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.)

DefenseWatch has confirmed that the oft-rumored GAO investigation into the scandalous body armor situation is indeed underway. While the overall GAO inquiry is looking at the broad area of “force protection,” specific interest is on issues relevant to both the body armor which has been actually issued to our frontline troops, and that which could have/should have been issued.

The GAO study’s focus items include these aspects of the body armor dispute:

— What are requirements for body armor (both capabilities and quantities)?

— How are requirements established?

— How do the Army and the Marine Corps coordinate their respective body armor programs?

— What are the related testing and oversight issues?

It is this last item that most concerns the Army and Marine Corps acquisition bosses, as well it should.

In a fortuitous bit of timing, Discovery Channel’s program, “Future Weapons,” highlighted Dragon Skin in the first 15 minutes of the recent episode titled, “The Protectors.” It’s hard to imagine a worse 15 minutes for the corrupt officials of the Army and Marine Corps body armor projects.

First, the vest tested was a size large, Dragon Skin SOV2000 (Level III) vest, with standard front and rear panels with extended side coverage. See

The initial test clip showed this Dragon Skin vest shot in the frontal area with:

— two 5.56mm M885 rounds (with a 1.0 inch spacing),

— two 7.62mmx39mm AK-47 Mild Steel Core (Armor Piercing) rounds (with a 1.5 inch spacing), and

— two 9mm rounds (with a .5 inch spacing)

There were no penetrations of the vest’s inner liner!!

Please note that the 7.62 rounds listed above are Level IV rounds. That’s right. The Discovery Channel test involved Level IV 7.62 Armor Piercing rounds being fired at Dragon Skin’s Level III vest, and Dragon Skin (Level III) defeated these Level IV rounds!!

It might have made even these cold-hearted bureaucrats suffer a twinge of guilt from their awareness that the inferior body armor they currently are issuing America’s Grunts could never pass such a test.

Nah. These bottom feeders have already proven themselves totally “conscience free.”

But, then the Discovery Channel video clip got even more interesting.

These next shots fired went into the back side of the very same Dragon Skin vest:

— seven (7) shots with 5.56mm M885 rounds

— seven (7) shots with 7.62x39mm AK-47 Mild Steel Core (Armor Piercing) rounds

— one-hundred fifty (150) shots with 9mm

When the Discovery Channel reporter opened the Dragon Skin vest and examined the inner liner, with the camera rolling, the same result was apparent — no penetrations of the vest’s inner liner!!

It bears repeating and reemphasis — the Level III Dragon Skin vest defeated multiple Level IV rounds, after defeating multiple Level III rounds (the 5.56 rounds).

The Interceptor Body Armor’s Level III plates, the “SAPI” plates, could not defeat even a single Level IV round of this type.

Now here’s the kicker: There is no public test data which shows that the Level III SAPI plates have ever defeated this many rounds of Level III rounds in any test. (If any reader is aware of such data please contact the author at

An industry expert summed up the shooting scenes of the Discovery Channel episode by declaring that even an ESAPI plate [Level IV] would “never have passed the multiple-shot test.”

And, according to input from the troops in the field, there are only a limited number of the ESAPI (Level IV) plates being issued. Too many troops are still being issued the less capable SAPI plates (Level III).

Next, an M-67 anti-personnel fragmentation hand grenade was detonated under the same Dragon Skin vest. This demonstration was more a “gee-whiz” scene for the general audience than to demonstrate any serious ballistic armor protection, according to this very experienced industry source, who is actually a Dragon Skin competitor.

This expert went on to say that the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert (ESAPI) plate would have also passed the grenade “test.”

He then made this statement: “I frankly think [Pinnacle Armor] has the best [ballistic protection] out there,” but that Pinnacle Armor “must get testing out of DOD’s hands” if it is to ever gain acceptance for the US military.

The source elaborated, saying that the National Science Foundation could and should conduct tests on Dragon Skin, and that when it passed these tests, the Congress could then force the Army and Marine Corps to procure the best-available body armor. But, lacking this level of independent testing, he saw little likelihood that American’s Grunts would be wearing anything other than the inferior Interceptor Body Armor of the Army and the equally inferior Modular Tactical Vest of the Marine Corps.

And that brings up another “urban myth,” because for all the Marine Corps hype, the Modular Tactical Vest continues to rely upon SAPI and ESAPI plates for ballistic protection. That’s right. The “new” MTV is a classic Pentagon case of repackaging and some marginal improvements, but the essential fact is that MTV relies on decades old technology — the solid (brittle) ceramic composite plate — for it’s crucial, life-saving function of protecting America’s Marines from the high-powered bullets and high-velocity shrapnel on today’s killing fields.

When asked about the recent NIJ certification of Dragon Skin for Level III protection, this source replied that Natick, PEO-Soldier, and the rest of the Army acquisition “system” would use the lack of full (as in DOD First Article Test) environmental testing of Dragon Skin as their specious basis for continuing to block its procurement.

Aside from the GAO study, which has increased the sweat factor exponentially among the lying bastards that have kept Dragon Skin from getting a full and fair test for the past 10-plus years, there is little sign inside any branch of the US Government that anyone cares or is prepared to take serious action.

If — and this is a big “if” — the GAO study is allowed to pursue the truth, independent of political interference, there could be some stunning revelations in about three months when the GAO issues their report.

But, for the foreseeable future, our great nation’s most precious treasure, the young men and women standing guard on the ramparts of freedom, will fight and bleed and die wearing inferior body armor.

This sad, pathetic reality is more than a disgrace. It is a crime, and those corrupt and/or incompetent officials responsible should be identified and prosecuted for their dereliction, if not their malfeasance.

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. Rog can be contacted at Please send comments to

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