Body Armor Testing: Spin Doctors working overtime

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The latest flap over think is really “real” or even close to the truth.

This morning, I woke up and read an article on Yahoo’s news entitled “Is America’s Body Armor Defective?”  The alleged author of the article is Charles Simmins.  Now I have no idea who Charles Simmins is, but apparently there is a Yahoo contributor and freelance author  named Charles Simmins who is an accountant.    Nevertheless, if this Charles Simmins is the Charles Simmins of Yahoo contributor fame who wrote the article, one must question his credentials or ask the question: Is Mr. Simmins simply serving as a mouthpiece for the Pentagon Spin Doctors?

The central issue is not whether government-issued and apparently infrequently-tested body armor is “the best body armor in the world,” but whether our military leadership actually believes that it is.  Surely, the Talking Heads at the Pentagon have more than adequate information on Interceptor body armor to determine its effectiveness and  reliability, but they rarely share the facts with the public or the troops they equip.

When someone tells me they have the “best” protective gear available, I always ask, “What is the Israeli Defense Force, Mossad, CIA and SpecOpsCommand operatives wearing?”  If it isn’t Interceptor Body Armor, I have a tough time believing our government-issued body armor  is the “best in the world.”

The other thing that irritates me in the Charles Simmins’ article is the insinuation that Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, “a noted anti-war activist,” is somehow responsible for sloppy and largely non-existent testing of body armor supplied to US troops.  The report documenting these irregularities and short-comings in body armor testing was from the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Defense.  Ceramic plates have no political affiliation:  they are either effective or defective.

Sleep well Beltway spin doctors, our troops are on the perimeter defending your liberties.  Whether they have reliable body armor is still a matter of conjecture.

Richard W. May

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Body Armor Testing: Pentagon Spin Doctors at Work Again

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The Pentagon spin doctors are working overtime  to cover-up the latest IG report from the DoD which chides the Army for the lack of proper testing for is the most tested body armor in the world today.”

Lt. Gen Phillips goes on to say, “”I am not aware of any incident down range where the body armor failed to protect against a round that it was designed to defeat.”   The US Army then trots out examples of  where the government-issued (but apparently seldom tested) protective gear has saved lives and their more recent eyebrow-raising claim that they now X-Ray ceramic plates from troops in the field.

Col. William Cole, Project Manager for Soldier Protection, states that  “While they’re gone (troops coming off deployment) , there is a crew that will pull the plates out of their body armor and take it over to the X-ray machine and X-ray all plates, and if we find any that are cracked, which is rare but occasionally it happens, we’ll immediately replace them so two weeks later when they come back, they pick up their body armor and go back (to Afghanistan). Most of them have no idea that we have even done that.”

If true, it would be useful if the US Army could let us know what percentage of ceramic plates were cracked.  I doubt we will get that information, or the percentage of plates that were actually tested by X-ray.    Col. Cole’s assertion  sounds more self-serving than standard operating procedure.

Indeed, the USMC has discovered that 5% of ceramic plates show cracks even before that are shipped to the field.  Let’s face it, the facts simply do not support the positive spin on body armor testing  from US Army sources.

Consider the following short-list chronology of publicly known problems in our military procurement process:

Body Armor Recall

Body Armor Plate Recalls

Congressional Inquiry into Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

GAO recommendations on Body Armor Testing

Broken Military Procurement Process

Congressional Inquiry into Defective Military Helmets and no-bid contract awards

Flaws in M2 and M4 endanger troops in Afghanistan

DODIG sites fault in spare parts for M2 in Afghanistan

In fact, we recently reported that shoddy test procedures of body armor go back many years as reported by Col. Jim MaGee, USMC (Ret.) who was the designer of the Interceptor Body Vest.

Nevertheless, Lt. Gen. Phillips seems not to be aware of the failure of ceramic plates in the field.  Perhaps, if he would order the release of DoD and US Army autopsy records requested by SFTT Editor Roger Charles under the Freedom of Information Act, we would finally learn the truth.  Does he really want to know?  Does he really care?  Or, what seems more likely, “Does he want the public to know?”

 

 

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The “Ugly Truth” of Body Armor Testing

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Designer of Interceptor Body Armor: The “Ugly” Truth About Army & Contractors Ignoring Stringent Test Requirements for Interceptor Body Armor

[Editor’s note: Col. Jim Magee, USMC (Ret.) noted our recent posting on the “reality testing” for body armor that has been substituted for required acceptance testing by contractors before they ship protective plates for issue to our troops. He provided the following additional insights on the scandalous situation that has been allowed to develop.]

The body armor testing violations cited in the DOD IG report is actually worse than it seems on the surface.

Once the procurement reached mass quantities (starting 2004+), Ceradyne and Armor Holdings (the largest suppliers of SAPI and ESAPI plates), and Point Blank Body (PBBA, the largest supplier of the Interceptor vests Kevlar/Spectra soft body armor) were probably allowed to submit a “certification” paper, for each Army contract, validating the stopping power of their armor products as “tested, met or exceeded required Army standards.”

Army procurement was arguably derelict in their duties on these contracts; then tried to cover up their dereliction; lied to Congress about it (HASC in 2008), and went after the organization that brought the fraud to light – Soldiers For The Truth (www.sftt.org). [Editor’s Note: now doing business as Stand For The Troops.]

As the designer of the Interceptor vest, and the President of PBBA through the first manufacturing contract, I know first hand that the Army’s standards during my tenure required:

 (1) each lot of soft armor roll (Kevlar and Spectra) is inspected before being cut; the soft armor vest, by lot, is shot to demonstrate it meets the standard (NIJ Level IIIA or greater). That test lot vest is to be retained with the test results. Given that over 2 million Interceptor vests were produced, that means there should be at least 50,000 lot tests fired and retained.

(2) each of the 4 million hard armor SAPI and ESAPI plates, by lot, were supposed to be similarly tested, with the test results submitted to the Army with the delivery of each lot, per order.

Due to the volume and urgency of the need to get these to the troops, the Army procurement personnel and the manufacturers apparently blew off these “test and document” requirements. I’ll bet that nothing happens to the manufacturers because the Army wants to save face and to have this issue buried (no pun intended).

Col. Jim Magee, USMC (Ret.)

 

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Body Armor Reliability: Lies, Lies and Damn Lies!

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In yet another blatant example of gross incompetence or serial lying, Lt. Gen William Phillips, the chief acquisition officer for the US Army, stated that “we want to make sure that your readers have complete and total confidence in the Army’s ability to field protective (gear) to look after its soldiers while they’re deployed in combat zones and that, internally, the soldier and their family knows that as well.”   Lt. Gen Phillips’ words of comfort to troops in the field and their families comes after yet another devastating from the DOD IG citing inadequate US Army body armor testing.

Lt. Gen Phillips (to give him the benefit of his full title) is the PRINCIPAL MILITARY DEPUTY TO THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE ARMY FOR ACQUISITION, LOGISTICS AND TECHNOLOGY AND DIRECTOR, ACQUISITION CAREER MANAGEMENT.  With a title that long, it is clear that Lt. Gen Phillips has the ear of the top brass and civilian leadership at the Pentagon.   According to an AP News Report,  Lt. Gen Phillips goes on to state that “I’ll go on to say that I am not aware — if anyone is, please come forward — but I’m not aware of any incident downrange where the body armor failed to protect against a round (of ammunition) that it was designed to defeat.”

Well Lt. Gen. Phillips,  I’ll take the bait and come forward.  As you well know, SFTT Editor Roger Charles filed a request under the FOIA to have autopsy records of servicemenbers released which suggested defective body armor.  Despite receiving a favorable ruling from a Federal Judge in the D.C. Courts, the US Army and DOD continue to appeal the decision.   Found below is the information submitted in the preliminary filings:

As previously reported by Roger Charles and “in preliminary filings DOD admitted that for the two calendar years (2006 and 2007) for which records were requested 103 KIA’s died from ballistic wounds to the torso. It further admitted that only 51 of these 103 KIA’s (49.5%) had body armor plates shipped back to the US for forensic examination,  and that these 51 KIA’s had a total of 155 plates returned with the ‘service members.'”

“Of these 51 KIA’s, 18 had ‘body armor description sheets with information responsive’ to the SFTT editor’s FOIA request. (By DOD’s own definition, a ‘body armor description sheet’ indicates that the ‘body armor is not perfectly intact.’)

“Assuming that only one body armor protective plate was struck in each KIA’s tactical engagement, that means that a staggering 35.3% (18 of 51) of the plates were “not perfectly intact.”

With all due respect, Lt. Gen Phillips, this is more than idle speculation to suggest that there is something wrong with government-tested body armor.   After years of putting up with Beltway-spin and lack of transparency in the military procurement process, the least you can do is honor your public statement and release the forensic information to the public under a court-sanctioned FOIA.

I know it sound corny, but the public probably can “handle the truth.”   So, if you honestly want to get to the bottom of this sorry chapter in the military procurement process, then order the release of the forensic records and let the public judge for itself.   You would do yourself, our military and the country you serve a great service.  Hiding behind a bevy of Beltway lawyers is no way to lead.    Our brave men and women who serve our country deserve far more.

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Latest DOD IG Report on body armor confirms “reality testing” has replaced Quality Assurance testing

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The latest DOD IG report confirms — again — the scandalous lack of required testing for Interceptor Body Armor’s ballistic protective plates. A long-time industry insider has summarized the unstated and shocking meaning of the report: “What we have now is ‘reality testing’ where a failure is no longer a statistic, but a real live warrior.”

This simple statement strips away the Pentagon spin and exposes this ugly truth: All the crocodile tears Bob Gates can blubber while signing condolence letters will not wash away the reality that Gates, like his predecessor Don Rumsfeld, protected the players in the corrupt acquisition system whose criminal malfeasance routinely sent inferior, sub-standard body armor to our frontline troops.

Yes, it’s just that simple. Gates and Rumsfeld paid a lot of lip service to caring for our dedicated warriors, but when it came to seeing to it that something as important as protective ballistic plates were thoroughly tested before being issued to combat theaters, well, they just couldn’t be bothered.

And the congressional enablers have supported this sad state of affairs. Such stalwarts of the Military Industrial Complex as Carl Levin, John Warner, Buck McKeon, “Uncle” Ike Skelton, and Duncan Hunter (both Sr. and Jr.) should have to answer for their shameless failure to ensure proper testing of body armor before it was shipped to the bloody killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is appropriate to acknowledge the singular contribution of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter who kicked off this series of investigations after reading the 2006 NYT article citing SFTT’s report on Marine casualties due to lack of side-protective plates. (The plates were sitting in warehouses in the U.S. until the NY Times article was published.)

 This pathetic situation has been common knowledge inside the industry. Here’s the full quote from this most knowledgeable source cited above:

“If the defective protocol applies to the FAT (First Article Acceptance) then all subsequent production based on such a FAT is also deficient to the extent of the protocol. If this defective production lot is submitted for acceptance, any deficiency adds to the already embedded defects. There is no way to reconstitute a particular production lot once it has been issued and the product undergoes “use” stress. To certify what is now issued is to evaluate each plate physically to a non-destructive test [i.e., the vaunted field x-raying of plates by both the Army and the Marine Corps]. This accomplishes nothing. What we have now is ‘reality testing’ where a failure is no longer a statistic, but a real live warrior. “

This longtime insider is pointing out that by failing to properly test the plates during the acquisition process, the “reality test” is performed in combat on the plate of a “real live warrior” by the bullets of an equally live enemy combatant.

And how does the Army choose to respond to its indefensible conduct on the issue of flawed or non-existent testing that results in issuing sub-standard, inferior protective plates? In the NY Times article of August 17, 2011, they’ve “doubled down.”

The Army’s previous incredible claim was that no trooper has died because of defective body armor. An Army spokesman has now expanded that specious claim to state that no trooper has even suffered a wound due to defective protective plates!!

 Here’s the quote:

“The body armor in use today is performing as it was intended. We are continuing to research our data and as of now have not found a single instance where a soldier has been wounded due to faulty body armor.”

If this blatantly false claim is true, why won’t DOD release the forensic records held by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology which SFTT has requested under the Freedom of Information Act, and which document the performance of ballistic protective plates for every KIA and WIA?

Instead of releasing these records and these records. Indeed, when the federal judge recommended that the attorneys representing SFTT sit down with government lawyers to work out a compromise on what data would be released, the U.S. Department of Justice flatly refused to even meet with SFTT’s attorneys!

As one close observer of this sad story responded today to the latest limited, modified hangout from the DOD IG:

“As long as they can keep the pathology studies under wraps, they can continue to tell lies with impunity.”

Roger Charles

Editor SFTT

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More Body Armor Plate Recalls

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In what is now becoming a regular occurrence, the US Army is recalling body armor plates that may have failed to meet manufacturing specifications.

According to the June 14th news release, the US “Army recently issued a message for all troops and units to inspect their body armor, specifically the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, or ESAPI, in search of a specific model that was not made according to contract requirements.”

The US Army claims that “the recalled plates have passed all ballistic tests so Soldiers who may have been using the plates were always properly protected.”   Nevertheless, they are recalling the plates “to receive replacement plates under warranty” with the manufacturer.

According the US Army News release, “the nonconforming plates were produced by Armor Works, who have provided 150,000 ESAPI plates, about 10 percent of the Department of Defense’s total supply. Of these 150,000, about nine percent (13,500) were not made according to specification.”   Found below is information on how to identify defective ESAPI plates manufactured by Armor Works.

How to Identify Defective Body Armor Plates

ESAPI plates that should be turned in to the Central Issue Facility for replacement will display the contract number SPM1C1-08-D-1023 along with one of two design codes – DD3V2 or MP2.

The contract number and design code are both located on the data tag on the back of the plate. The contract number is in the upper right corner of the data tag, and the design code is the last three to five characters of the DOM/LOT number.

It should be noted that SFTT recently asked the US Army to let the public know the test results of 2,000 potentially cracked ceramic plates which the US Army has steadfastly stated that there has never been a single  incidence of cracked ceramic plates.   Could it be that clear evidence of “cracked ceramic plates” now exists and these deficient ceramic plates were sufficient to demand a recall?   Also, for the US Army to suggest that the recalled plates passed all ballistics tests seems to overlook the scathing report by the Government Accountability Office which recommended independent testing of military body armor.

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GAO Recommendations on Body Armor Testing

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To determine what effect, if any, the problems GAO observed had on the test data and on the outcomes of First Article Testing, the Army should provide for an independent ballistics evaluation of the First Article Testing results by ballistics and statistical experts external to the Department of Defense before any armor is fielded to soldiers under this contract solicitation. Because DOD did not concur with this recommendation, GAO added a matter for congressional consideration to this report suggesting that Congress direct DOD to either conduct such an independent external review of these test results or repeat First Article Testing.

 

To better align actual test practices with established testing protocols during future body armor testing, the Army should assess the need to change its test procedures based on the outcome of the independent experts’ review and document these and all other key decisions made to clarify or change the testing protocols during future body armor testing. Although DOD did not agree that an independent expert review of test results was needed, DOD stated it will address protocol discrepancies identified by GAO as it develops standardized testing protocols. DOD also agreed to document all decisions made to clarify or change testing protocols.

 

[NB: DOD quietly dropped its opposition to this GAO recommendation and an “independent experts’ review” of Army/DOD ballistic test protocols has started. One retired Army general was assigned to the panel, raising some doubt as to just how “independent” this panel truly is.]

To improve internal controls over the integrity and reliability of test data for future testing as well as provide for consistent test conditions and comparable data among tests, the Army should provide for an independent external peer review of Aberdeen Test Center’s body armor testing protocols, facilities, and instrumentation to ensure that proper internal controls and sound management practices are in place. DOD generally concurred with this recommendation, but stated that it will also include DOD members on the review team.

[NB: Quoting from footnote 1, page 77 of the GAO report: “… the most current Army Test Operating Procedure for testing body armor had not been updated since 1975. Test Operations Procedure (TOP), 10-2-506 Ballistic Testing of Personnel Armor Materials. So there it is in all its unvarnished ugliness — another key indicator of just how little the Army’s Leadership and defense contractors value the American Grunt. For testing life-or-death gear, i.e., personal protective equipment, use a 35-year old set of test protocols. Then, when forced by public pressure to address the issue, in typical Washington fashion, appoint a panel, a commission, “to study” the issue. How long will this study will take, and how many warriors will fall on the killing fields while the scandalous situation is being “studied” are two issues blithely ignored in this GAO report.]

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

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

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Why the GAO Study on Body Armor Testing?

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The Army has issued soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan personal body armor, comprising an outer protective vest and ceramic plate inserts.   The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) observed Preliminary Design Model testing of new plate designs, which resulted in the Army’s awarding contracts in September 2008 valued at a total of over $8 billion to vendors of the designs that passed that testing.

Between November and December 2008, the Army conducted further testing, called First Article Testing, on these designs. GAO is reporting on the degree to which the Army followed its established testing protocols during these two tests. GAO did not provide an expert ballistics evaluation of the results of testing. GAO, using a structured, GAO-developed data collection instrument, observed both tests at the Army’s Aberdeen Test Center, analyzed data, and interviewed agency and industry officials to evaluate observed deviations from testing protocols. However, independent ballistics testing expertise is needed to determine the full effect of these deviations.

[NB: To this day, we are not aware of any plans Congress has to direct an independent, transparent, “expert ballistics evaluation” of the personal protective plates issued to America’s frontline troops.  A Member or either the House or Senate Armed Services Committee must introduce directive language into the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY  2011” calling for requirements provided in the GAO report that will re-set appropriate testing protocols. For the benefit of congressional staff reading this report, GAO is pointing out that if Congress wants to know the full extent of the flawed testing, DOD and the Army must bring in outside experts to make this determination. Again, this takes legislation.  Stop and think for a minute about the full implications of this seemingly simple statement. GAO is not explicitly stating that the Army and DOD do not have the requisite engineers, or technicians. GAO is saying in classic read-between-the-lines Washington-speak that the Army/DOD consortium cannot be trusted to conduct an honest, scientifically-objective test. That the GAO felt the need to issue this blatant appeal for outside intervention is a sad commentary on the quality of our government’s commitment to ensuring our frontline troops wear only the “best-available” personal protective equipment. For those who have lost count, these frontline troops are approaching their ninth anniversary on the killing fields and the Army/DOD team has yet to demonstrate that it can conduct a reliable, repeatable ballistic test. BTW, GAO understandably did not address the issue of previous tests, but given the significant flaws identified by GAO in this two-and-one-half year investigation, any logical reader can justifiably question the validity of earlier tests. These questions include both the test protocols and the actual conduct of the tests (the competence and integrity of the testers). ]

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

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

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