t imagine that this callous disdain for our brave heroes will go down to well with the American public.

Now, folks, in 46 years of watching spin and a wide variety of world-class mendacity from the Department of Defense, this statement about “factors of safety above the threshold operation requirement” just may qualify as their all-time twisting of the truth. The in-your-face falsity would be farcically funny, were it not for the tragic reality that young Americans, the best our great nation can produce, have died and continue to die wearing sub-standard, inferior body armor.

Please consider these Body Armor Facts:

  • The DOD has $121 million of body armor plates sitting in warehouses, plates that GAO identified as having been wrongly designated as “passed” following flawed, unreliable DOD testing, and
  • These flawed plates will not be issued to US military forces.

In the three specific instances from the GAO report cited in previous articles on the SFTT, where the choice involved a trade off between increasing risk to the Soldier or increasing risk to the contractors, the 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 critical unanswered question is: Will Congress follow up on the GAO report and demand accountability from our military leadership?

If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do, you might want to ask your own congressional representatives how they stand on this issue. I have attached links below to help you contact your US Senator and US Congressional Representative.

Mailing Address, Phone Numbers and other information for US Senators

Mailing Address, Phone Numbers and other information for US Congressional Representatives

This is a matter of life and death. We owe it to our heroes to Sound Off!

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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Should US Troops Wear Body Armor?

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There appears to be a bit of a backlash within military circles and families of men and women currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the “suggestion” that our troops should leave their body armor behind to ingratiate themselves with local civilians.   This “new” strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local populace first came to my attention during an airing of a 60 minute special on General McChrystal some months ago.

I recall similar “hearts and mind” arguments in other engagements by the US military and I have always reacted the same way:  Send in the Peace Corps.   It is one thing for General McChrystal and other US military and civilian dignitaries to walk into a village without their protective gear when surrounded by a heavily armed security detail with air cover and quite another to for military personnel to doff their body armor and helmet to play a game of cards and drink tea with the Afghans.

Befriending the local population has always been a welcome characteristic of US troops serving in harm’s way, but it is quite another mission altogether when the military brass “asks” our frontline troops to become social workers at the expense of their own safety.  Unfortunately, military “suggestions” and leaders acting in ways to encourage this behavior encourages a chain reaction of idiocy right down the military chain of command. 

Witness this bizarre military “spin” on the appropriate use of body armor that was reported in the Honolulu Advisor

QUOTE

Col. Walter Piatt, who commanded the approximately 3,500 soldiers in 3rd Brigade in Iraq and now back at Schofield, said there was no order to not wear body armor.  “My guidance was that commanders at every level would determine the force protection equipment required to accomplish the mission,” he said.

That guidance went to high-level government meetings “inside a very well-furnished office with a mayor or a provincial representative who was wearing a thousand-dollar suit or a very nice dress and the furniture is very expensive,” Piatt said. “I told our soldiers we should not be wearing our kit (body armor) in those rooms because we’ll destroy the furniture.”  Commanders could decide to keep body armor on, leave it in vehicles, or take it off in an antechamber at a meeting, he said.

Piatt also said it was “key leaders” only who would leave their body armor in a vehicle. Even without body armor, the soldiers retained their weapons. There also always was a security element wearing all protective gear that accompanied those soldiers.  Bland said “guidance” is the same as an order. When a commander gives guidance or a suggestion, “it’s exactly the same as giving an order. It’s just more politely phrased.”

UNQUOTE

Nuance aside, I would be hard-pressed to determine how to act if I were currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Even Farmer McGregor would not leave behind his overalls and gloves to work in the Brier patch, but it seems to me that we are asking our soldiers to take on additional risk to win some pyrrhic victory for General McChrystal.   Mind you, this is the same military leadership that barred troops from wearing any other body armor other than official “Army Issue” at the risk of losing their medical coverage if wounded.    As Alice in Wonderland said:  This is getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

Richard W. May

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Basic Five B.E.S.T Campaign to Support the Troops

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Ever since its inception, Soldiers for the Truth (“SFTT”) has been focused on insuring that our frontline troops have the best possible equipment to accomplish their mission and come home alive safely and in one piece.  Our campaigns have been based on providing our troops with the “Best Equipment to Support the Troops,”  often referred to as our “B.E.S.T.” Campaign strategy.   While much of our recent investigative reporting has been focused on body armor, SFTT will soon be extending its investigative reporting to cover the BASIC FIVE combat equipment items necessary to properly equip our brave heroes serving in harm’s way:  Body Armor, Helmets, Rifles, Sidearms and Combat Boots. 

 

BODY ARMOR TO WARD OFF LIFE-THREATENING INJURY

When it comes to saving lives, the Military’s standard-issue body armor has been independently tested and shown to be significantly inferior to body armor worn by knowledgeable high-ranking officers, top civilian officials, their body guards, contractors in Iraq, Special Forces with discriminatory funds and others with the luxury of choice.

 

HELMETS

Standard-issue helmets which ignore current human factors engineering and are far from optimally effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries, the Iraq war’s signature injury. 

 

RIFLES THAT AREN’T JAMMERS

The CAR-4 standard-issue rifle is a modified version of the M-16, which our troops have complained about since Vietnam. Forty-five years later, impractical maintenance requirements still contribute to all-too-common jamming, a fatal flaw on the battlefield.

 

MILITARY SIDEARMS THAT SHOOT STRAIGHT

The standard-issue 9 millimeter pistol has reliability and trust problems. The bottom line: it has too often failed to stop a determined opponent.

 

COMBAT BOOTS THAT FIT THE MISSION

The standard-issue combat boot—designed to be all-purpose—is a footwear failure. When America commits to “boots on the ground,” the troops should have mission, climate and terrain-specific gear that can go the distance.

Like our ongoing investigation into body armor, it is clear that our frontline troops have deficient combat equipment and our military leadership has done little – if anything – to properly equip them for their hazardous mission.  Over the coming weeks and months we will provide you with some of our preliminary findings and I am convinced that you too will share our outrage at how our troops are presently outfitted for combat.

 I still vividly recall David’s and my outrage over Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s cynical and uncaring response to Army Spc. Thomas Wilson plea for better equipment:  “You go to war with the Army you have – not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”    We were outraged for the rest of Hack’s life and I still am!!!!

Paraphrasing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “Troops go to war with the military leadership they have – not the leadership they deserve!” It is sad to say that almost 6 years later, our military leadership hasn’t yet to take the necessary steps to provide our frontline troops with the equipment they deserve. Shame on you Secretary Rumsfeld and shame on our military leaders who continue to sidestep the safety of our troops.

Eilhys England

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Picking up the Torch for Col. David Hackworth

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My valiant, wonderful husband, Colonel David (Hack) Hackworth, one of America’s greatest heroes and most valor-decorated soldiers, died in my arms two years ago this past May (Editor’s note:  This was written by Col. Hackworth’s wife three years ago on the second anniversary of his death).  During the last weeks we shared, he thought not a wit about himself; and his love for me burned so brightly I still feel surrounded by that awesome warmth.  But he worried too about the frontline troops he spent his life protecting and particularly about Soldiers For The Truth (“SFTT”), the foundation we started together.  So I promised Hack I’d pick up the torch and keep SFTT viable – and continue our commitment to get the kids out at the tip of the spear the best leadership, training and equipment.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy.  In spite of the major stories we broke – such as the lack of up-to-date body armor or none at all when the troops first went back into Iraq or the unarmored hummers or Abu Ghraib, which pointed so clearly to flaws in both training and leadership – most people we addressed when we tried to raise awareness and funds found it difficult to accept that our soldiers and Marines weren’t getting the right stuff with which to wage war.  Even though we eventually came to expect the disconnect, we always found it hard to compute — but that was because for many years we were often first to report outrages like the Tillman cover-up in our weekly column DEFENDING AMERICA, which Hack would also discuss every week on TV and radio.  To disbelieving ears, of course, but he kept getting booked because he had better pundit credentials than most and good TV-Q, probably because he was as quick and deadly with words as he’d been in battle.

Only recently have I noticed that we’re gaining more traction and I suspect it’s mainly because the Walter Reed debacle so deeply shocked and touched the nation.  Suddenly we were all confronting what Hack had warned us about on Larry King when we first went into Iraq:  in spite of all our vows to the contrary, we’ve allowed ourselves to be sucked into another Vietnam with far greater potential fall-out.  Sure, because of medical and technological advances, we won’t have a black granite wall listing 58,000 fallen warriors; but depending upon how much longer we’re stuck in Iraq, we’re likely to have far more than 58,000 wounded, many grievously.

Excellent organizations offer countless services to take care of the troops, from entertaining them in Iraq to helping them and their families when they come home.  The USO, Wounded Warrior, Fisher House and so on.  But no organization except SFTT is dedicated day in, day out to being there for our stalwart warriors as they stand tall for their country out in the shifting sands of the Valley of the Shadow of Death — to try to prevent them from being killed or wounded in the first place.

As we entered last spring the fifth year of this terrible war, SFTT will formally announce the new Basic Five campaign to get America’s frontline troops the best available of the five most essential items of personal combat gear so they have the best possible chance to complete their assigned missions and make it home alive and in one piece in a plane seat instead of a body bag or on a stretcher.  Doesn’t it seem criminal that the richest nation in the world, which spends more than the rest of the world combined on defense, can’t budget responsibly enough to provide its sons and daughters with a helmet that will prevent many more of the endemic, life-altering head injuries?  With the same better body armor the generals choose – and wear hidden under their uniforms?  With a rifle that’s not a jammer like Jessica Lynch’s M-16 and that’s at least as effective as the AK-47, the terrorists’ weapon-of-choice?  With a sidearm that’s reliable and deadly in tight situations?   And with boots capable of going the bloody distance?

No wonder Hack died worrying about the troops.  But if more Americans stay mindful of the dreadful consequences of war and help SFTT carry Hack’s torch, we can together “SUPPORT THE TROOPS WITH MORE THAN LIP SERVICE” and make sure more of our brave volunteers survive whatever lies ahead.

Eilhys England

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Severe Clear debuts in NY

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Severe Clear, a documentary based primarily on footage shot by Marine First Lt. Mike Scotti on his Mini-DV, shows Marines in combat during the early days of combat in Iraq in 2003, opened today in New York City.

Severe Clear, which I have not seen, was reviewed today in the New York Times and vivdly describes combat conditions during the early days of the assault on Baghdad by Lt. Scotti’s unit.  The documentary, drawing largely from Lt. Scotti’s video sequences and his journals, was directed by Kristian Fragas.

Stephen Holden, who reviewed the documentary, comments that “More than the battle scenes filmed with a jiggling, hand-held camera, the profane, hyper-macho banter and roughhousing among the men in Lieutenant Scotti’s unit are what make you feel part of the experience. So do his complaints: about the awful food, lack of adequate body armor, and the endless sand. At least at the start, the troops share a righteously gung-ho fighting spirit.”

Certainly, this documentary appears to be far more realistic than the staged but vivid film sequences in The Hurt Locker, which won Oscars for “Best Film” and “Best Direction.”   It appears that Severe Clear has only been released in one theater in New York City.  I would appreciate any reviews and comments from SFTT readers who have seen the film.  Severe Clear carries an “R” rating.

As Roger Charles points out in his detailed analysis of the October 2009 GAO report recommending “Independent Testing” of body armor, I am fearful that not much has been done to improve the body armor for our troops since Lt. Scotti and his fellow Marines served in Iraq some 7 years ago.

Richard W. May

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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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