Can US troops wear third-party body armor?

Posted by:

As previously reported on SFTT – ! You can find more information about generic medications here.

In August 2007, Arkansas Fourth District Representative Mike Ross sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army requesting clarification.  Secretary of the Army Pete Geren formally acknowledged in September that insurance and medical benefits would not be withheld if combat injuries (or death) were sustained while a service member was wearing unauthorized body armor.  Nevertheless, Secretary Geren went on to add that “every Soldier, regardless of rank, is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment, such as the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system.”

In order to clear up any possible misunderstanding, Arkansas Representative Mike Ross again sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense requesting further clarification.  In a letter dated what appears to be November 2, 2010, Clifford L. Stanley on behalf of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) responded as follows:

QUOTE  (Bold highlights added by SFTT)

Dear Representative Ross:

Thank you for your letter dated October 13, 2010, regarding the upcoming deployment of the Arkansas’ 39th Brigade Combat Team and the impact of body armor worn on benefits.  This issue falls under the purview of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), and I have been asked to respond.

As you allude to in your letter, rumors regarding Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SOLI) payments and Department of Defense medical care as it relates to battle injuries or death when wearing commercially procured (Dragon Skin) body armor arise on occasion.  Eligible benefits and medical support associated with SGLI or the Department of Defense (DoD) are paid or provided if a member is injured or killed in action while wearing commercially purchased body armor.  The DoD Will not discriminate, as it relates to military health care, between Service members who wear government issued or commercially purchased body armor.

Title 38, United States Code, is the statutory authority for the portfolio of SGLI products (SGLI, SGLI Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI),  Family SGLI, etc.) for which the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is responsible.  Department of Defense staff consulted with VA and reaffirmed that wearing unapproved body armor, in and of itself, does not disqualify members for SGLI or TSGLI payments. Additionally, the question of privately purchase body armor is addressed on the VA’s myths and rumors website (web address follows):  http://www.insurance.va.gov/SGLISITE/SGLI/mythsRumors.htm.

Medical benefits, as with SGLI payments, are not contingent on the type of body armor worn by Service members.  The Services do not seek reimbursement for medical expenses connected to members wounded in combat when wearing commercially procured body armor.

Thank you for your concern in this matter, and for your support of the Service and family members of the 39th Brigade Combat Team.

Sincerely,

Clifford L. Stanley

UNQUOTE

A facsimile of Mr. Stanley’s letter on third-party body armor may be downloaded from the SFTT website.

0

Goverment Approved Body Armor: Catch 22?

Posted by:

A week ago, SFTT received a request from a concerned parent (whose son is expected to deploy shortly to Afghanistan) inquiring whether a service member is obligated to wear “US government approved” equipment or is free to use protective gear and combat equipment purchased from other  firms.

The question is in response to numerous reports from the field that suggest that “non-authorized” equipment may be confiscated and, in fact, life and heath insurance benefits may be forfeited if a  service member is wounded or killed wearing “non-approved” gear.   While SFTT has found no written evidence to indicate that this is a standing order, a recently-retired officer confirmed that he has always operated under the assumption that service members may only carry or wear “government approved” equipment.

This issue surfaced a few years ago when service members deploying to Iraq wished to wear Dragon Skin body armor rather than the “government approved” Interceptor Body Armor (IBA).    Specifically, reports circulated that military men and women would be required to pay for his or her own medical expenses and recovery costs for any wounds or injuries suffered while wearing unapproved or disallowed body armor.

Also,  more pervasive reports suggest that service members who sought to wear “non-authorized” body armor and protective gear were advised by Army officers that their Service Group Life Insurance (SGLI) would be denied if troops wearing Dragon Skin body armor were killed in combat.

On behalf of the parents of one of his constituents, Congressman Mike Ross of the Fourth District of Arkansas, wrote to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army in August, 2007  inquiring into these allegations.  In a letter dated September 10, 2007 Mr. Pete Geren, the Secretary of the Army responded that the “Department of Defense and Department of the Army have no policy that denies medical or insurance benefits to soldiers injured or killed wearing unapproved body armor.”  Copies of these letters may be downloaded from the SFTT website.  Read Representative Mike Ross’s 2007 letter and Army Secretary Pete Geren’s response.

While one might think that Secretary Geren’s letter should have put an end to these rumors, he goes on to state in his letter that “every Soldier, regardless of rank, is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment, such as the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system.”

In effect, while there is no policy denying medical or death benefits to non-conforming service members it is simply not allowed to wear unauthorized or unapproved protective gear.  Call it Catch 22, Beltway Spin or the E-Ring two-step, but it seems to me that Secretary Geren’s response  is akin to saying  “it’s the Army way or the highway.”

Despite Secretary Geren’s strong endorsement of the Interceptor Body Armor system and insistence that “every Soldier . . . is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment” we know of many instances where “non-authorized” body armor is used by officers and enlisted personnel because they believe it provides better protection.  Furthermore, if the IBA system is so darn good, why did the GAO (“Government Accountability Office”)  issue a devastating report last fall which calls into question the Army test procedures and contract awards for body armor?  Similarly, why is the Defense Department fighting tooth-and-nail to withhold autopsy results which suggest that fatalities may have been caused by defective body armor plates?

Congressman Mike Ross has recently requested an updated position on this issue from the Department of Defense.  Personally, I believe that their response will be much the same.  For concerned parents and loved ones of men and women serving in combat, this summary of the government’s official position is hardly reassuring.

If you find the double-talk misleading and harmful write your Congressperson and State Senator and join hundreds of other SFTT Members searching for the Truth to make sure that our troops have the best body armor and protective gear possible.  Frankly, Secretary Geren’s endorsement of the IBA system is not compelling.

Richard W. May

0

West Pointers At The Heart Of The Body Armor Scandal

Posted by:

By Roger Charles

Those readers of DefenseWatch who have followed SFTT’s efforts over the past year and a half to get honest and completely transparent comparative testing of all available both armor, including, but not necessarily restricted to both Dragon Skin and the currently issued Interceptor Body Armor system, know that from time to time there’s been a tad — okay, maybe more than a tad — of anger in my writings on this subject. After all, it’s truly an issue of life-or-death importance to America’s Grunts.

This column is however, written much more in sadness and sorrow than in anger.

West Point graduates have contributed so much, for so many years, to the defense of our great nation, and in other areas as well. Two have been presidents.

But, it is on our country’s many battlefields over the last two centuries that The Long Gray Line has earned the respect and gratitude that distinguishes West Point from all other institutions in our nation.

Two of the warriors that Hack respected most are West Point grads who continue to serve their country by being members of the SFTT Advisory Board: Lt. Gen. Henry E. “Hank” Emerson USA (Ret.), Class of 1947, and Lt.Gen. Harold G. “Hal” Moore, USA (Ret.), Class of 1945. Their records of distinguished and heroic performance as combat leaders speak for themselves, and need no repeating here.

Consequently, to have discovered that several West Pointers have played key roles in ensuring that inferior body armor continues to be issued to our great troops is a particular and sharp disappointment to this writer.

Before I get into the specifics of who are these “disappointments,” and what just what were their roles in continuing the status quo when undeniable evidence proves a better body armor is available, I want to quote from an email received just this morning.

Like the combat leadership achievements of Hank Emerson and Hal Moore, this email speaks for itself. I will identify the sender as a father of an sergeant of infantry, with one combat tour in Iraq behind him, and another tour coming up later this year. (Due to this father’s diligence, SFTT has recently obtained some amazing information that will be shared with our readers in the next few weeks. Stand by.)

Mr. Charles,

It amazes me that I could get this information and nobody else could!

I am nobody from nowhere, except I will fight doggedly for what I deem to be right! This is a fight that I am willing to take as far as I can! If any of my actions help rectify this injustice and help our troops get better and safer equipment I am deeply gratified!

The sad fact as we both know is that Soldiers die in war, but we have Soldiers dying needlessly because we have the technology to better protect them!  I am so proud of my Son and his service to our country, I can hardly put into words!  The military experience and his time he served in Iraq, (with all of the negative experiences he had while there), I believe have made him a better man and a true leader!

It is an indescribable feeling to be able to say that your Son is your hero!  And mine is! He is a true Patriot!

Editor’s Note: Some text has been deleted.

A Justifiably Proud Father

Now, back to the sad spectacle of four West Pointers who have failed to live up to the transcendent motto of their famous alma mater, “Duty-Honor-Country.”

The following is a list of the four “ring-knockers” who have contributed to this sad and scandalous state of affairs wherein inferior body armor is issued to our warfighters. They’ve made their contributions either by their active obstructionism, making them knaves, or by their permitting the abuses and corruption by others to continue, which makes them at best, incompetent fools.

Major General Jeffrey A. Sorenson, West Point Class of 1973, who has been exposed for his bald-faced lies by DefenseWatch. (See: Sorenson’s Mission — Kill Dragon Skin ) Here’s the official DOD announcement of his recent nomination for promotion to Lieutenant General and assignment as Chief Information Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, G-6, U.S. Army: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, U.S. Army, for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and assignment as Chief Information Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, G-6, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C. He is currently serving as Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), Washington, D.C.

Brigadier General (Retired) James R. Moran, West Point Class of 1979, Program Executive for Program Executive Office-SOLDIER from its inception on June 7, 2002, until his retirement in the summer of 2006.

Brigadier General R. Mark Brown, West Point Class of 1977, Program Executive for Program Executive Office-SOLDIER from the summer of 2006 through the present.

Colonel (Retired) John D. Norwood, West Point Class of 1980, former Project Manager for Soldier Equipment under PEO-SOLDIER, from 2003 until his retirement in the summer of 2006. He is currently a new Vice President of the Aerospace & Defense Group of Armor Holdings, one of the principal manufacturers of Interceptor Body Armor. The products listed under the Aerospace & Defense Group includes a listing for “Individual Equipment,” and under that is “Body Armor”.

Note that the key roles played by these four West Pointers during the period that DefenseWatch has identified and brought to public attention the unconscionable situation of our troops wearing clearly inferior body armor, when substantially better body armor in the form of Dragon Skin was, and is, available.

It’s also worth pointing out that three of the four are General Officers, signifying that the institution of the U.S. Army finds them to be its “best and brightest.” That may have some relation to the lack success we’ve seen in Iraq when it comes to dealing with IED’s, suicide bombers, shortage of up-armored Humvees, shortage of “V”-hulled vehicles, etc.

Hack and I talked often about West Point, and the split-personality nature of its graduates — either the best, or the worst (with a fair share of mediocre thrown in). But, given the sacred responsibility granted these graduates — the defense of our nation and the stewardship of its most precious resources, young soldiers –much should be expected.

And those who are care more about self-promotion than selfless service to our country must be identified and purged from positions where their actions result in the needless death and maiming of the best among us, of those young Americans who stand guard on the ramparts of freedom.

Hack identified to his wife (and now CEO of SFTT, Eilhys England Hackworth), two particularly pernicious characteristics that West Point seemed to imbue — a sense of elitism, and a reluctance to speak out against another ring-knocker, regardless of the issue.

It is this omerta-like reluctance to speak truth when it might harm a fellow graduate that caused me to write this piece. I’m hopeful that somewhere out there is at least one West Point graduate who will contact me at SFTT — and it can be off the record — with an explanation of why our Army continues to foist inferior body armor on our great troops when better is available.

For those in the know to remain silent in the face of such corruption will only prolong the day of reckoning, and lengthen the casualty lists grown far too long already.

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.

0

Letter From Proud Marine Father To Congressional Rep’s RE: Dragon Skin

Posted by:

Editor’s Note: We frequently get questions from readers, “What can I do to help get our kids the best-available [fill in the blank].” Well, here’s what one reader, and proud father of a US Marine, did on his own initiative. Below is an excerpt of his letter.  I think it’s worth sharing. s/f, Rog

An article “11 U.S. Troops Die Inside Iraq” in the October 19 newspaper prompts me to write you. The article goes on “So far, 70 American troops have been killed in Iraq this month. If the death toll continues at this rate, the monthly tally would be the highest since November 2004.”

Many have died due to IED’s and small arms fire. Recent tests have indicated there is a superior body armor (Dragon Skin from Pinnacle Armor) available which not only is effective against small arms fire, but also shrapnel from IED’s. (Note: Dragon Skin is used by President Bush’s Secret Service detail.) It is important that our troops get the best commercially available body armor!

An impressive 6-minute video from “Test Lab” on the History Cable Channel reveals two important tests on this body armor and beyond these is another recently conducted at the Stanford University Medical Center which showed Dragon Skin to have excellent bullet stopping performance and weigh 50% less than conventional body armor.

A January 7, 2006 article in the New York Times covered a “Pentagon Study Links Fatalities to Body Armor.” That study found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor.

I am sure you are aware of much of the controversy concerning body armor since this report was issued. Two testimonies which I’d like to discuss are as follows:

Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes, director of the Force Development Office, said on June 15 before the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee – “The Army’s number one concern is the protection of the Soldier. [snip] Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) remains a centerpiece program for the Army,” “Our IBA is the best military body armor in the world. [snip] We are convinced that our Soldiers are wearing the best possible equipment right now. Commanders in the Theater of operations have the means to give their Soldiers the highest levels of protection known to the Army today.”

At the same hearing, Maj. Gen. William Catto, commanding general of the Marine Corps Systems Command, testified: “Today, there is no commercial product more capable than the equipment being issued to our Marines by the Corps.”

I and others contend that the commercially available Dragon Skin body armor is more advanced and provides much better protection than the Interceptor Body Armor currently issued to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Based on these facts, I strongly recommend:

1) Rescind the Safety Of Use Message (SOUM) 06-017 “Discontinue Use of Unauthorized Body Armor, Dragon Skin

2) Allow soldiers to purchase/and use Dragon Skin and provide a financial reimbursement for that purchase (up to $1,000 or an appropriate amount)

3) Provide for accelerated procurement and distribution of Dragon Skin body armor to troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thank you for taking the time to read and take action on this important topic!

Very truly yours,

Jeffrey Mathews, PE

“Proud, but Concerned Father of a U.S. Marine”

0

Dragon Skin Passes Another, Non-DOD, Level III Test

Posted by:

 

Dragon Skin Passes Another, Non-DOD, Level III Test In Direct Comparison With Armored Mobility Incorporated (AMI) Level III Plate Armor

By Roger Charles

Editor, DefenseWatch

CORRECTED VERSION — Editor’s Note: This Editor mistakenly implied that the armor plate described in the following article was a military issued ballistic plate used with the Interceptor Body Armor system. The AMI Level III plate tested is NOT a U.S. military issued item, but it is representative of the generic approach which employs rigid ballistic plates.

Well, patient readers of DefenseWatch now have some more credible, empirical data to consider as they weigh the question, are our troops being provided the best available body armor?

Following Pinnacle Armor’s Dragon Skin having passed the recent NIJ tests in Wichita, Kansas (view article), we have this latest news, from an impartial and technically knowledgeable source, about Dragon Skin’s successfully passing another Level III test!!

This latest test was conducted by, and the results reported by, Dr. Gary K. Roberts, LCDR, USNR, Stanford University Medical Center, Palo Alto, CA.

Here’s the essential information from Dr. Roberts’ posting, and a link to one of the sites where his test report, including some very interesting graphics, is posted.

Read it, and please note that for the same level and area of ballistic protection, wearing the flexible Dragon Skin is three pounds less than the AMI equivalent. That’s 50% more weight with the rigid AMI plate carried by a troop to get only the equivalent protection!! (Not to mention the other inherent advantages in a flexible body armor.)

Pinnacle Dragon Skin SOV-2000 level III armor was tested this week for an LE agency, along with stand-alone Armored Mobility Incorporated level III plate armor used as a control and for comparison. Both types of armor were conditioned for 12 hours at 170 degrees F, then moved to ambient air for approximately 90 min prior to being shot. The problems associated with the use of inelastic clay backing material have been well documented; as such, the armor was secured to a life-size curvilinear torso replica made of Perma-Gel. Each armor system was shot a minimum of 20 times with five shots of each ammunition type fired against each armor system–one 90 degree perpendicular shot, two shots at 60 degrees obliquity, and two shots at 30 degrees obliquity, using each of the following loads fired at a distance of 10 feet:

— 5.56 mm 40 gr LeMas Urban Warfare (using a moly coated Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet) with a 3718 f/s average velocity.

— 5.56 mm M855 62 gr FMJ with a 3054 f/s average velocity.

— 7.62×39 mm M43 123 gr steel-core FMJ with a 2307 f/s average velocity.

— .30-06 M2 150 gr FMJ with a 2736 f/s average velocity.

All of the above ammo was successfully stopped by both armor systems in this testing, with no armor failures or penetrations, even after receiving multiple hits. [Emphasis in the original.]

Note that since both of these armor systems are level III, they are not rated to stop true AP rifle ammunition.

AMI level III plates are fabricated using an outer 3 mm MARS steel layer bonded to a compressed Dyneema backing, with a linex coating for spall reduction, resulting in a total plate thickness of approximately 1”. AMI level III 12” x 14.5” plates weigh about 10 lbs and 10” x 12” plates are about 9 lbs.

Pinnacle SOV-2000 level III armor is made of overlapping approximately 0.25” x 2” ceramic discs encased in a fabric cover. In evaluating the Dragon Skin system, it is important to note that while the external measurements of the Dragon Skin panel are 11.5” x 13.5”, the area of level III coverage provided by the encased ceramic discs is 10” x 12”; the fabric edges are NOT intended to provide ballistic protection. Weight of the Pinnacle SOV-2000 Dragon Skin armor providing 10 x 12 inches of level III protection was approximately 6 lbs.

Both armor systems clearly met and exceeded the NIJ level III requirements and offered true multi-hit protection from the class of rifle projectiles they are rated to stop. [Emphasis in the original.]

Editor’s Comment: I believe this is the first publicized, side-by-side comparison of Pinnacle Armor’s Dragon Skin flexible body armor against the rigid plate protection approach, as used by the Interceptor Body Armor system. (The AMI plate is NOT a U.S. military issued item). And, please, note that this test, like the NIJ test, was conducted outside the DOD acquisition process. So, now, the ball is back in the court of the Army, Marine Corps and congressional proponents of the Interceptor system. Let’s see what the response is from James Zhang, Steve Pinter, and Karl Masters and their co-conspirators. These three are principal cogs of the corrupt, dysfunctional acquisition process that continue to tell the parents of America’s Grunts that our stout-hearted lads and lasses are being issued the “best-available” body armor, in the face of increasingly (and increasingly credible) evidence that such claims are just more E-ring spin. (Known in other, more traditional circles as bald-faced lies.) — Stay tuned. More revelations are should be soon forthcoming that will provide even more definitive data that young Americans are dying while wearing second-rate body armor, when better is available.

SFTT Co-Chair 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 sftteditor@aol.com. .

3

US Army Officials Continue to Trap Themselves In a Web of Deceit

Posted by:

By Nathaniel R. Helms

The United States Army claims it has not mounted a campaign to make soldiers shed their clearly superior Dragon Skin body armor in favor of the Army’s inferior Interceptor OTV. Over the last seven months Army officials have alternately claimed and denied that they know all about the capabilities of Dragon Skin, including Army spokesman Paul Boyce telling the Washington Post it would like to get hold of Pinnacle Armor Co.’s Dragon Skin body armor to evaluate it.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, including PEO Soldier’s own ballistic tests conducted at two Army research laboratories that irrefutably proved Dragon Skin was a superior product, the officers charged with providing America’s warriors with the best protection possible continue to maintain that the Army’s home-grown Interceptor OTV body armor is superior. Apparently the Army officials charged with dealing credibly with the subject of body armor are simply unable to tell the truth.

The Fresno, CA-based company has been trying to get the Pentagon’s attention for more than five years. According to engineers familiar with Pinnacle’s efforts the Natick Soldier System’s Center in Massachusetts, PEO Soldier at Ft. Belvoir, VA, , and TSM Soldier at Ft. Benning, GA (TRADOC Systems Manager Soldier) were given the Pinnacle SOV-2000 “Dragon Skin” technology and allowed to select the rounds and shot placement to test it five years ago. The tests subsequently conducted showed Dragon Skin surpassed all other body armor technologies available at the time, Army tests revealed.

Witnessed statements were later made the same year to Pinnacle president Murray Neal – the inventor of Dragon Skin armor and its patent holder – by Natick Soldier Systems Center’s program scientist Dr. James Zheng, who reportedly said, “The SOV Dragon Skin system will never be fielded unless the technology and intellectual property are turned over to Natick Soldier Systems Center,” according to sources who spoke with DW upon assurances of anonymity. Neal never did give up his secrets and Pinnacle never received an Army or Marine Corps contract….

0

Point Blank Body Armor and Dragon Skin II

Posted by:

By Nathaniel R. Helms

At the time of this report, despite repeated inquiries, the Department of Defense and the US Army had not commented on this report.

So-called “SAPI” plates do not provide complete protection from sniper bullets because of gaps in coverage around the torso.

Two weeks ago the Armed Forces Network (AFN) radio in Iraq reported enemy snipers are now shooting their intended Coalition victims between the so-called hard armor SAPI (Small Arms Protection Inserts) plates attached to the Interceptor OTV body armor, reporter Michael Yon told DefenseWatch after hearing the broadcast warnings in Iraq. The Interceptor’s OTV SAPI plates are intended to defeat most common rifle ammunition used by enemy soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, because they are gaps between the plates the wearer is not fully protected from a well-aimed shot.

Dragon Skin plates, called “panels” because they are flexible and cover the entire upper torso, are not susceptible to the sniper’s deadly new tactics, Pinnacle Armor officials said. Despite being a better design the Defense Department in 1999 rejected Dragon Skin without comment in favor of its home-gown Interceptor OTV armor although its inferior SAPI plate arrangement then as now presents gaps in the coverage of its hard armor plates on the wearer’s front, back and sides, Pinnacle Armor founder and patent holder Murray Neal said.

The Interceptor body armor system has been in production since 1999. At the time Natick, who designed and approved the body armor, awarded five-year contracts to manufacture it to Second Chance and Point Blank Body Armor of Oakland Park, FL. Armor Holdings didn’t get its share of the pie until later on.

In 1999, Point Blank was losing millions for its parent company DHB Industries. Things didn’t get much better until the events of 9/11 sent the United States to war. In 2001 and 2002 the lucrative DOD contracts provided to the Florida-based company boosted its profits to $10.1 million and $16 million respectively on a combined $228.3 million in revenue, according to industry sources.

Soon after the company received another $9.2 million contract in 2002 to produce body armor for Army engineers charged with disposing of landmines a labor dispute revealed that company was allegedly putting profits before quality. Attorneys for the labor union involved (UNITA) in the dispute submitted 150 pages of evidence in a Florida court that alleged quality problems with Point Blank’s body armor. Among the documents were Department of Defense reports from American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The DOD documents showed 43 percent of soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom complained that Point Blank’s body armor “hindered their mobility,” the court records showed.

In 2004 the Marine Corps found “major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank,” Marine Corps officials announced. 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 the court records filed in the UNITA case showed.

On May 3, 2005 Point Blank hired retired four-star Army Gen. Larry Ellis to lead the beleaguered company. Before retiring Ellis was the commander of US Forces Command (FORSCOM). FORSCOM is the Army’s largest major command, consisting of more than 760,000 active Army, U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers. Formerly, Ellis served as deputy chief of staff for operations and plans at the Pentagon. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor. On July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government. Apparently it doesn’t hurt to know somebody, one Pentagon wag exclaimed. As the reader will discover in Part III of this series it really doesn’t hurt to know someone.

During the course of its investigation into the matter DefenseWatch spoke with several contemporary armor experts who are currently doing business with the Department of Defense supplying either expertise, technology, or both to Puzzle Palace procurement officers and officials. With the exception of Pinnacle’s Murray Neal they declined to go on record and spoke only after multiple assurances of anonymity.

One of these men, who began developing and selling body armor and associated products to the DOD before the Vietnam War, said speaking publicly about the procurement procedures used by the good ol’ boys in ultra-plush E Ring charged with obtaining equipment for America’s war fighters is tantamount to committing professional suicide.

“Just check the last three contracts awarded for helmets – three old boys,” he explained. “They didn’t get them talking about it. I can only be a background source mainly because I don’t want people to home in on me.”

In Part III DefenseWatch will explore just who those good ol’ boys are and how they control who gets what on the battlefield.

DefenseWatch Editor Nathaniel R. “Nat” Helms is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, long-time journalist and war correspondent living in Missouri. He is the author of two books, Numba One – Numba Ten and Journey Into Madness: A Hitchhiker’s Account of the Bosnian Civil War, both available at www.ebooks-online.com. He can be reached at natshouse1@charter.net. Send Feedback responses to­ dwfeedback@yahoo.com

1

Point Blank Body Armor and Dragon Skin

Posted by:

by Nathanial R. Helms

A complete suit of Dragon Skin armor, at more than $5,000 per copy, currently costs about five times as much as Interceptor OTV body armor being issued to the troops. Inceptor armor is primarily produced by two giant companies, Armor Holdings Corporation, the current darling of the Defense Department that has more government contracts than a junk yard dog has fleas, and Point Blank Body Armor, the flagship company of DHB Industries that is currently in the dog house. They can both afford to make it cheap.

Several armor experts, who design, manufacture and sell body armor to individuals and police agencies said that size, cost, and accessibility is what drives the Pentagon’s decision on what to buy and whom to buy it from. The same explanation begs the question of how much the lives of America’s fighting men and women are worth, they said. Granted, Dragon Skin does have a hefty price tag, but it also save lives, they unanimously agreed.

The basic Dragon Skin vest for torso protection costs about $2,000 and the entire getup, which includes a protective collar, optional lightweight SAPI plates, an optional weight bearing rig, backpack plates, and an armored, take-it-with-you anywhere protective blanket, can run an individual more than $5,000. The basic Interceptor body armor issued to American troops costs about $1,100, although the wearer receives far less protection, ballistics information provided by both the manufacturers and the U.S. Army showed.

According to the statistics provided by Pinnacle, in Army-supervised ballistics tests Dragon Skin’s protective qualities “far exceeded” anything available anywhere else, Chessum said.  Unfortunately, the Army decided to classify its specific findings recorded in ballistics tests recently concluded by the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Aberdeen, Maryland on Pinnacle’s Level IV body armor system except to say it “surpassed all current industry standards” and “set standards” leading to a “classified protocol,” according to the Army.

Fortunately David Crane, a military defense industry analyst and the editor-in-chief of DefenseReview.com, got to check out Dragon Skin before its superior qualities became a national secret. He called Dragon Skin the “future of armor” in an article he wrote called Body Armor Times 10: Pinnacle’s Innovative, Flexible Body Armor.   In it Crane said, “Understand, again, that we’re talking about a unique and superior version of level IV body armor/ballistic protection, not your conventional, run-of-the-mill NIJ [National Institute of Justice] level IV SAPI protection. Pinnacle Armor’s unique Level IV “+” flexible ceramic hard armor will successfully take many more hits than conventional/standard NIJ Level IV SAPI plates, and provides coverage over a much greater surface area. In other words, it provides for more complete torso coverage, all the way up to total coverage.”

The future of armor: Pinnacle Armor Inc. SOV-1000 Level III “scalar” body armor shot with multiple 7.62x51mm M80 ball steel-jacketed rounds at 2850-2900 fps, at a distance of 15ft (muzzle to body armor). The rounds were all successfully stopped with minimal backface deformation signature.   In the simplest terms it means the wearer’s entire upper torso, including the neck area, can be protected by body armor superior to any Level III and Level IV body armor made in the world. Ballistics tests made on a standard vest showed it capable of defeating most common military ammunition and many of the armor piercing and super hot specialty rounds including the super-hot 7.62 x 63 mm 166 GR, M2 AP slamming into it at an incredible 2850 ft per second.   Inceptor OTV body armor cannot claim that distinction, Chopra said.  Crane agreed, calling Dragon Skin “simply the best armor out there right now for our guys. That being the case, he added, “Pinnacle has a technology that can better keep our guys alive. End of story.”

The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. An operator working for a private security contractor dressed in Dragon Skin survived a firefight he claims he would have died in wearing any other armor. In a June 24, 2005 letter to Pinnacle provided to DefenseWatch, he said,  “… we were involved in a IED (improvised explosive device) attack and small arms fire on (deleted) 2005.   After the contact, when I removed my tactical vest, I saw that I had taken hits in the back of my vest. They were 7.62x39mm (AK-47) and they were inches apart. I was hit in the back (and we checked, if I was wearing any other body armor, I would not be writing this to you), as it were both low hits (below the typical 10″x12″ plate coverage). In terms of bruising, nothing whatsoever. I did not even KNOW that I was hit twice until I took off my tactical vest (this was after about 2 hours after the contact) and saw the damage. It was only then that we took a close look at my body armor that we realized I was hit twice by an AK-47. I had another ricochet hit around the top end of my back that may have caused serious injury to my lower neck.”

Perhaps testimonials like the operator’s letter – Pinnacle has received many – is why nine American general officers bought Pinnacle armor on July 5 2005 to “evaluate” it during their tours in Afghanistan.  “They are trying to find out just how good Dragon Skin really is,” Chopra said. On October 5 Pinnacle announced it had received a $4.7 million federal contract to provide the US Air Force and “other federal agencies” more of its body forming, virtually impenetrable product. Dragon Skin can be wrapped around a basketball, its manufacturer says. The most notable of the federal agencies included in the modest contract was the US Secret Service, which guards the President. Even before it was official issue several of the President’s men were already wearing it, an industry expert said.

While $4.7 million is a princely sum to most folks it is a pittance compared to the money being paid to body armor giant Armor Holdings, Inc. by the Department of Defense. This year Army Armor Holdings received nine contracts to make Level III and Level IIIA capable Interceptor OTV body armor, associated accessories and helmets including:

  •  Sep 20, 2005 – $17 Million Order for Individual Body Armor Outer Tactical Vests
  • Aug 31, 2005 – $17.4 Million Order for Individual Soldier Load Carrying Equipment
  •  Aug 25, 2005 – $291 Million ID/IQ Contract By U.S. Army For Advanced Combat Helmet
  • Aug 08, 2005 – $14.4 Million Order for Ceramic Body Armor Inserts
  • Jul 05, 2005 – $45.2 Million Order for U.S. Army Ceramic Body Armor Inserts
  • Jul 13, 2005 – Armor Holdings, Inc. Selected As Exclusive Provider To Replace Up To 156,000 Vests Manufactured By Second Chance Body Armor  
  • Apr 14, 2005 – Receives Awards Totaling $11.4 Million for Individual Soldier Load Carrying Equipment and Helmets
  • Apr 04, 2005 – Armor Holdings, Inc. Awarded $16 Million for Individual Body Armor Outer Tactical Vests 
  • Mar 01, 2005 – Awarded an Incremental $31 Million for U.S. Army Body Armor Inserts 

Armor Holdings took its lead from Point Blank Body Armor, which also manufactures the Interceptor OTV armor. Point Blank operates three factories in Broward County, FL and is currently the largest supplier of body armor to the U.S. government until its contracts run out. In 1999, Point Blank was the weak daughter of parent company DHB Industries that lost $22.3 million on $35.1 million in revenue. Things were only marginally better the next year and then 9/11 happened. Subsequently DHB/Point Blank’s profits soared. In 2001 and 2002 a Department of Defense desperately seeking to fill body armor shortages provided the Florida-based company contracts that boosted its profits to $10.1 million and $16 million respectively on a combined $228.3 million in revenue, according to industry sources.

It was too bad for Point Blank that its armor wasn’t completely bullet proof. Soon after the company received another $9.2 million contract in 2002 to produce body armor for Army engineers charged with disposing of landmines a labor dispute erupted that landed Point Blank in a Florida Federal Court. Evidence and testimony offered during the dispute revealed the company was allegedly putting profits before quality.

Attorneys for the labor union involved (UNITA) in the dispute submitted 150 pages of evidence that alleged quality problems with Point Blank’s body armor. Among the documents were Department of Defense reports from American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The DOD documents showed 43 percent of soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom complained that Point Blank’s body armor “hindered their mobility,” court records show.

As early as July 19, 2004, according to memos originally 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 the court records. On May 3, 2005 Point Blank hired retired four-star Army Gen. Larry Ellis to lead the beleaguered company. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor. On July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government.

“It is always about money or politics,” Crane said.   Meanwhile America’s warrior fight on, facing death every day wearing clearly inferior body armor when the best is only dollars away.    In Part II DefenseWatch explores what “the best there is” really means, including protection levels, materials, and how such things as cost, political connections, and cronyism affect an American warrior’s ability to survive on the modern battlefield.

DefenseWatch Editor Nathaniel R. “Nat” Helms is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, long-time journalist and war correspondent living in Missouri. He is the author of two books, Numba One – Numba Ten and Journey Into Madness: A Hitchhiker’s Account of the Bosnian Civil War, both available at www.ebooks-online.com. He can be reached at natshouse1@charter.net.    Send Feedback responses to­ dwfeedback@yahoo.com

1