DOD Body Armor Testers Ignore Protocols

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In previous news articles for SFTT, I had reported on the rather cavalier (“incompetent”  or “negligent” might be better words) treatment given to body armor testing by the DOD and the US Army.  When in doubt (and there should be no doubt when lives are at stake!), these body armor testers consistently skewed test results in favor of contractors to the detriment of  soldiers in combat who have no legal alternative than to use “approved” military-issue protective equipment.

For years, SFTT has consistently argued that US Army and DOD test procedures have been compromised by less than impartial testing and these arguments have now been confirmed by the GAO which in October, 2009 issued it’s damning indictment of US Army test procedures  to Congress:  “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.”

In yet another example of their flawed test procedures, the GAO reports on how DOD testers interpreted “partial” body armor penetration.    The GAO observed  the penetration of small debris through a plate that the DOD testers had counted as only a partial penetration.  Test protocols require that penalty points be assigned when any fragment of the armor material inbeds in, or passes into, the soft under garment (Kevlar backing) behind the plate.

The GAO observed small fragments from the armor three layers deep inside the Kevlar backing, and noted that this shot should have received 1.5 penalty points, causing the tested body armor to have failed phase two testing (First Article Testing).

DOD testers counted the shot as only a partial penetration, contending because no Kevlar fibers in the backing were broken, it did not meet criteria for being counted as a complete penetration of the plate.   When GAO pointed out that the requirement for broken fibers is consistent with DOD’s approved, written test protocols, they acknowledged that the criterion for broken fibers was “not described in the testing protocols or otherwise documented . . . ”

That’s right.   When GAO pointed out that the written test protocols did not require “broken fibers,” the DOD testers admitted that GAO was right, and still improperly assigned the test shot as only being a “partial penetration”!

And in case you have not already guessed, this blatant denial of DOD’s test protocol was effectively bypassed by DOD testers who effectively wrote their “own test standard protocol.”  This allowed a contractor’s armor to pass Phase 2 Testing when it should have been evaluated as a failure.

The GAO study notes that this armor design was also one of the designs that would have failed had BFD been measured at the deepest point of the depression, rather than at the point of aim, during the Phase One (Preliminary Design Model) tests.

So, this particular contractor essentially required two “waivers” from DOD testers for their product to be given a passing evaluation. Not a problem for the DOD testers; the design got a “pass,” and were it not for the GAO oversight, these plates would have been issued to our frontline troops.

Still keeping score?:  Contractors – 3,  Soldiers – 0.

As a retired military officer, it pains me to see grown men quibbling over body armor test procedures and interpretations of test results.  When the lives of men and women serving our country in hazardous combat zones are at stake, there can be no room for error.  Our heroes deserve better.

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

Review the GAO Report:

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