US Army Body Armor Recalls: A matter of trust

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In the midst of yet another example of deficient body armor, the US Army continues to insist that body armor and body armor plates supplied to US troops are safe.    In late January,  Secretary of Army Pete Geren stated that ‘there is nothing more important than the safety of our Soldiers, their confidence in their equipment, and America’s confidence in their Army.”

He went on to say that “out of more than 2,300 body armor tests conducted by the Army, the DoD IG (Department of Defense Inspector General)  is questioning three of them. DOT&E (Department of Defense’s Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation), the government’s preeminent independent expert, says the plates passed those three tests. And let’s not forget, since 2002, we have produced and fielded over 2 million plates of body armor. That body armor has saved the lives of thousands of Soldiers.” 

Perhaps so Mr. Secretary, but the real question is how many lives have been lost or soldiers seriously wounded are attributable to defective and/or improperly tested body armor?   This specious argument by Secretary Geren is equivalent to Toyota’s management saying that they have manufactured thousands of “safe” automobiles and only a few have defective brakes. 

The assertion by Secretary Geren that the DOT&E is “the government’s preeminent independent expert” suggests a lack of responsibility or accountability by the US Army in the testing of body armor.  As we well know from the October, 2009 GAO (Government Accountability Office) Report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding,” and the DoDIG Report, the DOT&E is not the “independent expert” called for by the GAO.   Quite the opposite, the DOT&E is complicit in shoddy test procedures.

The latest recall of ceramic body armor plates further calls into question the integrity of US Army test procedures and, indeed, the credibility of military leaders who continue to insist that “‘there is nothing more important than the safety of our Soldiers.”  The DoD IG and GAO reports suggest otherwise.

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