Is the Procurement System Actually Working AGAINST the Troops?

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By Paul Connors

Recently, DefenseWatch Editor-in-Chief Nat Helms beat the mainstream press to the punch and broke a story regarding the complete breakdown in the DoD procurement system when he released the first in a series of articles concerning defective Interceptor body armor. In a multi-part series, Helms trumped the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and other major print and broadcast news outlets in his reportage of the irregularities in the awarding of government contracts, the quality issues with finished products and the lack of oversight (until very recently) of a program that had an immediate and direct bearing on the physical safety and survivability of U.S. Marines and Army soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The initial story and the follow-on series are the exact type of reportage that founder, the late Colonel David H. Hackworth, U.S. Army, (Ret.) wanted to be able to provide to those most in need of our oversight, namely the average American GI. As a member of the editorial staff of DefenseWatch, I am very proud of Nat Helms and his unflagging efforts to research this story and bring it forward into the light of day. At the same time, I am also proud that it was SFTT and DefenseWatch that broke this major story. Continue Reading →


Pentagon Bean Counters Just Don’t Get It

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By Roger Charles

When the post-mortem on our current military venture in Iraq is finally written, and if an honest analysis is allowed, the failure of the United States to provide decent, best-available body armor to our fighters will be acknowledged as the worst equipment failure of all.

And, again assuming an honest report, the stupendous investigative work and writings of Defense Watch’s own editor, Nat Helms, will be highlighted as the benchmark on this topic. Without meaning to embarrass Nat (too much), I think it is fair to say that his series of articles published in DefenseWatch have ripped the scab off a festering sore that badly needs some strong exposure and treatment.

Nat has revealed yet one more sad example of a dysfunctional DoD acquisition system that cannot get body armor of acceptable quality to our grunts for a few thousands of dollars per unit cost, but one that can spend obscene amounts of taxpayers’ funds on aircraft that cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, or on warships that cost several billions of dollars each.

Brigades of Gucci-wearing, greasy-haired, K-street lobbyists in Washington protect the bloated budgets for what Hack called the “toys,” while the “boys” (and “girls,” too) have no such proponents to peddle influence on our Congress.

The end result is this same system with gold-plated, diamond-encrusted toys cannot give America’s Grunts that which most directly and yes, routinely, determines whether they live or die — the best-available body armor.

(Perhaps some interested DefenseWatch reader will take a good look at the disconnect between the DoD acquisition system that finds body armor at $4000 per set too expensive, while the DoD personnel system is now paying $400,000 in death insurance benefits to the beneficiaries of each KIA. Nat’s latest article show irrefutable evidence that a substantial number of these KIA’s would have survived had they had better body armor. Maybe the DoD bean counters will now re-compute their cost-benefit analysis to reflect the new death benefits. These soulless bureaucrats and their Perfumed Prince bosses have damn sure ignored the moral aspects of sending young Americans to the killing fields with inferior body armor. Sadly, the current rate of KIA’s is probably too low to force Pentagon budgeteers to re-calibrate their standing decision that favors cheaper, inferior body armor.)

The issue is a straight forward one. It is not like searching for the cure for cancer, or for a single cause of obesity, or for the origins of the universe.

What we have here is on one level “just” an engineering challenge, and the solution must combine only critical factors: (1) the best designs, based on scientific study and on input from those who wear it and fight in it; and (2) the best materials and workmanship that American industry can provide.

If either of these two critical factors is weak, incomplete, shoddy or otherwise flawed, America’s Grunts will continue to pay for the failures with their lives, their limbs and their blood, period.

Let’s be very clear about one point. We are not arguing for some sort of “cocoon,” as Marine General Peter Pace termed it last summer, which renders America’s Grunts impervious to the ordnance of today’s battlefield. Nor, are we arguing for some unrealistic suit of body armor that makes each soldier a mini-Abrams tank on two feet.

Our Grunts must be able to take the fight to the enemy, and they must be agile, mobile and lethal when doing so.

The battlefields where our enemies await our Grunts are deadly places, yet there are those who falsely claim that the goal is perfect protection for our troops. This is an insult to the bravery of our soldiers, and most especially of those who have paid the ultimate price in service to our great nation.

Nat Helm’s DefenseWatch articles have shown clearly and directly, that the current body armor most often issued to our general purpose forces, the Interceptor Armor, is poorly designed. He has also presented indisputable evidence that our government has found both the materials and workmanship, in thousands of sets of the body armor, to be sub-standard. (The recalls of thousands of sets speak volumes.

So, what is the solution?

If there was ever a case for the U.S. Congress to assert its constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch’s bungling of a sacred duty, it is this one. The Armed Services Committees of both the House and Senate should conduct extensive investigations into this entire matter. They should determine just how our nation spent hundreds of millions of dollars on body armor that was in far too many cases, sub-standard in both design and material.

A good place to start would be the role of the Army’s Natick Lab (as us old-timers knew it) and Aberdeen Proving Ground in their dual achievements — (1) approving inferior designs and material specifications for body armor to be procured from American contractors, and (2) rigging the test and evaluation process so as to preclude a “fair hearing” for other designs and materials that show demonstrated superiority to the current Interceptor armor.

Will the Congress rise to this challenge? I am not optimistic. Only an outraged public can force their elected representatives to do their duty, and I see little sign that enough Americans, care enough, to change the status quo.

Perhaps I should explain both my pessimism and why this is a “hot-button” issue for me (as it was for Hack). Nearly 38 years ago a Marine in my infantry platoon was shot in the front torso while just a few feet from me. He literally fell almost into my arms. When I turned him over to check for signs of his wound, I first noted the frothy blood dribbling from his mouth. I’d paid attention in my first aid class at Quantico and realized I had a Marine with a sucking-chest wound. My platoon corpsmen were otherwise engaged with other casualties and I was the only person in position to render immediate aid.

Knowing that I needed to get the entry wound sealed, I preceded to un-snap the metal buttons the Marine’s flack jacket. The enemy round had gone right through the zipper, mangling the teeth on the zipper, and making the zipper useless. Yet, I had to get the flack jacket open enough to get the wound sealed. What do you do now, Lieutenant?

Thanks to my K-bar, I was able to cut the cloth part of the zipper from top to bottom, opening access to the Marine’s chest sufficiently so that I could put the plastic wrapped bandage onto the wound, and wrap a strap around the Marine’s chest to keep the bandage in place. His breathing became more normal and the bloody froth from his mouth subsided. (The Marine survived.)

I recall this incident in this detail because it highlighted to me the stupidity of the engineers in the Army acquisition system who designed a zippered front to the flack jacket. (The snap buttons worked just fine. Why have both?)

Their failure to understand what an AK-47 round would do to the zipper, and the problems it would make for someone like myself who was trying to treat a wound earned them a stream of my strongest curses as I was forced to use my K-bar, and precious seconds, to open the Marine’s flack jacket. It was only after the Marine was evacuated that I had time to ponder the engineer’s greater stupidity — placing a large seam right up the center of the torso of the “protected” individual. (I issued orders later that day to my platoon that we would no longer use the zippers in our flack jackets.)

Today, 38 years later, thanks to Nat’s great reporting, we learn that “seams” in body armor are still, too often, the location of the fatal wounds!!

The entire disastrous story of inferior body armor is due to the simple fact that when it comes to America’s Grunts, no one in position of authority cares. Forget the media events and the crocodile tears at Arlington National Cemetery or the amputee wards at Bethesda and Walter Reed.

If any reader is a resident of the 12th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, you might want to read the following quote from your representative’s web page:

“Congressman Murtha is so well-respected for his first-hand knowledge of military and defense issues that he has been a trusted adviser to presidents of both parties on military and defense issues and is one of the most effective advocates for the national defense in the country. He is ranking member and former chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, a Vietnam combat veteran and a retired Marine Corps colonel with 37 years of service, a rare combination of experience that enables him to understand defense and military operations from every perspective.” (Emphasis added.)

And, If you get the chance, ask Jack Murtha to explain why his beloved Marines are dying today due to inferior body armor after he has spent nearly 32 years as a powerful congressman with real authority over the very defense budgets responsible for fielding the best-available protection for our Grunts?

SFTT Co Chair 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


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.


Point Blank Body Armor and Dragon Skin…Conclusion

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By Nathaniel R. Helms

US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Darlington Butler received two Medals of Honor for incredible bravery and the title of world-class hypocrite because he dared call war and the trapping of war “a racket.”


In the case at hand the product is body armor and the stakes are millions of dollars in Defense Department contracts. To get at it three huge players and a pack of yapping wannabes resorted to slick public relations efforts, retired generals masquerading as pitchmen, and retired DOD civilian procurement experts double dipping from the public trough. Among them they have managed to field good body armor when much better body armor is available, barely provide an adequate number of so-called “up-armored” soft-skinned HUMVEES for use as armored personnel carriers, and a host of scandals, improprieties, and deceitful behavior that is the accepted standard in the armaments industry.

Many of the former Perfumed Princes responsible for the so-far miserable performance by the industry will unabashedly say they “deserve” the opportunities the military-industrial complex has afforded them because they “dedicated their lives” to public service.

Others will tell you they are honest workers merely laboring within the sordid confines of the system that already exists. One retired Army officer who admittedly doesn’t have a problem making six-figures pumping inferior body armor as a consultant said he has had to “train his gag reflex so he won’t puke” when he talks about his job.

Another of the many veterans of the procurement wars who talked to DefenseWatch on assurances of anonymity shrugged off the grubby realities and disappointments of selling body armor as part of the program – much like death in war, he said. The formula for success in the body armor game, he explained, is short enough to recite in one breath. Successful players stay in the background, throw the retiring brass a gold-plated bone to gnaw on, keep a few lobbyists around to put their names in the ring, and make big campaign contributions to the influence peddlers. Payback comes from selling the Pentagon a product relatively easy to produce that earns a high rate of return and is good enough to cheaply get the job done. The Interceptor OTV body armor developed by the US Army is a text book example, he claimed.

Ceramic Stopper: Section of SOV-1000/Dragon Skin disc/panel with M80 ball round stuck in it. M80 ball is a Level IV ballistic threat, and Pinnacle's SOV-1000 Level III "+" system has stopped it. Backface Deformation Signature is only 9mm (just over 5/16").

Pinnacle Armor’s Murray Neal, whose small Fresno, Cal. company makes “Dragon Skin” body armor, was the only manufacturer to go on record. He does not understand why Pinnacle’s patented body armor, which costs at least four times as much as the Interceptor OTV body armor being issued today, is not being provided instead. Dragon Skin, which was reported on extensively by DefenseWatch in previous articles (See Part I and Part II) , is considered by many experts to be 30 to 40 years ahead in capability to Interceptor OTV body armor.

Neal said his 30-person operation can’t run with the big dogs because he can’t afford the price of playing in the big leagues.

That doesn’t mean Neal and Pinnacle Armor isn’t trying to get in the game where there are millions and millions of dollars to be made. Pinnacle is already selling vehicle and aircraft armor components to the Army and US Air Force, and its products are being scrutinized at the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland for future development. Another expert who works in the Pentagon approving contracts said Neal relentlessly pursues every opportunity to make some headway selling his products to DOD. Pinnacle officials are actively courting their legislative representatives from California and have provided tours, talks, and a variety of other entreaties to generals, Senators, Representatives and DOD officials to obtain attention for Dragon Skin, he claimed.


Recently Pinnacle sold its Dragon Skin boy armor to nine American generals currently serving in Afghanistan so they can “evaluate” it, said Paul Chopra, a spokesperson for Pinnacle. It is also worn by members of the US Secret Service Presidential Protection detail, private contractors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as many soldiers and journalists as can afford it. Last week war correspondent Michael Yon, who prefers Dragon Skin to the Interceptor gear he is wearing now, declined to buy it when he learned of its “almost $7,000 price tag” delivered to him in Iraq. The price put it out of his reach, he said.

There is an old axiom in business that says, “It takes money to make money.” Nothing new there, said one of Neal’s colleagues and a very successful competitor of Pinnacle during a telephone interview. That businessman is a distinguished former military officer, inventor, and international industrialist with a sense of humor sharpened in half-a-century of conversing in Pentagon double-speak. He chuckled slightly at Neal’s well-founded complaints.

“Composite armor technology has been around since 1968. Kevlar and other materials followed fairly close beyond that. When I got into the body armor business again recently there was old boy resistance to the fielding of our units, but the comparative tests were so revealing that for the first time in 50 years we haven’t been sandbagged by some old boy network,” that contented expert said.

Being without Dragon Skin doesn’t mean American warriors are going into battle completely unprotected. Compared to what soldiers went to war wearing thirty years ago Interceptor body armor is nothing short of miraculous. When worn in conjunction with SAPI plates, Kevlar helmets, and the new “QuadGuard” armor that hopefully will be fielded soon by the Marine Corps for protecting extremities, American-made body armor offers protection many threat levels ahead of what it replaced. It is so good Interceptor body armor is a primary reason why many warriors who have lost arms, eyes, and legs did not lose their lives despite suffering massive trauma. As long as the vital organs are protected the human body can take tremendous punishment, the experts agreed.

There are two separate yet insidiously linked circumstances that keep “the best” body armor away from the warriors who would be better prepared to survive combat if they had it. One reason is purely political and the other is technical, but both are impacted by the processes and procedures embedded in Pentagon thinking that keeps America’s best from receiving America’s best body armor.

The scientific reason is relatively straight forward obstacle waiting to be overcome by scientific endeavor. Body armor experts within the scientific and engineering communities say that blunt trauma injuries, also known as impact injuries, are caused by bullets and shrapnel moving at high speed that slams into a war fighter’s armor covered body and dents it exactly like a car fender after a wreck. In the parlance of body armor engineers it is the phenomena of “terminal energy.” Although Interceptor body armor prevents some terminal energy injures it doesn’t prevent them all, a circumstance that could be changed by using other products already on the market, all of the experts said.

“People were talking about strength of material and terminal energy and strengths of terminal effects, but if they don’t have a structure behind them. When an impact makes a dent in the skin of 44mm or deeper than that, and breaks bones and smashes organs, it is because all that light weight stuff isn’t good enough,” one expert explained. Interceptor armor prevents some of it and Pinnacle’s “Dragon Skin” does a far better job, but there is still “plenty of room to grow,” he said.

Equally vexing and equally insurmountable is the Pentagon’s procurement process. It is no secret to anyone who cares to know that the arms procurement process allowed by the Pentagon is a revolving door to lucrative employment for generals, politicians, and lobbyists wallowing in the cornucopia of buying national security. They know how the game is played and they know better than to rock the boat. Those who don’t need not apply, the experts agreed.

For example, on September 8, 2005 retired U. S. Air Force General John W. Handy, the former commander of the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), joined Horizon Lines, America’s largest domestic ocean carrier. It just so happens that Horizon enjoys a very close working relationship with the Department of Defense moving military equipment around the world and USTRASCOM is the single transportation manager for air, land and sea transportation for the Department of Defense.

According to a September 8 Business Wire press release Handy said,

“In carrying out my military responsibilities I have been quite impressed with the customer focus and delivery reliability at Horizon Lines. Chuck Raymond and his team have taken the company to new service levels and I am excited to have the opportunity to contribute to Horizon’s growth.”

Another senior military officer who took advantage of the revolving door is Mr. Fred Moosally, President of Lockheed Martin – Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems and the chief mover and shaker of the $18 billion US Coast Guard “Deep Water” modernization program. He used to be Captain Fred Moosally, an Annapolis football star and former Captain of the ill-fated battleship USS Iowa. Moosally was the center of a storm that brewed up 19 April, 1989 when he declined to accept the help of a professional US Navy accident investigator and ordered some 250 sailors aboard the Iowa to quickly clean up the accident scene after a 16″ gun in Turret #2 blew up. On his orders the sailors scrubbed the scarred turret, heaving immense steel plates and bulky pieces of equipment overboard and scrubbing off splatters of gore and painting the structure inside and out before an investigation of the accident could be conducted.

Another recent example of the revolving door syndrome involves Point Blank Body Armor, Inc. and retired four-star Army Gen. Larry Ellis On May 3, 2005 Point Blank hired Ellis to lead the company. Before retiring Ellis was the commander of US Forces Command (FORSCOM). FORSCOM is the Army’s largest major command. The day after Ellis took over the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 defective Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank that set off a scandal that still hasn’t settled in some quarters. On July 20, despite the company’s failure, Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million body armor contract from the U.S. government.

Proponents of the system say that industry is simply taking advantage of the experience offered by the retiring military officers. Critics claim such examples are part of the self-perpetuating system of procurement abuses that passes for honest industry in the Pentagon.

It is certainly no secret that the arms industry representatives (who often used to be generals and colonels themselves) begin eyeing prospective candidates for hire two or three years before the pampered Perfumed Princes in the Pentagon are due to retire.

Everyone already knows each other quite well from countless meetings, briefings, luncheons, dinners, and corporate soirees where the officers and their ladies are swirled and twirled down the yellow brick road leading to six and seven-figure corporate jobs after their retirement. It is really just a matter of deciding who will be a “team” player, one retired officer who failed the test explained.

This reporter spent a time in the early Seventies as a major general’s “enlisted aide,” a position that allowed me to almost invisibly watch the machinations of a host of general officers and corporate powerbrokers while they danced around the questions and issues of propriety, ethics, and special interests during development sessions for the Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft System (UTTAS) program. Between the quiet beeps that told me to change the briefing slides I used to spend fascinating days listening to the subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions, loaded comments, double-entendres and outright suggestions of impropriety exchanged between senior Army officers and corporate executives while they dickered and bickered over spending billions of tax payer dollars developing what eventually became the UH-60 “Blackhawk” transport helicopter. Whatever practices they cooked up that the lawyers suggested “might be considered questionable” were immediately classified.

“What is said here stays here,” was the mantra of the day.

And from what DefenseWatch was recently told, nothing has changed except the technology. As our inquiry has already shown, there are plenty of investigations, inquiries, probes, and hearings about allegations of impropriety, fraud, theft, cheating, lying and stealing currently underway in Congress, the courts, and the bowels of the Pentagon.

It is already old news that the US Air Force has lost the ability to spend its own money because of scandalous behavior by Boeing Corporation officials and members of the Secretary of the Air Force’s staff over buying new refueling tankers. Currently in the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) the U.S Army Inspector General, the Criminal Investigation Division of the Army, and the FBI are probing allegations of corruption by senior military officer within that command. Meanwhile the body armor industry is holding its breath while the Justice Department investigates allegedly fraudulent behavior in its ranks. Within the past two years all three of the major body armor manufacturers have been sued for making faulty body armor and one company – Second Chance Corporation – that was making millions in government contracts making body armor for American warriors two years ago – has been driven out of business for fraud.

Apparently Butler was right. War is just a racket for some folks. Too bad it is America’s best that pays the freight.

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 He can be reached at Send Feedback responses to­


Point Blank Body Armor and Dragon Skin II

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By Nathaniel R. Helms

At the time of this report, despite repeated inquiries, the Department of Defense and the US Army had not commented on this report.

So-called “SAPI” plates do not provide complete protection from sniper bullets because of gaps in coverage around the torso.

Two weeks ago the Armed Forces Network (AFN) radio in Iraq reported enemy snipers are now shooting their intended Coalition victims between the so-called hard armor SAPI (Small Arms Protection Inserts) plates attached to the Interceptor OTV body armor, reporter Michael Yon told DefenseWatch after hearing the broadcast warnings in Iraq. The Interceptor’s OTV SAPI plates are intended to defeat most common rifle ammunition used by enemy soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, because they are gaps between the plates the wearer is not fully protected from a well-aimed shot.

Dragon Skin plates, called “panels” because they are flexible and cover the entire upper torso, are not susceptible to the sniper’s deadly new tactics, Pinnacle Armor officials said. Despite being a better design the Defense Department in 1999 rejected Dragon Skin without comment in favor of its home-gown Interceptor OTV armor although its inferior SAPI plate arrangement then as now presents gaps in the coverage of its hard armor plates on the wearer’s front, back and sides, Pinnacle Armor founder and patent holder Murray Neal said.

The Interceptor body armor system has been in production since 1999. At the time Natick, who designed and approved the body armor, awarded five-year contracts to manufacture it to Second Chance and Point Blank Body Armor of Oakland Park, FL. Armor Holdings didn’t get its share of the pie until later on.

In 1999, Point Blank was losing millions for its parent company DHB Industries. Things didn’t get much better until the events of 9/11 sent the United States to war. In 2001 and 2002 the lucrative DOD contracts provided to the Florida-based company boosted its profits to $10.1 million and $16 million respectively on a combined $228.3 million in revenue, according to industry sources.

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 revealed that company was allegedly putting profits before quality. Attorneys for the labor union involved (UNITA) in the dispute submitted 150 pages of evidence in a Florida court 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,” the court records showed.

In 2004 the Marine Corps found “major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank,” Marine Corps officials announced. 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 filed in the UNITA case showed.

On May 3, 2005 Point Blank hired retired four-star Army Gen. Larry Ellis to lead the beleaguered company. Before retiring Ellis was the commander of US Forces Command (FORSCOM). FORSCOM is the Army’s largest major command, consisting of more than 760,000 active Army, U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers. Formerly, Ellis served as deputy chief of staff for operations and plans at the Pentagon. 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. Apparently it doesn’t hurt to know somebody, one Pentagon wag exclaimed. As the reader will discover in Part III of this series it really doesn’t hurt to know someone.

During the course of its investigation into the matter DefenseWatch spoke with several contemporary armor experts who are currently doing business with the Department of Defense supplying either expertise, technology, or both to Puzzle Palace procurement officers and officials. With the exception of Pinnacle’s Murray Neal they declined to go on record and spoke only after multiple assurances of anonymity.

One of these men, who began developing and selling body armor and associated products to the DOD before the Vietnam War, said speaking publicly about the procurement procedures used by the good ol’ boys in ultra-plush E Ring charged with obtaining equipment for America’s war fighters is tantamount to committing professional suicide.

“Just check the last three contracts awarded for helmets – three old boys,” he explained. “They didn’t get them talking about it. I can only be a background source mainly because I don’t want people to home in on me.”

In Part III DefenseWatch will explore just who those good ol’ boys are and how they control who gets what on the 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 He can be reached at Send Feedback responses to­


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, 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 He can be reached at    Send Feedback responses to­


PowerPoint – From 1998 “Defending America”

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by Peter J. Nebergall, PhD
Note: PowerPoint Presentations still in the news as mentioned in the New York Times recent post.

In 1961, disgusted by the verbal excesses of his fellows, anthropologist Elman Service penned “Models in the Methodology of Mouthtalk.” In this paper, he railed against “conspicuous conceptualization,” his term for pompous presentation designed to impress and bamboozle, at the expense of explanation. He was right, but now we have PowerPoint.

MicroSoft PowerPoint, like its sister Corel Presentations, is just a tool, a means to create slick, convenient multimedia presentation. It is no better, and no worse, than the people who use it. The problem is just as it was in 1961 — “conspicuous conceptualization.”

It sounds basic, but a system promotes the behaviors it rewards. If simple, terse, “laconic” speech (remember the Spartans?) is rewarded, that’s what you’ll have. If, on the other hand, the Op for the day is “Never mind content; baffle ’em with bullshit,” that’s what you’ll get.

I read of the abuse of visual presentation, and my reaction is horror. Its easy, with the right images, to make almost anything look like the truth. We are not talking about a computer arcade here — this is not fantasyland — and where “flash” and BS trump content, we are well on the way to aping the Imperial Japanese general staff (or Benito Mussolini) and believing our own propaganda!

You do that, and your people die.

Its time to think about priorities. Who do you want to promote – – the BS artist with the pretty pictures, or the solid veteran with experience and good sense? So CHOOSE! There’s a time and a place for a visually-enhanced briefing, one that increases the likelihood of mission success. There’s also a time to turn the damn thing off and talk to your men.

I know a lot of people who’ll read this will say: “But you’re talking to those who make promotion decisions, not to me!”

Wrong. I’m talking to everybody. The over-reliance on big words, “hip” concepts, and BS presentation calculated to impress is a cultural problem. We all need to press for honesty, simplicity, and arrow-straight priorities.

And we don’t need PowerPoint to do that.

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