Interceptor Body Armor: End of a Chapter, Stench Remains

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A colleague at Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) sent me an email a few days ago informing me that David H. Brooks, the founder and former chief executive of DHB Industries, died on Thursday at the age of 61 in a prison in Danbury, CT.

david brooks and co

David Brooks and co-defendant Sandra Hatfield, photo source unknown

Convicted in 2010 of insider trading and “fraudulently enriching himself” with company funds, Mr. Brooks was a contractor who supplied bullet-resistant vests and other body armor to the military and other law enforcement agencies.   In particular,  DHB Industries and its successor, Point Blank Industries, supplies Interceptor Body Armor to the U.S. Army.

Interceptor Body Armor

My colleague has been following this tragic story for approximately ten years from the perspective of “boots on the ground” who rely on government-issued protective gear to insure their safety.

As readers of SFTT are aware, senior U.S. Army officials have consistently claimed that the U.S. has “the best body armor in the world” and that there have been no battlefield fatalities as a result of defective body armor.

Of course, none of these outrageous claims are true, but the U.S. Army apparently went one step further arguing that medical and survivor benefits might be withheld if personnel were wounded or died if they were not wearing mandated government-issued body armor.

There have been many GAO and IG reports condemning flawed testing procedures by the military on body armor, but little was done to correct these deviations from well-established testing protocols.   After the stench of incompetence and, perhaps corruption, could no longer be contained, in 2009 the military brass decided to kick the process into a higher sphere of bureaucratic red tape: the National Research Council.

Since then, there have been periodic recalls of defective ceramic plates, despite repeated claims by the military brass that “the recalled plates have passed all ballistic tests so Soldiers who may have been using the plates were always properly protected.”   Clearly, if the ballistic tests were flawed (and they were), then it follows that our Soldiers were not adequately protected.

In fact, for any military officer in authority to assert that that our troops were “properly protected” despite repeated IG and GAO claims to the contrary should – in my opinion – be Court-martialed.

Of course, we know that will not be the case as subsequent actions by the Beltway spin-doctors showed.

Roger Charles, editor of SFTT,  filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to have the autopsy records released on 103 military personnel who had sustained fatal wounds to the torso.  Some of these bodies were shipped back with their body armor strongly suggesting that the body armor was flawed.

Although Mr. Charles received a favorable ruling by a Federal Judge to have the records released in 2010, those records continue to remain secret as a result of continued legal gymnastics by Defense Department lawyers.  Ir is unlikely that these records will be released anytime soon.

As someone who has served in the military, I find it difficult to believe that our military leaders would expose the brave young men and women in uniform to hostile fire without the best possible protective gear.   Sure, everyone knows that military equipment may sometimes be compromised, but we would expect after action follow-up to insure that improvements are made to improve reliability.

In the case of Interceptor Body Armor, I find little evidence of a sincere effort by military leaders to deal with this problem.  Rather than face up to faulty test procedures and clear evidence of deficiencies in the body armor, our Beltway military leaders tried to spin a tale to convince Congress, the public and the men and women who serve our country that they were wearing the best protective gear.

These frauds know it was a lie. Anyone with common sense knows it is a lie. Many serving in harm’s way knew it was a lie.   Frankly, continued denial by our military leaders that consciously misled our troops on the effectiveness of body armor disqualifies them from a position of leadership.   You know who you are.

Now, you can continue to deny responsibility in the coverup, but try explaining your complicity to grieving family members who have lost a loved one through your gross incompetence and lies.

While Mr. Brooks death in prison closes one chapter in this painful saga, the stench of self-serving incompetence, dishonesty and possibly corruption continues to foul the air.

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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: Deja vu all over again.

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Every couple of years or so (and sometimes more frequently) US Army body armor testing procedures are called into question by investigating authorities.  There used to be a saying among Army troops “that you never had time to do things right, but you always had time to do them again.”  Well, apparently in this modern army, you don’t even have “to do things right” if 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, have anything to say about it.  And they do!

These talking heads continue to insist that we have the “best body armor in the world” despite a systemic failure to apply appropriate test procedures.  They simply dismiss any compelling evidence to the contrary as demonstrated by their well-orchestrated campaign against the latest DOD IG report on improper testing of Interceptor Body Armor Inserts.

Now, Gen. Phillips and his buddies at Ft. Belvoir believe that the public and our Congressional leaders have short memories and they can simply talk their way out of this most recent disclosure that something is dreadfully wrong in our military procurement system.  They just may well succeed, if past history is any indication.

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.

It’s time to for Congressional leaders and our military brass to do the “right thing” and appoint leaders who are more interesting in the well-being and safety of our troops than military equipment suppliers.  SFTT thanks Congresswoman Louise Slaughter for instigating the latest study.  We now urge you and your Congressional colleagues to follow-up.

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Body Armor Testing: Pentagon Spin Doctors at Work Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body Armor Recall

Body Armor Plate Recalls

Congressional Inquiry into Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

GAO recommendations on Body Armor Testing

Broken Military Procurement Process

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

Flaws in M2 and M4 endanger troops in Afghanistan

DODIG sites fault in spare parts for M2 in Afghanistan

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

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

 

 

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The “Ugly Truth” of Body Armor Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Col. Jim Magee, USMC (Ret.)

 

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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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Goverment Approved Body Armor: Catch 22?

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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

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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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Sorenson’s Mission — Kill Dragon Skin

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By Roger Charles

On Friday of last week, MajGen Jeffrey Sorenson of the US Army stood up at a press conference and attempted, one more time, to drive a stake through the heart of that pesky Dragon Skin body armor, but, unlike the brittle SAPI plates of the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA), Dragon Skin has proven capable of stopping multiple hits.

Sorenson will, no doubt, be rewarded for his extraordinary display of E-ring valor — he tried, and gave it his all. I expect the citation for his end of tour award will include the following boilerplate:

“On March 31, 2006, under withering questioning which swept the podium from numerous entrenched journalists, MajGen Sorenson valiantly stood his ground and directed accurate, sustained counter-fire against the media’s positions. Recognizing that one side of the Army’s carefully constructed barricade of lies had been penetrated, MajGen Sorenson quickly marshaled his forces to seal off the penetration and personally led the counterattack which resulted in a complete rout of the attacking journalists.”* The Perfumed-Prince “W” distinguishing device for Weasel-wording is authorized for wear with this citation.

Sorensen’s pretext for the news conference was the Army’s public acknowledgement of a March 17 Safety Of Use Message (SOUM), Number 06-017,”Discontinue Use of Unauthorized Body Army, Dragon Skin.”

Defense Watch’s Editor, Nat Helms, had obtained a copy of this SOUM and posted it on March 23, along with a brief introduction, “US Army Officials Continue to Trap Themselves In a Web of Deceit“.

Sorenson’s press dance appeared at first glance to have this straightforward purpose — to explain to the DOD press corps that the Army had taken this action in the best interests of America’s Grunts.

But, he soon disclosed the ulterior motive for his briefing — to announce that, “there is another service [USAF] that has procured this type of capability [Dragon Skin SOV 2000 Flexible Body Armor System], but has recently recalled it because it did not meet standards.”

Ah, now, the fun part. This Army general flat-out misrepresented two key points. One, that Pinnacle Armor’s Dragon Skin “did not meet standards,” i.e., had failed a ballistics test conducted at Aberdeen Test Center (ATC) during 16-17 February.

Second, the Air Force component for whom the test was conducted, Headquarters Office of Special Investigations (OSI), had “recalled” the Dragon Skin.

As in most of the clever web of lies spun by the PP’s in DOD press rooms, the lies were concealed under a veneer of weasel-worded statements that must literally be deconstructed word-by-word in order to get to the truth. And the rosetta stone needed to reveal the Army’s perfidy is the ATC’s test report to HQ, OSI, Andrews AFB. The subject of this letter is: “Ballistic Testing of Pinnacle Armor Dragon Skin,” and it specifies that SOV 2000 was tested, not the SOV 3000.

A matrix listed eight tests, seven with 7.62mm Level IV rounds, and one “durability” test wherein the vests were dropped and “run over by a pickup truck (two passes).” [Note:remember the Interceptor SAPI plates are stamped “Handle With Care,” and are shipped in boxes labeled, “Fragile – Do Not Drop.” Don’t expect Interceptor vests with the SAPI plates to undergo this kind of durability testing anytime soon.]

First, the Pinnacle Armor testing at ATC used all Level IV ammunition!! And Dragon Skin SOV 2000 is NOT advertised nor certified as Level IV ballistic protection. Here’s what the ATC test report said:

5. The SOV 2000 Flexible Body Armor System is advertised as a “Level III+” solution in which the “+” moniker denotes 0-m range protection from two “Level IV” threats (reference 1d)”: [NOTE: A table with two Level IV rounds, a 7.62mm and a 5.56mm, is presented. Only the “7.62 X 39-mm M1943 Ball Type PS” round was tested by ATC against the Dragon Skin SOV 2000.]

Given this, only Test No.3 from the matrix above could be considered applicable for confirmation of the ballistic performance of the system as was advertised in writing by the vendor.

6. Favorable results were observed on only two of the eight tests (Tests No.3 and 4)…” Now, folks, in everyday English, here’s what the above means: Dragon Skin SOV 2000, a Level III+ body armor, defeated “only” two of the seven Level IV rounds!!

So much for Sorenson’s patently false claim that Dragon Skin “did not meet standards. Dragon Skin not only met the standards, it exceeded them, and noticeably so!

Now, to Sorenson’s 2d phoney claim, that the other service “recalled it” (meaning Dragon Skin). Let’s stipulate that Sorenson is not stupid person, and that as an Army major general, serving as Deputy, Acquisition and Systems Management, for the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, he is learned in the correct terminology of his trade.

Ford, GM and Chrysler may “recall” things, but in DOD acquistion, a contract is either in effect or it is not. The Pinnacle Armor contract with AF OSI is, as of Monday, April 4, still an active contract.

Was Sorenson just too lazy to have one of his flunkeys pick up the phone and call the Air Force to find out what was the status of the Pinnacle Armor contract? Or, did an Army general knowingly misrepresent a significant fact on an item of life-or-death importance to America’s Grunts?

Let’s see what the ATC test report had to say about this issue.

7. While the samples successfully defeated the advertised “Level III+” threat, results of this test series did not meet the vendor’s [i.e., Pinnacle Armor’s] expectation for the system for the other tested threats based on physical inspections of the targets and past testing at commercial ranges. This has resulted in their initiation of a root-cause investigation…

In other words, Dragon Skin SOV 2000 passed the Air Force standards, but did not exceed the standards as much as Pinnacle Armor expected. Therefore, Pinnacle Armor initiated their own investigation, focusing on Quality Control issues related to the manufacturing of the ceramic disks provided to Pinnacle Armor by its supplier.

Rather than the Air Force “recalling it,” the Dragon Skin manufacturer voluntarily took the vests back to inspect the ceramic disks and work with the company that manufactured these disks to see why the Level III+ vests only stopped about half of the other Level IV rounds in Tests 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7. (Remember — Dragon Skin SOV 2000 passed Tests 3 and 4.)

For those of you willing to give Sorenson and the Army the benefit of some doubt, that maybe he was confused about the two Dragon Skin versions, SOV 2000 and SOV 3000, save your charity for someone who deserves it.

The US Army and MajGen Sorenson are well aware of the difference between SOV 2000 and SOV 3000. In a synopsis posted on Federal Business Opportunities, the Army had announced on March 13, that it was negotiating with Pinnacle Armor for 30 sets of “Dragon Skin SOV 3000 with Full Level IV Wrap Body Armor.”

Once again, a Perfumed Prince has paid lip service to the myth that the Army acquisition system is concerned about and dedicated to providing America’s Soldiers equipment that “is safe, it is suitable and it’s effective.”

The ugly reality, exposed one more time, is that the Army acquisition system is concerned only with process, not product — with keeping a bloated, an inefficient, and, yes, too-often a criminal bureaucracy, occupied with “busy work” that pays for luxurious suites along “K” Street and funds golf trips to Saint Andrews. All the while, the best of our nation’s youth are exposed to increasingly lethal attacks while wearing inferior body armor that makes a mockery of “Duty-Honor-Country.”

P.S. The media response to Sorenson’s bald-faced lies deserves special note. Gullible DOD press representatives bought into the mendacious attack on Dragon Skin, and did so with gusto. Typical was the headline by Lolita Baldor, the Associated Press reporter: “Armor banned by Army banned by Air Force.” Sorenson could not have been more pleased if one of the designated liars in Army PAO had written the headline.

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. Rog can be contacted at sfttpres@aol.com. Please send comments to DWFeedback@yahoo.com.

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Interceptor OTV Body Armor Cost Lives, An Internal USMC Reports Shows

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The Interceptor Outer Tactical Vest was designed for use with SAPI plates and replaces the Personnel Armor System, Ground Troop Flak vest, more commonly known as the flak vest.

The “Marine Lethal Torso Injuries: Preliminary Findings 8/29/2005” was reportedly made to identify current weaknesses in the product, which was designed and fielded in the nearly billion-dollar joint US Army-USMC Interceptor program that created the controversial body armor.

Critics of the Interceptor body armor system complain it is bulky, poorly made, limits mobility, and incorporates a design that leaves the wearer vulnerable to gunshot and shrapnel wounds over large areas of the upper torso to limit production costs.

Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) spokesman Sanford “Mack” McLaurin, although aware of the report, declined to comment on it, declaring “this information could be help to our enemies and put Marines and Soldiers in danger.” MARCORSYSCOM is the agency within the Marine Corps responsible for providing Marine Corps approved equipment to its war fighters.

Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Curry Keir, Army Public Affairs, Media Operations, was equally reticent in his Dec. 30 response to a recent DefenseWatch inquiry.

“We take operational security very seriously and will not discuss in public issues that may render any insight to the enemy on our capabilities; fielding plans; or tactics, techniques and procedures,” Keir said.

A skeptic might say the services’ sudden interest in security is more akin to closing the hen house door after the fox has entered than keeping sensitive information from the enemy. A DefenseWatch investigation begun last summer (See Is America’s Best Getting America’s Best series in DW archives) determined that the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick (SSC-Natick, Massachusetts), has known for at least several years that its in-house designed Interceptor body armor was not nearly as effective as other civilian body armor products already in production. The troops who wear the standard issue body armor are also well aware of its deficiencies. For more than two years DefenseWatch has received reports and complaints from Grunts in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Interceptor gear is lousy.

In late October DW began receiving reports for war fighters in Iraq that the American Armed Forces Network (AFN) was warning its radio listeners there that the Coalition had received intelligence about insurgents snipers that were being trained to aim at areas of vulnerability between Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI plates) – hard composite armor plate – where Coalition war fighters wearing Interceptor armor are particularly vulnerable. War correspondent and popular blogger Michael Yon confirmed the reports in an email to DefenseWatch after hearing them broadcast in Mosul.

Many war fighters told DefenseWatch they used their own money to buy superior body armor systems available on the open market despite DOD claims that the Interceptor body armor is the best money can buy. Those warriors reported the Interceptor body armor is frequently ill-fitting, falls apart with rugged use, decreases in protective capability with age, and leaves the wearer vulnerable to side and shoulder wounds that could prove fatal. The findings of the August 29 report supports every contention the agitated war fighters made. So did evidence introduced in several civilian court cases brought against all three of the Interceptor body armor manufacturers in unrelated lawsuits by disgruntled employees, civilian police agencies and the US Justice Department.

The DOD and the U.S. Army have both declined to comment to numerous DefenseWatch inquiries made since September seeking to discover whether senior Pentagon officials knew that Interceptor OTV body armor was ineffective, and what the Pentagon intended to do about the Interceptor problems if it did. US Army Public Affairs Chief Brigadier General Vincent Brooks went so far as to accuse DefenseWatch of “clearly having an agenda” and “not [being] interested in productive discussions on this topic.”

On November 17, 2005 Army spokesman John P. Boyce, Jr., following up on Brooks’ acid comments, declined to answer a DW inquiry seeking to know whether the Interceptor program was going to be cancelled after the current contracts have been completed. Two months ago DW received several still unconfirmed reports from credible sources within the body armor industry that the ill-conceived Interceptor program was under severe scrutiny by the US Air Force, Marine Corps and Army because of the numerous complaints its members have forwarded up the chain of command. Those sources continue to insist the Interceptor program will be terminated at the end of the current production run.

Instead of answering the question Boyce wrote on behalf of the US Army that:

“… the U.S. Army fielded more than 873,270 Outer Tactical Vests, so you may definitely say we are still using Outer Tactical Vests as well as personal body-armor technologies to protect our Soldiers. Soldier protection is the highest priority for the Army. As new technologies emerge, the Army aggressively works with industry to develop, test, produce and rapidly field the best possible equipment, and get it into the hands of our Soldiers.”

Meanwhile the Marine Corps was very quietly seeking answers to the problems with Interceptor armor that Marines encountered while wearing it in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. On November 22, 2005 MARCORSYSCOM issued a “Solicitation” for interested manufacturers to bid for the opportunity to manufacture an improved design of the Interceptor OTV body armor currently issued to most service members serving in the Global War on Terror. The request was placed in the Federal Business Opportunities website without any public announcement.

The bid says the Marines are “seeking market research, potential sources, and best practice information towards designing, developing, and buying a replacement item to provide torso ballistic protection with integrated and scalable load-carrying capabilities for individual Marines.

“The OTV, along with ballistic protective inserts, is commonly known as the USMC’s very successful “Interceptor” system,” the bid request explained. “The currently used Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) portion was developed in the late 1990’s. It consists of soft armor (i.e., fragmentation protection) covering the torso, groin and neck and can carry ceramic plates to protect against rifle fire. The OTV, however, is not designed – but is being used for – carrying equipment and items during USMC missions. Consequently, the OTV lacks efficient state-of-the-art load carrying capabilities and technologies that limit the user’s effectiveness.”

In his written response McLaurin gave a biographical account of the development of the Interceptor system, adding that “since the OTV was not designed to carry the excessive weight of a Marine’s combat load, we developed and procured a limited number of Assault Load Carriers (ALC)…”

“This modular system will allow Marines to adapt the OTV to the threat they face. However, Marines in combat wanted to attach their MOLLE pouches (ammunition and equipment carriers) directly to the OTV instead of using the ALC,” McLaurin continued. “We also developed and procured the Fighting Load Carrier (FLC), designed to carry ammunition magazines, the first aid kit, canteens and other combat equipment.”

Almost as an afterthought McLaurin concluded, “Consequently, since Marines in combat have identified the need for additional area of coverage, we developed and fielded the Side Small Arms Protective Inserts (S-SAPI) to protect deployed Marines.”

The Marine’s development of the Side Small Arms Protective Inserts (S-SAPI) modification corrects one of the most glaring problems inherent to the Interceptor system, several experts said. Natick’s failure to recognize early on the need for axillary protection led to the unnecessary deaths of the”nearly 23%” of the Marines” who “might have benefited from protection along the mid-axillary line of the lateral chest, ” according to the August 29 report. In laymen’s terms, the mid-axillary line of the lateral chest identifies the sides of the body’s upper torso.

McLaurin added that the November 22 solicitation for bids “is a result of Spiral Development on the OTV” and not a complete replacement program for the Interceptor system.

The summary of the solicitation request confirms his assessment:

“The OTV needs to be redesigned to carry a Marine’s assault load (i.e. magazines, water, grenades, etc.). It is to use state of the art load carriage techniques to optimally distribute the load over the torso. The contemplated integrated OTV will combine the capabilities to carry the ballistic protection and combat load. The system will use the current Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates.

Several representatives of body armor manufacturers recently told DefenseWatch they have heard reports that US Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker has given a green light to Army planners to begin looking for a suitable replacement for the Interceptor body armor system.

Patriot Materials Company President Mike Henderson, a former Special operations soldier, said his Sanford, North Carolina-based company is actively seeking a shot at promoting its body armor products to the Pentagon at this time. Patriot already has contracts to up armor all the Army’s medium and heavy-duty trucks used in Iraq at its Kuwait support facility and also sells personal body armor to special operations operators, he said.

Mark Carey, Patriot’s director of overseas operations, and a retired Spec Ops master sergeant, agreed that the word is already out across the industry that the Interceptor program will be scrapped as soon as the current contracts are filled. His assessment was seconded by Pinnacle Armor’s Paul Chopra, a retired US Army Special Operations aviator, and two other manufacturers who declined to go on record. Pinnacle make Dragon Skin body armor, which DefenseWatch examined closely in its America’s Best series.

Both manufacturers who spoke on the record said they would actively seek the new business when it becomes available and that their companies already produced body armor vastly superior to the Interceptor OTV system.

Since last May the Army and Marine Corps have recalled more than 23,000 body armor vests because they failed ballistic requirements when they were manufactured in 1999 and 2000. Many of those vests may now be in the war zone. About 5,000 were recalled in May, 2005 and 18,000 last November 16, according to Pentagon officials. All of the vests involved were produced by the same manufacturer, Point Blank Body Armor Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., under contract to the Marine Corps and the Army. The Marines Corps has repeatedly assured its war fighters the recalls did not involve safety issues and were merely manufacturing flaws that affected size and quality control – not bullet and shrapnel stopping capabilities.

In January, 2005 Point Blank’s CEO, a Long Island, New York businessman, gained a bit of notoriety for giving his 12-year-old daughter a $10 million party at a swank New York eatery. Brooks is the CEO of DHB Industries, the parent company of Point Blank, which makes the vests that were recalled in 2005. In 2004 Brooks exercised DHB stock options worth almost $70 million and at year’s end (Dec. 29, 2004), sold 5 million of his 11 million shares of common stock for a whopping $106.4 million, according to public records. Soon after the value of DHB stock began to decline.

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 court records obtained by DW from an unrelated Point Blank labor dispute heard in a Florida court. 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. In November another18, 000 vests were recalled.

Another Interceptor body armor manufacturer, formerly known as Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., is currently under investigation by the Justice Department for fraud for knowingly selling body armor that can’t stop bullets from killing its wearers. Second Chance was the leading body armor supplier to the American Armed Forces three years ago. It has since declared bankruptcy in Michigan and gone out of business.

Standing in the wings to pick up the slack was Armor Holdings, Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla, the current leading manufacturer and distributor of body armor for the U.S. military, On August 2, 2005 Armor Holdings announced that it had completed acquiring all of the domestic assets of Second Chance after the company declared bankruptcy following charges of fraud in its domestic operations. The announcement followed on the heels of a July 13 press release from Armor Holdings trumpeting that it had become the “exclusive provider” to replace up to 156,000 defective vests manufactured by Second Chance Body Armor and issued to American war fighters while it led the pack of armor manufacturers milking the cash cow conceived and fattened in the wake of the sudden need for body armor to fight the Global War on Terror.

Scott O’Brien, President of the Armor Holdings Products Division, commented in a September 2 press release that, “We are delighted to welcome Second Chance to the Armor Holdings team, and we believe this transaction creates a fresh start for Second Chance.”

Armor Holdings paid $45 million in cash for the assets of Second Chance, “including substantially all intellectual property, free and clear of all liens, claims and encumbrances, and assumed certain trade liabilities,” according to the Sept. 2 press release. An attorney close to the Second Chance debacle said Armor Holdings acquisition of the former body armor manufacturer’s assets left the American taxpayer – as usual -holding the bag for the cost of the failed equipment.

Despite the multitude of problems the Interceptor program has encountered the US Army apparently still stands by its product.

“The Army has made several improvements in the area of Soldier Protection equipment to the Outer Tactical Vests and to the Small Arms Protective Inserts.” Keir explained in his Dec. 30th email to DefenseWatch that promised a more complete explanation was still forthcoming. “In response to the changing battlefield conditions and as new technologies emerge; the Army will continue to develop improvements to Soldier Protection equipment that enhances survivability and mobility. Soldier protection is the highest priority for the U.S. Army,”

Keir’s comments prove what Miguel de Cervantes claimed in Don Quixote in the 17th Century is still relevant today: “The proof of the pudding is the eating.”

Bon Appetit!

DefenseWatch Editor Nathaniel R. “Nat” Helms is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, long-time journalist and war correspondent living in Missouri.

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