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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Body Armor Reliability: Lies, Lies and Damn Lies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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