SFTT Military News: Week Ending Apr 14, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Military Revamping Retirement System to Attract Millennials
In a bid to lure millennials, the U.S. military is making the most sweeping changes to its retirement program since World War II. Gone are the days when only a 20-year veteran leaves the service with a nest egg. Going forward, those who serve as little as two years will return to civilian life with retirement savings. The new system introduces 401(k)-type savings for military personnel while downsizing the traditional pension benefit—a trade the corporate world has been making for 35 years. The new design also comes with a stepped-up effort to provide service members with the education they will need to make the most of a system that demands more individual involvement.  Read more . . .

Expanded U.S. Military Push in Yemen?
Amid reports President Trump is considering more American military help for the Saudi-led fight in Yemen, U.S. lawmakers are urging caution, if not an about-face. Four U.S. senators have offered legislation to limit arms sales to Riyadh over its troubled Yemen campaign. Fifty-five members of the U.S. House called on Trump in a letter to end both U.S. refueling for Saudi coalition warplanes and logistical assistance for the Saudi-led bombings in Yemen — and they said Trump must seek congressional approval before he deepens U.S. military involvement.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Another VA Hospital Criticized by the Inspector General
In a scathing report, the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs listed a range of overlooked and long-standing problems at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center “sufficient to potentially compromise patient safety.” The risk to the 98,000 vets served by medical center in the nation’s capital was so high that the office of Inspector General Michael Missal took the unusual step of issuing a preliminary report to alert new VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin to the danger.  Read more . . .

Future of the US Military Health System
Three components are needed for a high-performing military. First, the health of military personnel affects “readiness and battlefield performance.” So, health is not only a personnel matter, but also a national security issue. Second, maintaining the health of service members requires “everything from nutritious meals to medical services.”  Third, health care benefits help to attract and retain men and women in the armed services.  Nevertheless, the Military Health System “is a major cost” to the federal government, and the growth of that system “threatens other defense priorities” and attracts “criticism and proposals to reform military health care.”  Read more . . .

Oxycontin and PTSD

Oxycontin Being Tested (Again) for Treatment of PTSD
Nightmares. Obsessive thoughts. Avoiding particular places. Sudden outbursts. Fearing you’re in danger. Survivor guilt. These experiences – manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – are part of life for up to 1 in 3 U.S. combat veterans and active military personnel. That’s more than triple the prevalence of PTSD in the population at large. About two-thirds of those with PTSD struggle with alcohol abuse. A new trial may hold new hope for these military personnel through treatment with oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.”  Read more . . .

Tonix Drug PTSD Study Enters Phase 3
Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp. announced today that it has enrolled the first participant in the Phase 3 HONOR study of TNX-102 SL 5.6 mg, for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Enrolling the first participant in the HONOR study is an important event not only to Tonix, but potentially to millions who suffer worldwide from both civilian and military-related PTSD,” said Seth Lederman, M.D., Tonix’s president and chief executive officer. “The HONOR study is designed to confirm the clinical benefit of TNX-102 SL to improve PTSD symptoms across several measures as demonstrated in our Phase 2 AtEase study in military-related PTSD.”   Read more . . .

VA Launches New “Quality of Care” Website
The Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled a new website Wednesday aimed at providing information on the quality of care at VA medical centers, touting new accountability even as it grappled with fresh questions of patient safety in its beleaguered health system. The VA website, www.accesstocare.va.gov, is a work in progress. It provides preliminary data on the VA’s 1,700 health facilities, along with more than a dozen private-sector hospitals and national averages. Three years after a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, the website offers comparative data on wait times as well as veterans’ satisfaction ratings in getting timely appointments.  Read more . . .

 

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops

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Think Tanks and Leadership with Integrity

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I was fascinated by a recent article which appeared in the New York Times entitled “How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America’s Influence.”

More to the point, I was surprised to see the naivete of influential people like Harvey Cox of Harvard University who couldn’t believe that think tanks could act unethically.

Sadly, the lines between “thinking” and “lobbying” have long been blurred and “corporate America” isn’t the only culprit. There are far too many instances where the DoD and the U.S. Army have employed theoretically disinterested parties to hide outright incompetence and questionable behavior from the prying eyes of the public and the warriors they lead.

Interceptor Body Armor

One needs to look no further than the despicable cover-up of the U.S. Army’s shoddy testing and deployment of substandard “Interceptor” body armor.  This cover-up has been amply covered by SFTT for close to a decade and has been the subject of several damning Inspector General Reports and the media:

For instance, take the GAO (Government Accountability Office) report of October, 2009 which recommended independent testing of body armor after their investigations had uncovered much of the same shoddy body armor testing now chronicled in the latest DOD IG report.   We listened to much of the same nonsense and double-talk from our military leaders, but in bowing to public pressure the Secretary of the Army asked the National Research Council to investigate body armor testing procedures.

I am not sure what became of this National Research Council study, but I suspect that its sole purpose was to lead Congress to think that “things are under control.”  Clearly, they aren’t.

Actually, the National Research Council is a “think tank” often employed by our government to put distance between themselves and potentially harmful setbacks to their careers.   While many believe that contracting academics will provide a “dispassionate” and science-based opinion, academicians rely on government grants.  Cynically, I for one have a difficult time believing they would bite the hand that feeds them.

In any event, the mandate of the National Research Council is to recommend new testing procedures but not opine on the blatant disregard of existing test procedures and guidelines that led to the GAO’s and IG’s damning reports.

I am quite sure that Lt. Gen. Phillips and his cohorts like Col. Cole, Project Manager for Soldier Protection, and US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center, are thrilled to see that a “disinterested” third-party had intervened to cover up their gross incompetence.

Despite much evidence to the contrary that only a blind man could ignore, Lt. Gen Phillips stated that ”I am not aware of any incident down range where the body armor (Interceptor) failed to protect against a round that it was designed to defeat.”  Ummm …

If this were true, why did the DoD turned loose a bevy of beltway lawyers to keep autopsy records secret that clearly indicated that the U.S. Army was sending men and women into combat with defective body armor?

With the support of brilliant pro bono legal representation by a team from the NYC office of Kirkland & Ellis, LLC, a federal district judge in D.C.  issued a ruling in 2010 on SFTT’s editor’s request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for forensic records held by the Department of Defense regarding the performance of government-issued body armor.

Despite the fact that the U.S. Government lost its appeal under the FOIA some 6 years ago, the autopsy records remain under wraps thanks to the continued efforts of DoD lawyers to “bury the truth.”

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.”

It’s hard to imagine that DOD would not release these records if they proved that although 35% of the KIA’s during the specified two-year period for whom even fairly complete records exist had “not perfectly intact” plates, not a single KIA resulted from penetration of the plates.

As a former banker who suffered through countless countless consulting firms (with a well-scripted mandate) and now a close witness to the tragedy of the military cover-up of defective body armor, I have sadly learned that “think tanks” are no substitute for ethical leadership.

The brave men and women who serve our country so valiantly deserve leaders who put the safety of their troops before their own careers.  Is this asking too much?

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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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IG Slams US Army Body Armor Testing Again!!

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In yet another scathing report by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense entitled “Ballistic Testing for Interceptor Body Armor Inserts Needs Improvement,”  the IG “determined that ballistic testing and quality assurance for Inteceptor Body Armor did not have proper controls to ensure that the ballistic inserts met contract requirments.”

The IG report on shoddy US Army test procedures was released on August 1, 2011 and claims that the “Army Program Manager Soldier Equipment (PM SEQ) could provide only limited assurance that approved ballistic materials for approximately 5 million inserts on  seven contracts met the contract requirements.  Specifically, the following test procedures were not followed by PM SEQ:

  • On two contracts no testing was performed because the PM SEQ “had no protection performance concerns on the inserts;”
  • On all seven contracts, the PM SEQ did not always use the correct size ballistic insert for FATs, use a consistent methodology for measuring the proper velocity, or enforce the humidity and temperature requirements;
  • On six of the seven contracts, the PM SEQ did not require weathered and altitude tests.

The PM SEQ’s response to these glaring test deficiencies is the following:  ” . . . the size of the ballistic inserts , humidity and temperature would not affect test results . . . and the weathered and altitude tests were eliminated to expedite FAT in support of the urgent wartime requirement for ballistic inserts.

To readers of SFTT, this latest snub and blatant disregard for the IG Reports  by the Program Manager for Soldier Equipment should come as no surprise.  Nevertheless, it is hard to reconcile his cavalier approach to testing body armor plates considering the fact that the US Marine Corps X-Ray testing have concluded that battlefield.

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 similar scathing report by the GAO.

For years, SFTT has campaigned to help insure that our troops have the best body armor available.  At every step of the way we have been stonewalled by the very same people entrusted to supply that equipment to our troops.  A Federal judge has asked the Defense Department to reach an out-of-court settlement on Senior SFTT Editor Roger Charles’ FOIA which provides vital information on the efficacy of ceramic body armor plates.

The sad reality is that defective ceramic plates are responsible for many battlefield casualties and deaths that could have been avoided.  How much longer does the public and our troops have to put up with these lies?

Really, imagine citing “urgent wartime requirements” for a war that has been going on for over 10 years and not testing ceramic plates  for “altitude, temperature or weathering” when the battlefied is Afghanistan.  After more than 5 years of sounding the alarm on the deficiency of military body armor, it is time to say goodbye to these hopeless bureaucrats at Ft. Belvoir and their supervisors at the Pentagon.  The safety of young men and women serving in harm’s way is far too important to be entrusted to them.

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Military News Highlights: January 24, 2011

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Karzai Agrees to Seat New Afghan Parliament

Afghanistan’s fragile government still stands after President Karzai’s decision this past weekend to inaugurate the newly elected Afghan government this Wednesday, January 26, 2011.  Karzai stepped back from the precipice he created after “intense pressure from legislators and the international community.”  During the crisis, not much happy talked leaked out of US/NATO in Kabul, and it took a UN inspired rally of Western allies to “break the silence on the crisis.”

Now this one is not over yet – anything can (and does) still happen to reverse or amend Karzai’s latest pronouncement.  In fact, the candidates that lost the election and claim fraud have constituents who have been marginalized since the election; very sizable ethnic constituencies that now will have limited representation.  “There are already too many people who have gone to the mountains to fight…this will make more distance with the government, and send more people up to the mountains.”

So, again, when a Joe is about to leave the wire on his umpteenth patrol and climb another mountain, what reason do you tell him he’s fighting for?

Marines pay a price trying to secure an Afghan hot spot

The SFTT news team has previously highlighted US/NATO operations in Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – specifically the high casualty rates, tactics, and the deployment of additional firepower (i.e. USMC M-1 Abrams tank company).

To recap Sangin, the LA Times features three Marines and the price they paid while trying to secure Sangin during continuous combat operations.

Some key highlights for the scorecard:

  • In four years in Sangin, the British had lost more than 100 soldiers, about a third of all their nation’s losses in the war.
  • In four months, 24 Marines with the Camp Pendleton-based Three-Five have been killed.
  • More than 140 others have been wounded, some of them catastrophically, losing limbs and the futures they had imagined for themselves.
  • 3/5 Marines (“Get Some”) has been in more than 408 firefights and found 434 buried roadside bombs.
  • An additional 122 bombs exploded before they could be discovered, in many instances killing or injuring Afghan civilians who travel the same roads as the Marines.
  • US military hospitals in Landstuhl, Germany; Bethesda; and San Diego have seen a steady stream of wounded Marines and sailors from the Three-Five, including at least four triple-amputees.
  • Less severely wounded Marines have been sent to the Wounded Warrior Battalion West barracks at Camp Pendleton. Still others among the 3/5 Marines injured have been transferred to the Veterans Affairs facility in Palo Alto, which specializes in traumatic brain injuries.
  • Fifty-six replacements have been rushed from Camp Pendleton to Afghanistan to take the places of the dead and severely wounded.
  • Many of the volunteers were Marines from other battalions who had been wounded in Afghanistan.

“We don’t know who we’re fighting over there, who’s friendly and who isn’t,” Lance Cpl. Juan Dominguez said. “They’re always watching us. We’re basically fighting blind.”

IG says weak planning puts Afghan projects at risk

The current special inspector general for Afghanistan, Arnold Fields informed the Commission on Wartime Contracting what the SFTT news team has been tracking, that the effort to build up Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) was fraught with “poor planning and weak management.”  As we have said along, billions of US tax dollars are at risk and being misspent.

What is revealing about Fields’ testimony was that he (i.e. the special inspector general) is not clear how in fact US/NATO would be able to construct enough bases and training facilities by the end of 2013, when ANSF capacity and capability are supposed to be ready to fully assume security in 2014.

What is staggering is that less than 20 percent of the more than 800 projects, which are valued at over $11 billion, and planned for completion over the next 2 years, are finished.   While more than 65% of the pending projects have not even been started.  Not a very good rate of return.  Complicating any progress is whether or not the Afghans will be capable to maintain the few projects that have been completed thus far.

“These issues place the entire U.S. investment of $11.4 billion in (Afghan security force) facilities construction at risk of not meeting Afghan needs of intended purposes and resulting in a large degree of waste,” Fields said.

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Military News Highlights: January 4, 2011

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U.S.-funded infrastructure deteriorates once under Afghan control, report says

Since 2001, the Commanders Emergency Relief Program (CERP) in Afghanistan has provided commanders quick and readily available resources to fund projects – to build schools, to build local government facilities, purchase generators, pave roads, etc.  And because Afghanistan is a target rich environment for CERP related projects given the effects of over 30 years of war and the lack of government capacity to provide services, CERP is sometimes the only means in which a small village or neglected district can survive.  Key to success of any CERP project, and the first question that is answered in doling out funds is whether the Afghans at the local, district, or provincial level will be able to maintain the project (i.e. maintenance and repair, sustainability, inspections, ensuring that the people benefit versus a power broker) after the US hands it off.   Ask any trooper with repetitive deployments to Afghanistan and ask him/her if the projects they put in place are still standing after their return and nine-times-out-of-ten the response will be no.  Numerous GAO reports, IG investigations, commanders inquiries, Afghan government inspections all produce the same response – deterioration.  Why is that?  And why does that matter?  The causes for deterioration are many – standard neglect, Afghans not trained to maintain the infrastructure, shoddy contractor construction, attacks by the Taliban, and/or the populace unwilling to use/maintain in fear of Taliban reprisal for US support.  And it matters because of the billions of dollars already expended and the fact that in the COIN narrative, effective and efficient maintenance of these projects is a metric to gauge how prepared Afghanistan is to take on governance on their own.   It appears that the 2014 goalposts could be moved back a little further back since local Afghans are incapable of maintaining the infrastructure put in place at the cost of untold blood and treasure.  If we the US/NATO can’t responsibly shift these projects to the Afghans, then how will they be able to hand off security responsibilities in the near future? 

 U.S. Marines report peace deal with tribe in Afghan hot spot (McClatchy Newspapers)

After 25 days of negotiations, the Marines in Helmand Province have agreed to a “peace deal” with the Alokozai Tribe.  The tribe has agreed to rein in Taliban confederates and cease attacks in exchange for the release of a religious leader being held by US/NATO, and funding for projects in the affected district (i.e. Sarwan Qala – 30 villages in Sangin District).  The tribe will expel foreign fighters, allow US/Afghan patrols, and provide intel on IED locations.  Question is what prompted the deal?  Steep US/NATO casualty rates?

Policy puts troops at risk for identity theft

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that US servicemembers are certainly at risk for identify theft, especially if their social security number is plastered on every document and identification card that they carry.  So yes, it is true, that in the digital age, anytime you pony up your social security number onto the spectrum you quickly become a target.  Really?  

And if military cultural norms and outdated reporting procedures are perpetuating this, then it’s time to adjust fire.  And doing it quick, very quick.  

So let me get this straight, an Army Private with a Secret Clearance downloads and exports thousands of classified reports and cables resulting in investigations, criminal charges, changes in policies, Pentagon edicts on no-access to “that site”; all of which is instituted in a matter of weeks and months. 

 But changing a policy so that individual social security numbers are no longer part of a servicemembers digital profile (and subjecting him/her to these risks) takes more time?   

Priority?

 From the Pentagon to the private sector

In the last two decades alone, most of the 750 generals and flag officers who have retired have entered the “rent-a-general” business.  Conflict of interests?  Sure, but they get a pass on “pitting his/her duty to the US military against the interests of his employers.  “Sprinting” to the door?  Don’t let the door hit your fourth point of contact.  Anything being done about this revolving door syndrome where generals and admirals get tucked in bed by the defense-private sector?  Unfortunately not, and the rate of the turnstile has only increased over the past few years in comparison to the boom years from 1994 to 1998.  Good times for those lucky enough to cash in.  Good times indeed.

Weight hikes prompt uniform, armor review

During the past few years the Army has reissued an improved Army Combat Uniform, female-cut Army Combat Uniforms, a medium-sized rucksack, enhanced Night Vision Goggles, a second generation Improved Outer Tactical Vest, and an Enhanced Combat Helmet.  All of which did not have the benefit of updated data regarding the size and composition of the force that ultimately would (and are) using/wearing this gear.  A new review has been ordered that will collect the proper data of the size, weight, and body composition of a set sample of surveyed troops with the goal of upgrading the data used to develop new equipment and uniform items.  Glad to hear that they are finally getting their act together, you know, the proverbial cart behind the horse thingy.

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DoD Waste and Incompetence Cited by IG in sourcing spare parts for M2 Heavy Machine Gun

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Thanks to Mother Jones writer Adam Weinstein who brought this item to our attention, SFTT has reviewed a recent DoDIG report  (Department of Defense Inspector General) that documents yet more absolutely blithering incompetence inside the multi-billion dollar DoD Procurement bureaucracy.  The issue in this case is spare parts for the M2 .50-caliber Heavy Machine Gun (“HMG”), better known as “Ma Duece” by those who rely upon it to reach out and “touch” Jihad Johnny in a memorable way.

M-2 Heavy Duty Machine Gun

 

This DoD IG investigation was kicked off by field reports of slow-to-no response for critical spare parts needed to keep their M2’s in “lethal” condition. When DoD IG inspectors looked into cited complaints, they found a level of incompetence that would be laughable were it not for the reality that these M2’s are life-saving to our troops and death-dealing to our enemy when they are fully functioning. But, when M2’s are sidelined for lack of spare parts, we all know who pays the price in blood and gore for not having their HMG to hammer through mudwalls or to nail some jihadii who is out of range of the pathetically under-powered M-4 carbine

Here’s what the DoDIG folks staked out as their objective on this investigation: “What We Did: We determined whether the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) used appropriate and effective contracting procedures to provide customers with critical application M2 machine gun parts.”  Now for the meat of their findings: 

DLA did not have effective internal controls in place to ensure appropriate and effective contracting procedures related to contract quality assurance, product quality deficiency report processing, spare part kit assembly, and oversight of contractor deliveries. Specifically,

  • Contractors provided at least 7,100 non-conforming parts on 24 contracts.
  • DLA did not adequately process 95 of 127 product quality deficiency reports.
  •  DLA did not deliver 60 spare part kits on time to support a U.S. Army program to overhaul 2,600 M2 machine guns and provided non-conforming parts in kits.
  • DLA did not pursue adequate compensation from contractors who were significantly late in providing critical parts on 49 contracts.

As a result,

  • Warfighters had to wait for critical M2 gun parts as DLA had backorders on 7,183 requisitions for 60,701 parts during a 12-month period. Priority group 1 comprised 4,097 of these requisitions for 40,333 parts.
  • A US Army program to overhaul M2 machine guns was negatively impacted.
  • DLA missed opportunities to identify contractors with performance problems and obtain adequate compensation.
  • Because of the quality problems, the Government spent at least $655,000 in funds that could have been put to better use.
  • DLA missed an opportunity to obtain approximately $405,000 in contractor compensation for late deliveries.
  • DLA has initiated several corrective actions to improve the quality of M2 machine gun parts.
  • Implementing our recommendations should improve DLA’s internal controls over contracting.

 Here’s the DoDIG “kicker” for DLA:  “. . . establish controls and implement measures to improve its contract quality assurance procedures, product quality deficiency report processing, spare part kit assembly, and contractor delivery oversight . . .”  This is equivalent to the DoDIG telling the Secretary of Defense that no such effective controls and measures are currently in place. That’s right, in 2010, after over eight years of combat in Afghanistan and seven years of combat in Iraq, the desk-jockeys of DLA do not have a minimally-acceptable process that gets our frontline troops the right spare parts for their M2’s in a timely fashion.

The sad truth is that no one involved demonstrated even a minimal concern about getting critical spare parts to those whose very survival might well depend on getting them in a timely manner, i.e., before their next firefight. 

There is more to this report that I will be covering in a subsequent article.  However, for those who have followed SFTT’s investigation of the mix of unexplainable behavior and incompetence that produced the Interceptor Body Armor fiasco, this report on the shoddy procurement process within the DoD only confirms that the problems indentified by SFTT are truly systemic and not unique to body armor. 

It is absolutely unacceptable that we seem unable or unwilling to provide our men and women serving in harm’s way the proper equipment to do their job and come home alive in one piece.  Folks, we have a serious problem in our military procurement system and unless  Americans raise their voice and say “enough,” it is likely to continue that way.  Find out what you can do to support SFTT’s mission by becoming a Member or by Volunteering your services to get the SFTT message across to our Congressional and military leaders. 

Roger Charles

Senior Investigative Reporter and Editor

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M-4 Rifle Not Suitable for Afghan Battlefield

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In yet another alarming sign that US troops do not have adequate combat gear, the US Stars and Stripes now reports that the US Army standard-isssue M-4 rifle may not be the best weapon of choice for Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain.   This disclosure comes on the heels of a new Congressional inquiry on body armor procurement and testing procedures.

 

Slobodan Lekic of the Associated Press reports that the “U.S. military’s workhorse rifle (the “M-4″) is proving less effective in Afghanistan against the Taliban’s more primitive but longer range weapons.” The M-4 is simply a revamped version of the Viet Nam era M-16 that was designed for close combat. 

Several reports are circulating within military circles, but one recent study by Major Thomas P. Ehrhart strongly suggests that the M-4 as presently configured is not the proper weapon for the Afghan terrain.  Bullets fired from M-4s don’t retain enough velocity at distances greater than 1,000 feet  to kill an adversary. In hilly regions of Afghanistan, NATO and insurgent forces are often 2,000 to 2,500 feet.

To counter these tactics, the U.S. military is designating nine soldiers in each infantry company to serve as sharpshooters, according to Maj. Thomas Ehrhart, who wrote the Army study. They are equipped with the new M-110 sniper rifle, which fires a larger 7.62 mm round and is accurate to at least 2,500 feet.

According the AP report, “At the heart of the debate is whether a soldier is better off with the more-rapid firepower of the 5.56mm bullets or with the longer range of the 7.62 mm bullets. ‘The reason we employ the M-4 is because it’s a close-in weapon, since we anticipate house-to-house fighting in many situations,’ said Lt. Col. Denis J. Riel, a NATO spokesman.”

While there have been persistent reports of weapons jamming, these new studies strongly suggest that our frontline troops do not have the proper weapons to engage the enemy.  We remain hopeful that our military leaders will take decisive action to quickly remedy this situation rather than wait several months or years for the GAO or IG to issue after-action reports concluding what we already know:  the US military’s 40 year-old M-4 ain’t up to the task!   Indeed, our troops are still waiting for proper body armor after years of stone-walling by our military brass.  Let’s take action and get our troops the equipment they deserve. 

Richard W. May

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Chairman Towns Opens Inquiry into Quality of Troops’ Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

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In an important new development Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY), Chairman of the Committee for Oversight and Government Reform asks  Defense Secretary Robert Gates for explanations about the management of the Department of Defense’s (“DoD”) troop armor procurement and testing programs.  What follows is a reprint of the release:

The inquiry follows a DoD Inspector General (“IG”) report issued recently that identified problems with the Army’s body and vehicle armor testing process.  Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, DOoD has consistently struggled to deploy safe and reliable body armor to troops on the front line, and the IG has issued several reports outlining the challenges to DOD’s armor procurement policies and potential solutions. Chairman Towns, an Army veteran, is committed to ensuring the safety of our troops.

“For almost a decade, our troops have sacrificed life and limb to defend our nation.  At the same time, DoD has repeatedly struggled to manage its programs and testing related to protective armor, including body armor,” said Chairman Towns.  “If we are going to continue sending troops into harms way, we must know that DoD is doing all it can to provide effective and save body armor and armored vehicles.”

A January 2009 DoD IG report identified problems with the U.S. Army’s testing processes. The IG found, among other things, that testing of some body armor was not consistently conducted in accordance with contract requirements—and that body armor that was recorded as having passed testing had actually failed. A separate review of body armor testing by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) the Army did not follow established testing protocols, did not maintain certain internal controls, and recommended an independent assessment of armor test results.

The letter from Chairman Towns to Secretary Gates is the latest in a series of inquiries from the House Oversight Committee into Federal procurement and waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars.  In the letter to Gates, Chairman Towns requested that DoD brief the House Oversight Committee on the Department’s efforts to ensure that our troops have effective and safe body armor and armored vehicles, as expeditiously as possible.

Specifically, the Chairman requested an overview of key ongoing armored vehicle and body armor acquisition programs of the Services, including the Army’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle program (MRAP); contractors involved in the maintenance or procurement of body armor or armored vehicles; and field experience with the effectiveness of protective armor, including body armor, along with any analysis comparing experience in the field with the results of laboratory testing.

“I am aware that DoD has made some progress addressing past problems with the body and vehicle armor provided to our armed services,” said Chairman Towns.  “However, I want to make sure DoD’s progress continues.  There is nothing more important than providing our troops with the best protection possible.”

SFTT Editor Comment:  We applaud Chairman Towns, Congressman Jim Webb and other Congressional leaders for their perseverance in helping to insure that our troops have the best protective gear possible.  Nevertheless, it is  reprehensible that our military leaders have taken little action over the past several years to deal with the disturbing issues raised in the March, 2008 IG report and the October, 2009 GAO Study.  The unreliability of body armor presently issued to our troops, shoddy test procedures and cozy relationships between military “testers” and armament suppliers have been well documented. It is disgraceful and does not reflect well on our military leadership who are entrusted to field an army with the best combat gear possible.  By letting our troops down, we let our country down.

When will the “true” military leaders emerge to make sure our troops have the best protective gear possible?  Studies are useful, but concerted action now would save lives and prevent traumatic injury.    We implore Secretary Gates to clean up the mess in our military procurement process.  We realize that billions of dollars are at stake, but so are the lives of the young men and women serving in harm’s way.  Let’s get our priorities straight.

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