Journalism in the Public Interest

Pentagon Report Flags Latest in Long History of Flawed Body-Armor Testing

The Army failed to properly test a critical component of body armor and can’t say for sure that 5 million pieces of the bullet-stopping equipment offer sufficient protection for troops. Those are the findings contained in a new report [PDF] by the Pentagon’s inspector general. 

Tests for extreme temperature, altitude and weathering were “routinely” eliminated or tweaked for the ceramic plates inside body armor, which are a “significant part of the soldier’s protection system," the report said. It looked at testing records for $2.5 billion in contracts awarded to armor manufacturers between 2004 and 2006. The inspector general did not conduct independent testing. 

The Pentagon also ceded too much authority to the defense contractors, the report concluded. Contractor employees performed “inherently governmental functions” such as evaluating test results to decide whether to accept or reject the products.

The Army responded that it has adopted the report’s recommendations and improved the process by which it tests body armor. Last year, it adopted a standard testing protocol that’s being used across the Defense Department. “The U.S. Army conducts rigorous and extensive testing of body armor to ensure that it meets U.S. Army standards and is safe for use by Soldiers in combat,” it said. 

But the report's findings are the latest in a series of revelations about inadequate testing and problematic procurement for body armor.

In the early days of the Iraq war, after initially limiting the distribution of new bulletproof armor to soldiers on the front lines, the Army reversed course and scrambled to buy them for all troops in Iraq. But those orders took several months to get to the troops, even while U.S. allies that purchased body armor received their orders in just 12 days.

Then came a scathing 2006 Pentagon report, which found that of the U.S. Marines in Iraq killed by shots to the torso, at least 80 percent could perhaps have survived if they’d had extra body armor protecting their sides. That sent off another scramble by both the Marines and the Army to send over additional armor. The report also prompted calls from lawmakers for a review by the Pentagon’s inspector general.

In a subsequent 2009 rep­­ort [PDF], the Pentagon’s inspector general identified testing flaws in one order of ceramic inserts and recommended that the Army recall more than 16,000 of them. The Army maintained that the gear was safe but issued a recall anyway. That same year, the Army also decided to test the armor in its own laboratory instead of using private labs.

Two more reports this year build on those 2009 findings, expanding the inquiry to a total of 13 contracts. In addition to the latest report on the seven contracts for ceramic inserts, another report in January found that the testing done on 1.2 million outer vests for body armor—six contracts worth $434 million in all—also fell short of what was required [PDF].

Wasn’t this well-known?  I seem to remember the idiotic “you don’t go to war with the army you wish you had” as the excuse for not bothering to protect our troops (while silencing opposition to the war by asking why we don’t support the troops—apparently, that doesn’t include keeping them alive).

In any case, dare we ask who provided such marvels of technology?  I ask because I don’t see the contractor mentioned, and I would think that this would be of interest to the article.

Considering how we treat our injured troops (let alone the whole ones) when they return, perhaps knowing who’s responsible would help us (a) stop them and (b) demand they care for those they’ve destroyed.

(One imagines the name-changing creeps at Blackwater/KBR/Xe, who already saddled our people with shoddy armor, not to mention the tainted water.  But that’s just speculation on my part.)

Stephanie Palmer

Aug. 18, 2011, 3:18 p.m.

I know that the Congress would like to privatize just about everything. But because there is so much money in defense contracting, it is outrageous that our defense department would cede the responsibility of testing equipment in favor of letting private industry take that on. It’s not privatizing if it’s a direct injection of my taxpayer funds into the pockets of private business.  Private business isn’t particularly interested in providing a quality product. They are interested in profit.  Since we all know that, let’s go back to an army which takes care of itself.  Too many defense contractors are making too much money and not providing services for which they’re paid.  And I also will never forget Donald Rumsfeld saying that when you have to go to war, you go with the equipment you have, not what you need. The key words being, when you have to go to war.  The mutilations and deaths that our people have suffered in both Iraq and Afghanistan can be laid directly at the feet of the Bush administration and more recently the Obama administration. It’s time for us to stand up and tell them they are wrong.

Wasn’t a Republican congressman from California repeatedly implicated in various body-armor scandals, as he tried to help constituent companies and/or tried to impose his self-identified “expertise” in body armor on the military?

Let’s put a member of the House or Congress in one of these body-armors and test them to see if they work…..I think it’s a GREAT idea.  Also, I wonder how much the “private” contractors charged our government for the updated body armor?  It’ll probably be something like the $700 hammer!!

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