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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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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Body Armor Lies Expose Corruption or Incompetence in Military Procurement Process

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Stand for the Troops was founded by Col. David Hackworth over 10 years ago with the very simple premise that grunts in combat deserve the best combat equipment and protective gear available.     It is a goal or expectation that I am sure most – if not all – patriotic Americans would support.    In light of recent Marine Corps testing of ceramic plates used in body armor, we now learn that roughly 5% of these life-saving plates are defective.

While one might argue that a 95% equipment reliability is pretty good, the US Army leadership has publicly insisted for years that these ceramic plates are 100% reliable and there have been no recorded deaths due to defective body armor plates.    This 5% gap is not about equipment reliability, it is a credibility gap that it so large that it undermines the integrity of the entire military procurement process and the military officers and civilians entrusted to administer these programs.

SFTT’s search for the truth regarding the testing and effectiveness of government approved body armor has been stonewalled at every step of the way by the Department of the Army and Department of Defense.  Indeed, we have documented numerous GAO, IG reports, equipment recalls and clear evidence of ceramic plate failures that suggest shoddy test procedures, improper supervision and control and lack of accountability of those entrusted with making sure our troops have the best protective gear available.   Why has our military leadership failed to level with the troops and the American public?

As late as October 2010, US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center at Fort Belvoir insisted that “we have the best body armor by far” in response to a scathing report by the GAO.     Really?  What hypocrisy.

Currently, SFTT Editor Roger Charles with the able assistance of the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis have sought to have forensic records of troops killed in action made public under the FOIA where there appears to be clear evidence of ceramic plate failures.  Ignoring a request from the federal district court judge to attempt an out-of-court settlement, the Defense Department continues to block the release of this information.    Why?

So insistent has been self-serving rhetoric from military officials that one concerned US Representative sent two letters to the Secretary of Defense inquiring whether rumors to the effect that medical aid and insurance would be withheld from troops not wearing government-issued body armor.  Why was this necessary?  Was it because troops knew that the government-issued equipment was defective and that there was more reliable protective gear available on the market?

In short, there is no end to the Beltway shuffle designed to keep a seemingly corrupt and, most certainly ineffective military procurement process hidden from public scrutiny.  How much longer do we need to endure this blatant cover-up?

Let’s face it.  The X-Ray machine has been around for over a hundred years.   Didn’t it ever occur to those silver-tongued bureaucrats to test for cracks in the last 10 years while there has been so much public inquiry into the effectiveness of our military body armor?

Call it what you will, but the lives of young men and women in uniform are at stake.  The time for Beltway spin and self-serving double-talk can no longer justify jeopardizing the safety of our brave heroes.

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Cracks in Body Armor Plates undermines US Army Credibility

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In what should come to no surprise to readers of SFTT, the Marine Corps has confirmed that government-issued ceramic plates used in body armor are flawed.   In an article published in the Marine Corps Times, James K. Sanborn reports that the US Marines are using X-Ray machines to detect “cracks” in the ceramic plates used in body armor.

According to Master Sgt. Mateo Mathis, operations chief at Program Manager Infantry Combat Equipment in Quantico, Va., So far, 40,000 plates about 5 percent of the 40,000 ceramic plates that have been subjected to the X-Ray tests have been found to have cracks.

Comments SFTT Editor Roger Charles

In this article the Marine Corps admits that the ceramic plates issued to only not perfect, but “about 5%” have “life-threatening flaws,” or as it prefers to call them, “cracks.”

Let’s be clear about one thing: if 95% of the plates X-rayed are not defective, that’s a hell of an accomplishment, and our troops and their families should feel good about this life-saving gear.

Why then does the Department of Defense continue its specious claims that the “success rate” on the battlefield is 100%.

That remains the case and this article doesn’t retract any previous claims that the ceramic plates issued to its Marine (and Navy corpsmen) have never failed, not a single time. That bit of honest disclosure is not there.

The key issue of whether these defective plates were in that condition when they left the manufacturers’ facilities or were made defective by use in combat theaters would seem to be a perfect issue for examination by the U.S. Congress. Don’t hold your breath — after nearly 10 years of non-stop combat, this obvious question was not been asked.

The article does quote one Marine trainer, “Plates are more easily damaged than many Marines realize… if the plate is dropped from 2- or 3-feet high, it could crack.”

As SFTT has previously written, the American public is expected to believe by some miracle all the defective plates are somehow discovered by these wonderful X-ray machines before there is a single impact from an enemy bullet. What are the odds?? (And what about the 8 or 9 years before the Corps had the X-ray machines?)

Left unsaid is how accurately the X-ray machines detect all cracks that could result in failure of the plate. For example, what size cracks are below the sensitivity of these X-ray machines, and do those smaller cracks lead to plate failure?

So, what appears on the surface to be an article of unmitigated “good news,” is somewhat less than that when placed into context of the continuing unanswered questions about Quality Control/Quality Assurance as practiced in the case of protective ceramic plates worn by America’s frontline troops.

Roger Charles

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Are ceramic plates safe in US body armor?

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SFTT reads with great interest that the US Army has awarded Ceradyne an order worth about $10 million for later in Q2, with completion estimated to be by Q3.

While one would not normally question our miliary leadership in making sure our troops have the very best protective gear, we still are seeking resolution to SFTT’s request for information on the reliability of ceramic plates used for body armor that was filed 18 months ago under the Freedom of Information Act;

“Well over a year ago,  SFTT filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain  forensic evidence of the reliability of am beginning to wonder if any of the beltway bureaucrats really care about the well-being and safety of our troops in the field.”

SFTT and the American public are still waiting for an answer to our FOIA, but it’s business as usual for the beltway desk jockies who continue to award multi-million dollar contracts for equipment that may be flawed.   Don’t our troops and the American public deserve answers?

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Army Tests 2,000 “Potentially Cracked” Ceramic Body Armor Plates: Where Are Results?

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Buried inside the devastating Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) October 2009 report on the Pentagon’s inability to demonstrate “overall reliability and repeatability” in body armor tests is this intriguing statement:

“Testing was halted for other high-priority tests involving 2,000 plates from Iraq that were identified as potentially cracked by nondestructive testing performed by the Army.” [Footnote 14, page 12,  GAO-10-119 Warfighter Support.]

Whoa . . . these are the very same ceramic protective plates that the Pentagon claims have never failed. Never.  Never  ever! Not a single time.  Not once in the past eight and one half years of combat in Afghanistan; not once in the past seven years of combat in Iraq.

By the way, this is the same GAO report that led to more than $121 million of ceramic plates being withheld from issuance to our frontline troops due to testing flaws that resulted in these plates not being certifiable as meeting the government’s performance specifications.

So, what gives?

Here’s just a bit of the back story on this battlefield miracle that sees no US grunt getting shot at (and hit) while wearing a ceramic protective plate before it develops cracks.  Bear with me while we examine the tortured logic behind the Pentagon’s incredible claim of “no failures” by going through the sequence of events leading to the discovery of “potentially cracked” plates.

STEP ONE:

Action:  Protective plate issued to trooper.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  100% pristine, perfect condition (no cracks, according to Army and DoD).   [Editor’s Note: Each plate is issued with “HANDLE WITH CARE” stenciled on the strike face. “HANDLE WITH CARE” for gear to be issued to frontline infantry?  If any reader knows of another item of personal gear issued to frontline troops with a similar label, please contact the SFTT Editor.]

STEP TWO:

Action:  Troops wear plates in combat operations until plates are selected for X-ray tests.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Unknown percentage of plates develop cracks, in spite of “HANDLE WITH CARE” warning.

STEP THREE:

Action:  Nondestructive X-ray examination by Mobile X-ray system.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  X-ray system detects cracks in plates not detectable by visual inspection.  [Editor’s Note: Percentage of all plates X-rayed that were designated “potentially cracked” is unknown.]

STEP FOUR:

Action:  “Potentially cracked” plates pulled from use and 2,000 sent back to US for “priority tests.”

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Unknown percentage of “potentially cracked” plates failed tests.

STEP FIVE:

Action:  Pentagon and Army press offices continue to claim “zero failures” for ceramic ballistic plates.

Status of ceramic protective plate:  Frontline troops continue to wear plates that are not “potentially cracked” until discovered to be so by X-ray system.

Yep.  The Pentagon and the Army would have the mothers and fathers of America’s Grunts believe that every plate with cracks is magically detected by X-raying before ever receiving an enemy shot.

Anyone interested in this issue might query your elected representative and ask them to obtain the results of the “high- priority tests” of 2,000 “potentially cracked” plates as cited in the October 2009 GAO report.  Sound Off now and make sure that our troops have the best protective gear and combat equipment available.

Roger Charles

Senior Investigative Reportor and Editor SFTT

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