On the Army’s effectiveness testing of body armor for the troops, a 2009 GAO report concluded: “Overall reliability and repeatability of the test results are uncertain.” To that, Army Brig. Gen. Peter N. Fuller, Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center at Ft. Belvoir said:
“The challenge we are having with this GAO audit report is they are challenging our processes, and I think what we are really identifying is we have had an evolution of processes and we need to better articulate what we are doing there.”
He has insulted men of valor and action with empty words.
BG Fuller said that despite the GAO finding irregularities in body armor testing, “We have the best body armor by far.” He added that he appreciated the GAO because it helped the Army insure that the troops get the “very best.”
Without responding to the GAO report’s findings, Gen. Fuller had preemptively framed the issue as a failure to communicate, not a real problem with testing.
Then he asserted that the body armor was the best.
Were that true, why would the House Armed Services Committee have published these words in its 2010 FY National Defense Authorization Act Summary?
The committee requires DOD to establish specific budget line items within the procurement and research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) accounts for body armor. This will improve accountability and increase transparency into long-term investment strategies as well as facilitate the advancement of lighter-weight technologies. Additionally, the committee strongly encourages the standardization of the requirements and test and evaluation processes for body armor. (p. 24)
The Committee’s directive clearly implied that accountability and transparency in body armor testing, in evaluation, and in contracting fail to meet appropriate standards.
Now read this gem in the same report, which really hits home considering the above statement of the House’s expectation that Gen. Fuller act, not just speak on the issue:
Prohibition Relating to Propaganda
The committee prohibits DOD from engaging in propaganda activities except as otherwise authorized by law. The term “propaganda” includes materials such as editorials or other articles prepared by an agency or its contractors at the behest of the agency and circulated as the position of parties outside the agency. (p. 46).
The prohibition could include assertions of unverified facts about body armor safety made by Brig. Gen. Fuller on Army.mil that appear to agree with proprietary claims of existing body armor contractors. Such statements raise serious questions about the objectivity of the testing processes.
The Soldier Center took another hit for failing to insure quality control on the testing of helmets, according to a CNN report in May. The Department of Justice had to inform the Pentagon that Armor Source, LLC, the helmet contractor, was under investigation for violating standards for making helmets withstand ballistics. In an Army ballistics re-test of the helmets, the helmets failed and 44,000 were recalled.
But, it was another recent example of poor Pentagon oversight of its suppliers that caused me to review the body armor and helmet procurement problems. While reviewing press on the rare earth element and trade imbroglio heating up between China and the West this week, I found a classic quote about the Pentagon’s procurement awareness. Christine Parthemore, fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told the Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia, “In defense equipment, because stuff is manufactured by the private sector, and [the private sector] is not involved in the end-use of these products. … There’s sort of a detachment of information that happens..”
Parthemore was explaining that the US military had “very little sense” of its own dependence on rare earth minerals used in its most sensitive smart weapons, guidance and communications systems because the metals’ usage is proprietary information.
Considering the context, a Chinese monopoly on magnetic components that help provide the “shock & awe” for which the US military is renowned, Parthemore’s observation suggests that the Pentagon will sacrifice national security to protect corporate privacy, even if the corporations are state-owned Chinese firms or their agents!!!
In response, the 2010 Pentagon scratches its collective head and effectively says, ‘We didn’t know that was a national security issue; let’s study our dependence on rare earths.’ This is despite Deng Xiaopeng’s famous boast that China would use its leverage in rare earths against the West’s domination in oil.
Rare metal supply is a troop safety issue too, since magnets manufactured from rare earths make bombs smart enough to miss friendly forces during air support to ground troops.
Is there really a ‘detachment of information’ because the Pentagon wants to honor the proprietary secrets of its contractors? Or is there collusion with contractors to keep proprietary vulnerabilities a secret? Such facts beg for DOJ probes into possible illegal influences between procurement officials and contractors. Perhaps these security problems may be deterred in the future by putting dishonest and corrupt officials in jail.