Point Blank settles body armor suit with DoJ

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In yet  another indication that our military procurement process is out of control is the news that Point Blank – who makes much of the body armor vests worn by our military –  has finally settled a long-standing suit with the Department of Justice.

According to a news release cited by Thomson Reuters, “The government asked for “tens of millions” of dollars in penalties and damages, saying that from 1999 to August of 2005 the company knew or disregarded the fact that the fabric was defective. Other companies including Hexcel Corp., Second Chance Body Armor, Armor Holdings and Gator Hawk Armor, used this fabric as well, according to a statement from the government issued when it settled with Hexcel in 2007 for $15 million.”

“The settlement, which Point Blank submitted to bankruptcy court for approval, will allow its proposed sale in bankruptcy court to private equity firm Gores Group to move forward, according to the documents.”

Despite Point Blank’s long record of delivering substandard and often untested equipment to the US military, Point Blank was recently awarded another $30 million contract to produce the outer body armor vests.  I realize that it is beyond the comprehension of most taxpayers and the service members who wear Point Blank’s armor, but this appears to be modus operandi for the folks in charge of protecting the well-being our troops in combat.

As I wrote earlier, “Let’s face it, our military and civilian leaders don’t give a damn!  If they did, the people responsible for testing body armor and conducting fair and impartial testing would have long ago been fired.  Furthermore, those who continue to quibble and provide false information to Congressional leaders and the public, such as, Lt. Gen. William Phillips (principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), Col. Cole, Project Manager for Soldier Protection, and US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center, should be relieved of command.”

Again, despite adjudicated evidence that our body armor is not reliable, our military procurement leaders still return to the same corrupt and tainted trough to equip our troops.  When will the public and our Congressional leaders wake up and say “No mas”?

This is clearly a sweet deal for the Gores Group since any potential  liability will have been settled or dismissed if Point Blank is to emerge from bankruptcy.   Partners and Managing Directors of Gores Group should think twice before allowing the stench of corruption at Point Blank contaminate their existing investment portfolio.

Richard W. May

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What Budget Cuts? Massive Military Trade Show in DC

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The Washington Post reports on a 

Key Highlights:

  • Walk around the trade show floor and you’ll find the usual big-name defense contractors at their booths. BAE had outfitted an MRAP (mine-resistance, ambush protected vehicle) into an ambulance. Not far away, SAIC showed off a software system that can use “avatars” to train soldiers on the customs of foreign cultures.  Passersby marveled at the heavy doors and wheels of three gigantic armored trucks and vehicles brought in by Oshkosh Defense of Wisconsin. Others tried on boots, made with nylon and Gore-Tex lining, that can withstand extreme heat and cold. W.L. Gore & Associates, the company that makes the boot, had brought in a simulation box for interested customers.
  • “It’ll give you the feeling of going through the desert and then up into the snow all in two minutes,” said Mary Hopkins, an associate with the Elkton, MD-based firm, explained to a man as he tried on the boots and stood in the simulation box.  Unlike during past shows, when there was always a sense of excitement about the business opportunities made possible by the government, a feeling of anxiety prevails over this year’s event. The Pentagon is pushing to in-source more of the work that has been typically done by contractors in recent years. There’s worry about what will happen as the Pentagon’s top brass pushes defense companies to produce weapons systems more efficiently, within budget and on time.

SFTT Analysis:

 

SFTT meticulously reviewed every vendor listed in the AUSA brochure to confirm SFTT’s B.E.S.T. Campaign items – Body Armor, Advanced Combat Helmet, Rifle, Sidearm, and Boots – suffice to say that only Body Armor (Point Blank, Inc) and Sidearm (Beretta) are represented; zero on the Advanced Combat Helmet or the Rifle; and a marginal vendor peddling boots.  Enough said.

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Military Body Armor Supplier Files for Bankruptcy

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Point Blank Solutions Inc.,  who claims to be the leading manufacturer of body armor,  filed for bankruptcy protection on April 14, 2010.   Citing Court filings, Reuters reports that the Florida-based (Pompano Beach) company “supplies more than 80 percent of the U.S. military’s soft body armor vest requirements . . .”  

Claiming mounting legal bills in the trial of former CEO David Brooks – currently on trial in New York for securities fraud and other related crimes – Point Blank Inc. and three affiliates  filed for Chapter 11  protection in US Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.  Tom Hals reports that  “former CEO, David Brooks, was listed as the company’s largest shareholder with a 22.6 percent stake. The company has also been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, is the subject of a shareholder lawsuit, and spends about $600,000 a month on legal fees, according to court documents.”

The South Florida Business Journal reports that Point Blank CEO and Chairman of the Board, James Henderson issued a news release stating that “We have won several key contracts, paid down a substantial amount of our debt and realigned our business to return to profitability.  Without a financing facility and with mounting legacy expenses, however, we had to take this step to reorganize.”

The South Florida Business Journal goes on to report that “in 2007, Point Blank sued its former CEO  (Brooks)  for the return of more than $4 million and other company assets.  Also, in 2008, the company settled a class action lawsuit and a shareholder derivative suit for $34.9 million in cash and 3.18 million shares of its common stock.”

Formerly known as DHB Industries, Point Blank was also cited for supplying body armor to the Marines in 2004 that didn’t meet specifications.  As reported by Nathanial Helms for Defense Watch, “as early as July 19, 2004, according to memos 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. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor.”   Despite the fact that Point Blank had been consistently supplying the U.S. Marines with substandard equipment, on July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government.”  Go figure. 

It does seem grossly negligent that the US Army and Defense Department continues to employ contractors whose very public financial problems, questionable integrity and lax quality standards should be allowed to bid upon body armor contracts let alone supply our troops with critical protective gear.   SFTT, families of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the media have been questioning US military body armor procurement practices for years.   At every step of the way, we have been stonewalled. 

The October 2009 GAO report recommending independent body armor testingconfirms what everyone knows:  there is something rotten in the State of our military procurement process.   Why should our frontline troops and their families continue to suffer because our military leadership has for so long turned a blind eye to this situation?  Will the bankruptcy of Point Blank finally bring about needed changes? 

If past history is any indication, our military leadership will coddle Point Blank through their bankruptcy reorganization.   Our military leadership needs to make a clean break with Point Blank and get our troops the body armor they deserve.  Let’s hope they do, but we will be vigilant.

Richard W. May

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Point Blank Body Armor and Dragon Skin

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by Nathanial R. Helms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As early as July 19, 2004, according to memos originally obtained by the Army Times newspaper, the Marine Corps found “major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank.” One month later, on August 24, 2004, the military rejected two orders from Point Blank after tests revealed that the vests did not meet safety requirements.   Faced with a severe shortage of body armor the Army decided that nine Point Blank orders that did not meet safety requirements would be sent to troops overseas anyway, according to the court records. On May 3, 2005 Point Blank hired retired four-star Army Gen. Larry Ellis to lead the beleaguered company. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor. On July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government.

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

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

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