Are ceramic plates safe in US body armor?

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SFTT reads with great interest that the US Army has awarded Ceradyne an order worth about $10 million for later in Q2, with completion estimated to be by Q3.

While one would not normally question our miliary leadership in making sure our troops have the very best protective gear, we still are seeking resolution to SFTT’s request for information on the reliability of ceramic plates used for body armor that was filed 18 months ago under the Freedom of Information Act;

“Well over a year ago,  SFTT filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain  forensic evidence of the reliability of am beginning to wonder if any of the beltway bureaucrats really care about the well-being and safety of our troops in the field.”

SFTT and the American public are still waiting for an answer to our FOIA, but it’s business as usual for the beltway desk jockies who continue to award multi-million dollar contracts for equipment that may be flawed.   Don’t our troops and the American public deserve answers?

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Military News Highlights: December 10, 2010

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Report: Growing mental health problems in military

Never knew that the Department of Defense publishes a Medical Surveillance report , but even without the findings everyone knows that mental health problems are the number one health issue facing our troops.  That’s a no-brainer. The November report highlighted in this story by CNN points out the fact that mental health issues send male troops to the hospital than any other cause, and are the second highest for hospitalization amongst women troopers. “The Army was relatively most affected (based on lost duty time) by mental disorder-related hospitalizations overall; and in 2009, the loss of manpower to the Army was more than twice that to the Marine Corps and more than three times that to the other Services,” the report says. “The Army has had many more deployers to Afghanistan and Iraq and many more combat-specific casualties; it is not surprising, therefore, that the Army has endured more mental disorder-related casualties and larger manpower losses than the other services.”

 With some patience you can navigate to the MS Report site and review a decades worth of reports – rather startling data.  Consider that there is data that tracks the numbers of deaths (and by cause) within two years after

 Insecurity and Violence Spreads to Northern Afghanistan

Whack-a-mole.  Surge in the south, leave open the north.  Whack-a-mole. Reposition in the north, enemy withdraws south.  Whack-a-mole. NATO has called this “an extreme escalation” of militant activity.  Actually, it’s a simple supply and demand problem and an economy of force issue.  What was once a gunfight that only involved the Afghan provinces in the east to the south in Afghanistan is now a 360 degree fight, where all areas  require more US/NATO forces are evident to the threat and being exploited.  Coupled with criminality and a lackluster Afghan government, the northern (and western) provinces in Afghanistan have become a vacuum for the enemy to operate in with impunity.  Limiting their operations outside of major urban centers the Taliban and their confederates have been able to provide an alternative to the local populace for services, justice, and security, which “allows the instability to spread.”

 Sad to say that the only real option without any operational or strategic effect is to “whack-a-mole”.  In other words hit the enemy wherever and whenever they emerge – problem is, it’s apparent that there are insufficient US/NATO troops to cover and respond to the threat, and Afghan National Security Forces lack the capability to respond in kind as well.

 Following Up: When A Crew Chief Fights With His Rifle

 Warms your heart when you get to read about courage amidst the carnage, especially when these humble acts are by combat medic crew chiefs.

The award recommendation is below:

SGT Grayson Colby, United States Army, distinguished himself by extraordinary courage and dedication to the MEDEVAC mission on 01 June 2010, in support of Regional Combat Team 7 in Regional Command Southwest during Operation Enduring Freedom 10.

While performing MEDEVAC duty at Camp Dwyer, the crew of DUSTOFF 56 (Pilot in Command CW2 Deric Sempsrott, Pilot CPT Matthew Stewart, Crew Chief SGT Colby, and Flight Medic SGT Ian Bugh) conducted MEDEVAC mission 06-01R in central Marjeh. A dismounted patrol of Marines had come under fire, and one Marine was shot in the upper thigh. Within minutes DO56 launched from Camp Dwyer, knowing they were headed for a high threat area. No escort was available due to the multiple troops-in-contact ongoing across Helmand. The Marine would surely die if not evacuated quickly, so the crews acknowledged the risk and were authorized to launch.

As DO56 approached the point of injury, a firefight erupted on three sides of the aircraft. With no aircraft providing cover, the crew continued to the ground without hesitation, determined not to abandon the wounded. Seeing the location from which the friendly forces were engaging the enemy, SGT Bugh and SGT Colby exited the aircraft from the right door where the largest contingent of the Marine patrol was engaging the enemy.

As the two crewmembers egressed from the aircraft, a Marine came out of the tree line in front of them and signaled for them to stay low. SGT Bugh and SGT Colby sprinted 50 meters across the open field toward the Marine’s position where the patrol was locked in an engagement with the enemy. Reaching the raised road where the Marines were taking cover, SGT Bugh found that the unit had no means to transport the injured Marine and returned to the aircraft for a litter. SGT Colby immediately took a defensive position alongside the Marines and began to engage the enemy. With rounds cracking above his head and hitting the dirt around him, SGT Colby returned fire to the muzzle flashes that were approximately 200 to 300 feet in front of him.

When SGT Bugh returned to where SGT Colby was providing covering fire, they bounded as a team down the raised road with the firefight continuing around them. Reaching the wounded Marine, SGT Colby took his place in the line of Marines, replacing one who had left his position to aid his buddy. Again, SGT Colby returned fire with enemy rounds hitting around him. SGT Bugh and three other Marines carried the litter while SGT Colby remained in his position until they were clear of the road. He than followed them down the road providing rear security until reaching the aircraft. With the patient loaded and SGT Bugh and SGT Colby secure, DO56 departed towards Camp Dwyer. Once airborne, SGT Colby assisted SGT Bugh by starting oxygen on the wounded Marine as the aircraft raced back to the Dwyer Role II Hospital. The Marine went through intensive surgery at the hospital prior to being transferred to a higher level of care.

SGT Colby’s disregard for his own safety as he left the security of the aircraft to provide cover for SGT Bugh embodies the Warrior Ethos. His bravery resulted in a Marine’s life being saved. SGT Colby’s actions reflect great credit on himself, TF Shadow, TF Destiny, and the United States Army.

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Growing steroid problem in the US Army

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New evidence emerges that the Army is facing a growing steroid use problem

Well the cat is out of the bag.  What has been known for a long time in the ranks is finally being made public.  Troops have been using steroids to “get stronger” and prepare themselves for the toils of combat.  But we shouldn’t be surprised since steroids are ridiculously easy to obtain, and as we are learning, have proven difficult for leaders to monitor their use due to expensive testing protocols and in many cases leaders simply “turning a blind eye”.  

As the troops report, you need muscle and endurance to carry individual loads that often weigh more than 90 pounds.  Yet, another reason why senior military leaders and policy makers need to replace the current stock of personal force protection equipment with lighter and improved systems.

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1 in 5 Troops not Deployable by 2012

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In an alarming article written by C. Todd Lewis and issued by the Army News Service, 1 in 5 troops may be undeployable by 2012.

Highlights:

  • By the time the Army meets its goal to have Soldiers home for twice the time they’re deployed, the service could face the problem of having nearly one in five Soldiers unable to deploy.  Today, nearly 14.5 percent of Soldiers in a brigade combat team are unable to deploy by the unit’s latest arrival date in theater, or LAD. That number is up from a little over 10 percent in 2007. By 2012, it’s expected the number will be as high as 16 percent, said Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-1.  “We don’t want it to grow, but the reality is, we’re tracking what’s happening with our Soldiers and we’re making our best assumptions and assessment of what’s going to happen in the future,” Bostick said.
  • He said medical issues are a prime factor in the increase of non-deployable Soldiers. “Some of it is temporary medical, where we fix the Soldiers and they are not ready to go at the deployment time,” Bostick said. He also said about 68 percent of those injuries are musculoskeletal issues, including knees, backs or muscles, for instance. The Army’s leadership asked the secretary of defense for a temporary end-strength increase in 2009 to help alleviate problems associated with non-deployable Soldiers. As a result, about 22,000 additional Soldiers were approved above and beyond the Army’s congressional mandate of 547,400.
  • Also adding to the roster of non-deployable Soldiers is the elimination of stop-loss. That policy allowed the Army to extend Soldiers’ enlistment beyond their end-of-service date, so they could deploy with their unit. Without stop-loss, some Soldiers stay behind when their unit deploys.  “We have to make up for those losses,” Bostick said. “They are on our books and we have an end strength, so we can’t recruit against them. So you have to find a way to have three-to-one, about 12,000 Soldiers, to make up for 4,000 that might be stop-lossed.”  Non-deployable Soldiers are a “huge issue we are working across the Army that we have got to fix,” Bostick said.
  • The need for additional Soldiers can also be attributed to the service’s wounded warrior program, Bostick said. The number of Soldiers in that program is increasing.  “We thought that number was going to actually start coming down, but with what is happening in Afghanistan, the number is going the other direction,” he said.  Today, there’s about 9,000 Soldiers in the wounded warrior program from both the Active Duty and Reserve Components, Bostick said.  “From a personnel point of view, you have to care for Soldiers and their families and treat them with dignity and respect,” he said.

SFTT Analysis:

  • SFTT has previously reported that the current supply-and-demand requirements to support the war effort is unsustainable and impacts dwell time and quality of life.  The data and statistics provided by LTG Bostick are clear indicators that this manpower shortage, where 1 in 5, or 20% of the Army will be non-deployable by 2012 due to injuries, is quickly approaching a crisis point.
  • Even if we were to dramatically reduce our troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2012 as is currently planned, the problem of limited available manpower due to injuries will remain.
  • Obviously a possible short answer to the question that this manpower crisis asks would be to institute the “draft” to augment our professional military, but this is an unsustainable political and societal goal.  One simple solution to this stark reality, that a draft is a “no-go” and that injuries will soon cap combat power means available for limited policy ends, would be for decision makers, elected officials, and senior military leaders to immediately “surge” the industrial base and defense contract force to research, design, develop, and field improved troop-level gear and equipment that will further reduce injuries.  If you start there, right now, the crisis LTG Bostick alerts us to might just be manageable and support the principle that we “treat them with dignity and respect.”
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Military News you may have missed: Oct 30, 2010

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USMC passes on Army upgrades to M4

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The Marine Corps Times reports that the USMC has decided  to pass on the US Army upgrades to M4

Key Highlights:

  • As the Army moves to field more than 10,000 conversion kits designed to make the 5.56mm M4 deadlier and more reliable, the Marine Corps says it has no plans to update its inventory. Upgrades will integrate a heavier, more durable barrel, strengthened site rails, a piston-charged operating system and the ability to fire in full automatic mode — fixes designed to address complaints about the weapons’ lethality and reliability. The plan calls for distributing 12,000 conversion kits in the short term, effectively turning existing M4s into improved versions of the special operations M4A1, said Army Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, commander of Program Executive Office Soldier. An additional 25,000 M4A1s and 65,000 conversion kits would be purchased through additional contracts.
  • “We’ve been looking at our small arms for a long time, you know,assessing the effects on the battlefield, knock-down power, killing power, those types of things,” General Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps said. “We are never going to be a carbine Marine Corps, OK. We’re never going to go completely to the M4. We’re a rifle Marine Corps. We believe in long-range shooting skills, and those skills are just not as resident in a carbine as they are in a service rifle.”
  • U.S. combat troops have complained about the stopping power of both the M16A4 and M4 in recent years, particularly in Afghanistan, where combat is frequently in open fields and valleys that require powerful, long-range shots. In response, the Corps began replacing its conventional Cold War-era 5.56mm M855 ammo this spring with an enhanced 5.56mm Special Operations Science & Technology round that uses an open-tip design common in sniper ammunition. The Corps also is considering a new, lead-free Army round fielded recently, the M855A1, and will evaluate both options in coming months.

SFTT Analysis:

  • This article pre-dates the Army’s recent decision to retro-fit all of the Army’s M4 inventory, but at least here, we get the rationale on why the Marine Corps passed on this conversion.
  • If this report is accurate, the Marine Corps has ceded the argument that they want to replace the M16A4 due to “cost”.
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M2 “Ma Duce” gets overhaul

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According to press releases, the U.S. Army has awarded General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products a  $35 million order  to manufacture M2A1 quick change barrel (“QCB”) conversion kits.  According to the news release,  “the QCB conversion kits feature several direct-replacement parts to modify existing M2 heavy barrel (M2HB) machine guns to the M2A1 configuration.  Deliveries are scheduled to begin in January 2011 and will continue through December 2012. “

“‘With the QCB conversion kits, the U.S. warfighter can change the machine gun barrel in a few seconds.  The M2A1 features fixed headspace and timing, which eliminates the need to manually calibrate the weapon after each barrel change and reduces exposure time to enemy fire,'” said Mike O’Brien, vice president and general manager of gun systems for General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products.”

Since its introduction in 1921 –  Yep, 1921! –  the M2 Heavy Duty Machine Gun has been one of the most reliable weapons for US ground troops.   Earlier, Senior Editor, Roger Charles  had reported that the DoDIG had found serious deficiencies in the procurement of spare parts for the M2 in Afghanistan.  While hopeful that the logistical nightmare that plagued troops on the ground has now been remedied, we trust that the M2A1 will prove to be more effective than its predecessor.  Nevertheless, our troops deserve reliable weapons and an effective supply chain that guarantees them that the “right” parts will arrive at the “right” time.

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Call to properly equip our frontline troops

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Gen. Robert ScalesIn a fascinating article published on September 27th in the National Defense Magazine, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales argues that  the Department of Defense (“DOD”) “has failed to pay adequate attention to improving the equipment and training for small infantry units” currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Gen. Scales, a former commandant of the Army War College and military historian, claims that while “we’re still the best ground force in the world . . .”   when it comes to ground combat, the American military “hasn’t come as far as it should.  It doesn’t dominate in the tactical fight.”

In a speech delivered to a gathering of defense experts and journalists at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Gen. Scales argues that the tactical superiority the United States enjoys in the air and on the sea hasn’t manifest itself on the ground.  According to the National Defense Magazine article which

Years of combat have shown that the soldiers and marines who are the most likely to die are the ‘least trained and equipped for this dangerous calling,’ Scales says.”

Citing a “Beltway culture this is fixated on big-ticket weapons,”  policy-makers ” dodge meaningful discussions about the tactical aspects of war on the ground because close-contact combat is ‘dirty, horrific and bloody,’ says Scales. ‘People just don’t want to talk about that.’”   Citing his experiences at a recent congressionally mandated panel, Gen. Scales commented that during countless hours of testimony “I don’t believe the topic of ground combat ever came up.”  “These wonderful neat things inside the Beltway tend to trump the bloody and uncomfortable aspects” of the wars U.S. troops are now fighting, he says. “There are so few people in positions of authority who have had experience with that sort of thing.”

The Defense Department’s scientific communities have never made small units a strategic priority in research and development. Scales specifically pointed his finger at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “The greatest disappointment is DARPA,” says Gen. Scales. “It doesn’t appear that the reality of the tactical battlefield has worked its way into the scientific and technological development entities . . . We still view the preparation of small units as an industrial process of mass production.”While we spend billions of dollars on instrumented training ranges and digital simulators, Gen. Scales notes that “small unit leaders still have to gain proficiency the old fashioned way: in combat, by shedding the blood of their soldiers.”

Gen. Scales is not the first to point out that the grunts on the ground appear to get short-changed in the procurement process when it comes to making sure that they have reliable – why not the BEST?combat gear and protective gear. Are we too fascinated by the techie toys such as the Predator to consider the well-being and safety of our troops?  Perhaps, it is as Gen. Scales so eloquently argues, “there are so few people in positions of authority who have had experience with that sort of thing . . . close-contact combat is dirty, horrific and bloody!”

General Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  recently argued that “low-end” wars would become increasingly common and that these wars would call for increased emphasis for troops to be deployed in hostile war zones.   If this is a war-planning scenario that our military leadership believes probable, shouldn’t we be making haste to insure our ground troops have the best combat equipment and protective gear available.     Gen. Scales believes so – as do many of the families of troops currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Logistics in Afghanistan Taxes US Troops

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 In yet another CLOSE HOLD story entitled “‘King for a Day’ Kit-Wise,”  a veteran military writer describes some of the major military logistics problems faced by “grunts” in the killing fields of Afghanistan.    With Afghanistan’s inhospitable terrain and stretched supply lines, our troops are expected to carry increasingly heavy loads because they have no certainty that they can be supported in a timely manner.  Found below is an excerpt of “‘King for Day’ Kit-Wise.”

“From 2005 until this past spring US forces have had a short stock of gear that could be tailored to reduce the load because of the then current design never matched mission requirements. There was never a concerted effort by either leadership or by extension the defense industry to produce and outfit troops with the lighter, better equipment necessary for extreme conditions found in this little valley of death. If anything the Army and Marines only added more weight to the grunt’s kit. In other words: ‘more protection is better,’ ‘we must protect the deltoids,’ ‘we can’t resupply you as often because are helicopter resupply is limited, so you have to carry more,’ ‘Hey, hand these items out to the locals and win their hearts and minds…yeah we know the items are heavy, but figure it out.’ The on-the-ground commanders made the best of a grim situation and soldiered on, taking unnecessary casualties along the way.'”

To read more on the difficult logistics issues facting US troops in Afghanistan, read on . . .

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