Chairman Towns Opens Inquiry into Quality of Troops’ Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

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In an important new development Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY), Chairman of the Committee for Oversight and Government Reform asks  Defense Secretary Robert Gates for explanations about the management of the Department of Defense’s (“DoD”) troop armor procurement and testing programs.  What follows is a reprint of the release:

The inquiry follows a DoD Inspector General (“IG”) report issued recently that identified problems with the Army’s body and vehicle armor testing process.  Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, DOoD has consistently struggled to deploy safe and reliable body armor to troops on the front line, and the IG has issued several reports outlining the challenges to DOD’s armor procurement policies and potential solutions. Chairman Towns, an Army veteran, is committed to ensuring the safety of our troops.

“For almost a decade, our troops have sacrificed life and limb to defend our nation.  At the same time, DoD has repeatedly struggled to manage its programs and testing related to protective armor, including body armor,” said Chairman Towns.  “If we are going to continue sending troops into harms way, we must know that DoD is doing all it can to provide effective and save body armor and armored vehicles.”

A January 2009 DoD IG report identified problems with the U.S. Army’s testing processes. The IG found, among other things, that testing of some body armor was not consistently conducted in accordance with contract requirements—and that body armor that was recorded as having passed testing had actually failed. A separate review of body armor testing by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) the Army did not follow established testing protocols, did not maintain certain internal controls, and recommended an independent assessment of armor test results.

The letter from Chairman Towns to Secretary Gates is the latest in a series of inquiries from the House Oversight Committee into Federal procurement and waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars.  In the letter to Gates, Chairman Towns requested that DoD brief the House Oversight Committee on the Department’s efforts to ensure that our troops have effective and safe body armor and armored vehicles, as expeditiously as possible.

Specifically, the Chairman requested an overview of key ongoing armored vehicle and body armor acquisition programs of the Services, including the Army’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle program (MRAP); contractors involved in the maintenance or procurement of body armor or armored vehicles; and field experience with the effectiveness of protective armor, including body armor, along with any analysis comparing experience in the field with the results of laboratory testing.

“I am aware that DoD has made some progress addressing past problems with the body and vehicle armor provided to our armed services,” said Chairman Towns.  “However, I want to make sure DoD’s progress continues.  There is nothing more important than providing our troops with the best protection possible.”

SFTT Editor Comment:  We applaud Chairman Towns, Congressman Jim Webb and other Congressional leaders for their perseverance in helping to insure that our troops have the best protective gear possible.  Nevertheless, it is  reprehensible that our military leaders have taken little action over the past several years to deal with the disturbing issues raised in the March, 2008 IG report and the October, 2009 GAO Study.  The unreliability of body armor presently issued to our troops, shoddy test procedures and cozy relationships between military “testers” and armament suppliers have been well documented. It is disgraceful and does not reflect well on our military leadership who are entrusted to field an army with the best combat gear possible.  By letting our troops down, we let our country down.

When will the “true” military leaders emerge to make sure our troops have the best protective gear possible?  Studies are useful, but concerted action now would save lives and prevent traumatic injury.    We implore Secretary Gates to clean up the mess in our military procurement process.  We realize that billions of dollars are at stake, but so are the lives of the young men and women serving in harm’s way.  Let’s get our priorities straight.

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Body Armor Reports by National Research Council

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On November 20, 2009, Secretary John McHugh formally announced that the National Research Council would perform an independent evaluation of the US Army’s body armor test procedures.  The announcement by Secretary McHugh followed a month of Pentagon-spin by military wordsmiths intent on undermining the devastating findings of the General Accountability Office (“GAO”) in their Report to Congressional Requesters, entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.

Thanks to the efforts of Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and others, Congressional leaders were not side-tracked and continued to insist that the Department of Defense address the issues raised in the GAO report.    “In his October 22 letter to Secretary Gates, Senator Webb noted a disturbing lack of consensus between the GAO and the Department of Defense Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) in their evaluations of Army body armor testing.  ‘Continued controversy over the reliability of new body armor can undermine public confidence,’ Senator Webb wrote. ‘Ultimately, those who rely on this armor for protection may also question its performance.'”   Senator Webb is too kind, I had suggested that a general recall of body armor might be in order if this had been an automobile with defective brakes.  Where is the outrage?

Senior Investigative Reporter and Editor for SFTT, Roger Charles has written extensively on the 110-page GAO report.   Mr. Charles sadly concludes that despite shoddy test procedures against protocol test standards that are more than 30 years old,  the US Army (fully supported by the Department of Defense) selected the option that increased risk to the Soldier, while decreasing risk/cost to the contractors!

The National Research Council (“NRC”) has now released two reports in response to Secretary McHugh’s request to evaluate the US Army Test Procedures.  The Phase I NRC report on body armor was issued on December 30, 2009,  In this initial phase, the NRC committee evalutated to following subjects:

  • “The committee will comment on the validity of using laser profilometry/laser interferometry techniques to determine the contours of an indent made by a ballistic test in a non-transparent clay material at the level of precision established in the Army’s procedures for testing personal body armor. If laser profilometry/laser interferometry is not a valid method, the committee will consider whether a digital caliper can be used instead to collect valid data.
  • The committee will also provide interim observations regarding the column-drop performance test described by the Army for assessing the part-to-part consistency of a clay body used in testing body armor.”

The Phase II NRC report on body armor test procedures was released on April 22, 2010 and contains 19 specific recommendations to improve the integrity of body armor test procedures.   The report was issued on behalf of the committee by MG (ret) Larry G. Lehowicz to J. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation for the DOD.

In the Phase II NRC Body Armor report (p. 11)  recommends that the “Army’s medical and testing communities should be adequately funded to expedite the research necessary both to quantify the medical results of blunt force trauma on tissue and to use those results as the updated mathematical underpinnings of the back face deformation (BFD) body armor testing methodology.

“Regardless of the current imperfect correlation between existing medical data and the BFD approach, the committee believes that the current methodology for testing body armor should be continued, mainly because this approach has allowed the Army to send body armor with adequate survivability characteristics to soldiers in combat. Importantly, the committee was informed earlier by the Program Executive Office–Soldier that no soldier deaths are known to be attributable to a failure of the issued ceramic body armor.”

While it is certainly reassuring that body armor reliability and testing integrity will be improved by the application of modern technology applied in a consistent manner, I find it surprising that the US Army has decided to withhold critical field data from the NRC to determine to determine the effectiveness of currently approved body armor.  Is it true that “no soldier deaths are known to be attributable to a failure of the issued ceramic body armor?”  Indeed, the New York Times reports that the US Army has autopsy reports that confirm that defective body armor has contributed to the death of our troops.

What is the truth?  The NRC is quite right in asking to examine US Army and Marine Corps autopsy records to further determine the level of protection afforded by our frontline troops.  Why is the US Army deliberately withholding this information?  The US Army, our Congressional leaders, the American public and, most importantly, our troops deserve  the comprehensive report that was promised them when Secretary McHugh requested the intervention of the NRC.  Anything less is reprehensible.  

There is still time for the NRC to insist on receiving autopsy data from the US Army.  For the NRC report to have any level of credibility, the inclusion of actual battlefield data based on autopsy studies is essential to determine the effectiveness of current body armor.  

Richard W. May

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Colonel David Hackworth 5th Anniversary Celebration

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SFTT Chair Eilhys England Hackworth Announces 5th Anniversary Celebration

Colonel David “Hack” Hackworth, my dear late husband, died in my arms five years ago this month. As of May 1st, to celebrate Hack’s unique life and legacy, Soldiers For The Truth is launching a year-long 5th Anniversary Celebration  to honor his lifelong dedication to America’s frontline troops.

Our first event will be a public wreath ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery planned for May 22 to honor Hack’s legacy.  I will be joined by Soldiers For The Truth board members and distinguished guests as we first honor him at his gravesite and then present a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This event is open to the public and I hope you consider joining SFTT as we commemorate Hack’s life and his many contributions to America’s greatest treasure, its fighting men and women.

More immediately, in conjunction with introducing our newly-reconstructed website (www.SFTT.org) the Foundation is kicking off our tribute year with the appointment of Richard May, Director, Communications and LTC (R) Jaime Martinez, Director, Hackworth Legacy.

Richard (“Rick”) W. May, who served in Military Intelligence at the Pentagon from 1969 to 1971, joins us after an extensive career in international banking; he presently both runs several internet businesses and has joined his wife Sheila in Therese Saint Clair, a stationery store located in Greenwich, CT.  A self-taught computer-technology specialist, Rick has already leveraged his extensive business acumen and computer-tech skills to manage a host of communications across the digital spectrum including—fortunately for SFTT—ramrodding our site reconstruction as a volunteer. “It is an honor and a privilege to continue on with my ‘service’ to SFTT.  Supporting the brave young men and women who defend our freedoms,” Rick told me, “is an easily acquired addiction.”

LTC (R) Jaime Martinez is joining SFTT after recently retiring from 25 years of service in the Army as a career Infantryman.

While SFTT has captured the attention of the Beltway military procurement community and the US Congress and engaged with them in the urgent need for improving the equipment issued to our often-embattled frontline troops, we still have a long way to go to get our warriors the right stuff to make it home alive and in one piece.

So we’re also launching our first membership drive. First, because our wonderful pro bono lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis have re-written our by-laws to allow for members. At last you can officially support SFTT’s noble efforts either by joining up – or, of course, otherwise contributing to our critical cause. Only by standing together can we ensure that America’s sons and daughters, those brave heroes who daily risk their lives on forgotten and desolate battlefields, have a better shot at returning safely to their beloved country.

Other 5th Anniversary events already scheduled include our presenting former Senator and SFTT close advisor Bob Kerrey with our SUPPORT THE TROOPS WITH MORE THAN LIP SERVICE AWARD this October 15th and on Sunday November 14th we’ll be hosting our annual Veterans Day Rock & Roll Party (Vietnam era music in honor of the vets from that sad war—where we’ll also celebrate Hack’s November 11th birthday!) at the Second Congregation Church of Greenwich.

Hope to see you all everywhere.

Eilhys England Hackworth

SFTT Chair

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Body Armor: Open Letter to General Conway

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April 21, 2009

Commandant of the Marine Corps

General James T. Conway

Headquarters USMC

2 Navy Annex (CMC)

Washington, D.C.  20380-1775

Dear General,

I would like to thank for your response to my letter dated 03-28-08, as well, as the time you took out of your demanding schedule. I know you and I are the same in many ways as acknowledged in your letter, but yet very different. The Command you lead and the Stars you wear are one of great responsibilities. The tasks that are put before you from day to day are not easy ones, but you have within you a Drive and Conviction to push forward no matter what, that’s why you are there.

I, in my life, do not lead a Command, but I do have a Drive and Conviction for the Troops of all branches, and my sons. When I started writing these letters back in 2006 it has never been my intent to dishonor any branch in our military or to be a thorn in anybody’s side. It has always been my outlook in life that one person can make a difference and I live by that rule. The objective here is to protect ALL the Troops with the very best Body Armor.

The first objective was to get NASA involved and this is not to say, just to kick it around and talk about it at meetings. When my wife and I went to Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico Va. in 2007 to meet with Brigadier General Brogan’s staff. I gave my concerns, thoughts and ideas, which included NASA. I was told they had never contacted NASA on this issue but were going to do it as a result of this meeting, which I thought to be a positive response.  The purpose is, to form and make One Department within NASA solely for R&D for Body Armor ONLY, and nothing else. The second is the technology of liquid body armor by Dr. Norman Wagner, to be used in the making of the soft body armor as well as the helmets. The third is to get the President, the Senate, and Congress to fund such a project which I have found to be like climbing Mount Everest, backwards, but I still have not given up on this concept, nor will I ever.

Over the years of writing to the political machine in Washington, it has been disappointing at times, but not enough to prevent me from continuing with my writing. I have found that some are disconnected with the needs of the Military and their families on the issue of Body Armor in particular.  There are some that have no idea what anguish, pain and many sleepless nights the families endure when their loved ones are deployed. But yet, they still sit on committees in which they hold the power to make a difference, and yet, they do not act, or act quickly enough when called upon.

I have found that the subject of the military with most people in general, have no idea on what anguish truly means, and don’t care. Unless you walk in our shoes, can you truly understand what our Troops and their Military families go through and the great scarifies they make every day for this great nation.

  When we have designs, redesigns and recall’s of Body Armor for several years, without making any great strides in the area of weight and protection, this is why I do, what I do, and why the families are so concerned! Have I set the bar too high for Washington on what I ask of them? I think not! This request is not one that can’t be quickly reached; we must move more rapidly and think outside the box on this one!

I truly understand the willingness of our military leaders to unfailingly fight for the best, but my concerns are not so much with the military but with the committees that tie the hands of the military on so many issues. I realize that I have made no friends, in Washington. Some may even hate me for the writing of these letters to the military and Washington, but that’s alright. If I can make a difference and save one life, then I can look in the mirror and say it was a good day and it was all worth it, no matter what people think of me! As my 1st Sergeant always said, “Respect is not given, it is Earned”, and the Troops have earned my respect many times over, past and present.

I will continue the push forward on my requests, as so many lives are on the line, so bare with me on my letters, e-mails and phone calls; I do this on behalf of all the TROOPS.

I look forward to hearing from you again and thank you for your time and Godspeed to you General, and maybe someday our paths will cross.

Americans never quit.

General Douglas Macarthur

US WWII general & war hero (1880 – 1964)

Sincerely,

Michael J. F. Bucca Sr.

Hanover, Massachusetts 

“Veteran and Father of a proud Marine”

SFTT Editor’s Note:   This is an open letter from Michael Bucca, a “veteran and father of a proud Marine,” to General James T. Conway, Commondant of the Marine Corps.   While Mr. Bucca’s suggestions to engage NASA do not necessarily represent the position of SFTT, we do agree that seeking better protective gear and combat equipment for our frontline troops should become a National Priority.   Let’s raise our voices to support these brave young men and women who defend our freedoms.   Join SFTT and add your voice to Mr. Bucca’s to get our frontline troops the best available combat equipment.

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Body Armor and the NASA Connection

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April 29, 2010

President Barack H. Obama II

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

President Barack H. Obama II:

Dear Mr. President,

I know what you’re thinking, it’s him again! Well, I’d like to say it wasn’t, however. The issue is Body Armor Design or should I say the lack of its advancement of lighter and better ballistics.

I have reached out many times to two Administrations of, Presidents, Senators, Congressmen and Military etc. and continue to hit a brick wall on the creation and establishment of one department within NASA. I believe this concept could be a straightforward one with the help of you, Mr. President, Secretary Robert M. Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen. With this partnership, you can make all of this happen.

Mr. President, you had once stated that “If someone has a better idea, I’m listening”. Well the concept is simple, to have NASA solely dedicated one department (assemble one) for the R&D of Body Armor, nothing more and nothing less than that. This would be their ONLY task to do at NASA and nothing else. It will not work by having meeting’s or studies with NASA, or forming committees on top of committees.

I will continue to reach out to you and your Administration on this issue. When you believe in something as strongly as I do, you press on no matter what, as you well know Mr. President. I realize you are a very busy man, and that there is never a good time for such a request. I feel that I must reach out for your help on my request. I’m hoping that you concur and push this forward. In closing, I am not a man of power or influence; however I’m a man of determination and conviction for all our troops.

I look forward to hearing from all of you, and thank you all for your time.

The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.

Abraham Lincoln

16th president of US (1809 – 1865)

Sincerely,

Michael J. F. Bucca Sr.

Hanover, Massachusetts

“Veteran and Father of a proud Marine”

Editor’s Note: We appreciate Mr. Bucca for sharing his letter to President Obama with SFTT. His letter reflects the views of many concerned parents  whose sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  SFTT and its members and volunteers pledge ourselves to continue our campaigns to make sure our troops have the best protective gear and combat equipment available.

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GAO Recommendations on Body Armor Testing

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To determine what effect, if any, the problems GAO observed had on the test data and on the outcomes of First Article Testing, the Army should provide for an independent ballistics evaluation of the First Article Testing results by ballistics and statistical experts external to the Department of Defense before any armor is fielded to soldiers under this contract solicitation. Because DOD did not concur with this recommendation, GAO added a matter for congressional consideration to this report suggesting that Congress direct DOD to either conduct such an independent external review of these test results or repeat First Article Testing.

 

To better align actual test practices with established testing protocols during future body armor testing, the Army should assess the need to change its test procedures based on the outcome of the independent experts’ review and document these and all other key decisions made to clarify or change the testing protocols during future body armor testing. Although DOD did not agree that an independent expert review of test results was needed, DOD stated it will address protocol discrepancies identified by GAO as it develops standardized testing protocols. DOD also agreed to document all decisions made to clarify or change testing protocols.

 

[NB: DOD quietly dropped its opposition to this GAO recommendation and an “independent experts’ review” of Army/DOD ballistic test protocols has started. One retired Army general was assigned to the panel, raising some doubt as to just how “independent” this panel truly is.]

To improve internal controls over the integrity and reliability of test data for future testing as well as provide for consistent test conditions and comparable data among tests, the Army should provide for an independent external peer review of Aberdeen Test Center’s body armor testing protocols, facilities, and instrumentation to ensure that proper internal controls and sound management practices are in place. DOD generally concurred with this recommendation, but stated that it will also include DOD members on the review team.

[NB: Quoting from footnote 1, page 77 of the GAO report: “… the most current Army Test Operating Procedure for testing body armor had not been updated since 1975. Test Operations Procedure (TOP), 10-2-506 Ballistic Testing of Personnel Armor Materials. So there it is in all its unvarnished ugliness — another key indicator of just how little the Army’s Leadership and defense contractors value the American Grunt. For testing life-or-death gear, i.e., personal protective equipment, use a 35-year old set of test protocols. Then, when forced by public pressure to address the issue, in typical Washington fashion, appoint a panel, a commission, “to study” the issue. How long will this study will take, and how many warriors will fall on the killing fields while the scandalous situation is being “studied” are two issues blithely ignored in this GAO report.]

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

Review the GAO Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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Body Armor Testing: What the GAO found

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During Preliminary Design Model testing the Army took significant steps to run a controlled test and maintain consistency throughout the process, but the Army did not always follow established testing protocols and, as a result, did not achieve its intended test objective of determining as a basis for awarding contracts which designs met performance requirements.

In the most consequential of the Army’s deviations from testing protocols, the Army testers incorrectly measured the amount of force absorbed by the plate designs by measuring back-face deformation in the clay backing at the point of aim rather than at the deepest point of depression.

The graphic depicts the difference between the point of aim and the deepest point.

GAO Body Armor Test Explanation

[NB: So, there it is — GAO is telling the Congress that after two and one-half years, Army testing failed, and failed so abysmally that $121 Million in protective plates already produced and in warehouses awaiting distribution were designated unsafe to issue because their qualifying tests were unreliable.]

Army testers recognized the error after completing about a third of the test and then changed the test plan to call for measuring at the point of aim and likewise issued a modification to the contract solicitation. [NB: Yes, you read this sentence correctly. After having the error pointed out to them, Army test officials decided the “fix” was to change the test plan/requirements so that this flaw would be consistent throughout all testing!!]

At least two of the eight designs that passed Preliminary Design Model testing and were awarded contracts would have failed if measurements had been made to the deepest point of depression. The deviations from the testing protocols were the result of Aberdeen Test Center’s incorrectly interpreting the testing protocols. In all these cases of deviations from the testing protocols, the Aberdeen Test Center’s implemented procedures were not reviewed or approved by the Army and Department of Defense officials responsible for approving the testing protocols. After concerns were raised regarding the Preliminary Design Model testing, the decision was made not to field any of the plate designs awarded contracts until after First Article Testing was conducted.

During First Article Testing, the Army addressed some of the problems identified during Preliminary Design Model testing, but GAO observed instances in which Army testers did not follow the established testing protocols and did not maintain internal controls over the integrity and reliability of data, raising questions as to whether the Army met its First Article Test objective of determining whether each of the contracted designs met performance requirements. The following are examples of deviations from testing protocols and other issues that GAO observed:

  • The clay backing placed behind the plates during ballistics testing was not always calibrated in accordance with testing protocols and was exposed to rain on one day, potentially impacting test results.
  • Testers improperly rounded down back-face deformation measurements, which is not authorized in the established testing protocols and which resulted in two designs passing First Article Testing that otherwise would have failed. Army officials said rounding is a common practice; however, one private test facility that rounds told GAO that they round up, not down.

[NB: So, a private test facility rounds BFD up, benefiting the soldier while the U.S. Army rounds BFD down, benefiting whom? If you guessed “contractors,” you got it right. Yet, the Army and the Pentagon continue to chant their mantra: force protection is our number one priorityforce protection is our number one priority. True, combat is inherently dangerous and unpredictable — but adding risks and hazards by issuing sub-standard protective gear grounds this mantra into a hollow and empty phrase.  Especially if you allow this chant to accompany media reports of a fallen warrior’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery or upon arrival of a flag-draped coffin at Dover AFB — “force protection is our number one priority…”.  It is simply an outrage that in the second decade of the 21st Century, American grunts still get the short straw when it comes to personal protective equipment?]

  • Testers used a new instrument to measure back-face deformation without adequately certifying that the instrument could function correctly and in conformance with established testing protocols. The impact of this issue on test results is uncertain, but it could call into question the reliability and accuracy of the measurements.
  • Testers deviated from the established testing protocols in one instance by improperly scoring a complete penetration as a partial penetration. As a result, one design passed First Article Testing that would have otherwise failed.

With respect to internal control issues, the Army did not consistently maintain adequate internal controls to ensure the integrity and reliability of test data. In one example, during ballistic testing, data were lost, and testing had to be repeated because an official accidentally pressed the delete button and software controls were not in place to protect the integrity of test data. Army officials acknowledged that before GAO’s review they were unaware of the specific internal control problems we identified.

As a result of the deviations from testing protocols that GAO observed, four of the five designs that passed First Article Testing and were certified by the Army as ready for full production would have instead failed testing at some point during the process, either during the Preliminary Design Model testing or the subsequent First Article Test. Thus, the overall reliability and repeatability of the test results are uncertain. Although designs passed testing that would not have if the testing protocols were followed, independent ballistics experts have not assessed the impact of the deviations from the testing protocols to determine if the effect of the deviations is sufficient to call into question the ability of those designs to meet requirements.

[NB; This sentence merits VERY close attention. GAO has raised the crucial issue of whether, for this life-or-death equipment, in use by DOD for over ten years, there is a problem with “the ability of those [protective plate] designs to meet requirements,” There is no dispute that in this sample of the five designs tested, four designs actually failed!! Notwithstanding that U.S. Army test officials certified these 4 failed designs as ready for full production.]

Vendors whose designs passed First Article Testing have begun production of plates. The Army has ordered 2,500 sets of plates (at two plates per set) from these vendors to be used for additional ballistics testing and 120,000 sets of plates to be put into inventory to address future requirements. However, to date, none of these designs have been fielded because, according to Army officials, there are adequate numbers of armor plates produced under prior contracts already in the inventory to meet current requirements.

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

Review the Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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Why the GAO Study on Body Armor Testing?

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The Army has issued soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan personal body armor, comprising an outer protective vest and ceramic plate inserts.   The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) observed Preliminary Design Model testing of new plate designs, which resulted in the Army’s awarding contracts in September 2008 valued at a total of over $8 billion to vendors of the designs that passed that testing.

Between November and December 2008, the Army conducted further testing, called First Article Testing, on these designs. GAO is reporting on the degree to which the Army followed its established testing protocols during these two tests. GAO did not provide an expert ballistics evaluation of the results of testing. GAO, using a structured, GAO-developed data collection instrument, observed both tests at the Army’s Aberdeen Test Center, analyzed data, and interviewed agency and industry officials to evaluate observed deviations from testing protocols. However, independent ballistics testing expertise is needed to determine the full effect of these deviations.

[NB: To this day, we are not aware of any plans Congress has to direct an independent, transparent, “expert ballistics evaluation” of the personal protective plates issued to America’s frontline troops.  A Member or either the House or Senate Armed Services Committee must introduce directive language into the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY  2011” calling for requirements provided in the GAO report that will re-set appropriate testing protocols. For the benefit of congressional staff reading this report, GAO is pointing out that if Congress wants to know the full extent of the flawed testing, DOD and the Army must bring in outside experts to make this determination. Again, this takes legislation.  Stop and think for a minute about the full implications of this seemingly simple statement. GAO is not explicitly stating that the Army and DOD do not have the requisite engineers, or technicians. GAO is saying in classic read-between-the-lines Washington-speak that the Army/DOD consortium cannot be trusted to conduct an honest, scientifically-objective test. That the GAO felt the need to issue this blatant appeal for outside intervention is a sad commentary on the quality of our government’s commitment to ensuring our frontline troops wear only the “best-available” personal protective equipment. For those who have lost count, these frontline troops are approaching their ninth anniversary on the killing fields and the Army/DOD team has yet to demonstrate that it can conduct a reliable, repeatable ballistic test. BTW, GAO understandably did not address the issue of previous tests, but given the significant flaws identified by GAO in this two-and-one-half year investigation, any logical reader can justifiably question the validity of earlier tests. These questions include both the test protocols and the actual conduct of the tests (the competence and integrity of the testers). ]

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

Review the Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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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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Is Secretary Rumsfeld responsible for the lack of military leadership?

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As an Army 2nd Lt stationed at the Pentagon during the Viet Nam war, I still vividly recall the military brass scrambling to deal with one crisis after another while pretending that they were in control of a war that had already been largely lost. With Robert McNamara at the helm, competent military leaders were replaced by faceless  bureaucrats who were more adept at tabulating body counts than combat itself. Working at the Pentagon during that period was a surreal experience and one that has no doubt contributed to a somewhat cynical attitude toward our military leadership.

The emergence of Secretary Rumsfeld as spokesperson for the Iraq War reignited this cynicism as evidenced by his response to an young enlisted man requesting better protective gear: “You go to war with the Army you have – not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”  Many consider this to be a public admission that Rumsfeld was far more interested in military tech toys and hardware than the troops that were fielding this equipment.  Human resources – our frontline troops – were seen as little more than just another military asset to be deployed in  a way to support the overall mission as defined by our military leadership. In other words, how much firepower or protective gear does a soldier need to accomplish the mission the military leadership has set forth for them? With this vague philosophy and “value judgement”, our military leadership can justify providing our young men and women with  “adequate” equipment rather than the “best” equipment to have a chance to survive combat.

No where is this more evident than the US Army’s blatant disregard for the safety of our frontline troops in its testing and procurement practices for body armor. In October 2009, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a 110 page report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed before Fielding.” This devastating report proved conclusively what many had been saying for years: Army and DOD test procedures were flawed and overwhelmingly skewed in favor of contractors rather than our brave young men and women serving in combat areas. Read senior investigative reporter Roger Charles’ insightful analysis of the GAO report on body armor on the Soldiers for The Truth.

The Soldiers for the Truth Foundation (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation established by the late Col. David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England to insure that our frontline troops have the best available leadership, equipment and training. In the past four-plus years SFTT’S active campaign has focused on ensuring America’s frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear.

Thanks to the persistent efforts of organizations like SFTT and concerned Americans, our military may soon get the leadership our troops deserve.

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