Unreliable Body Armor Tests Place US Troops at Risk

31 Mar 2010

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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