Body armor: BILLIONS in contracts awarded improperly

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed this issue over the past two-plus years:

The Army can’t be sure some of its body armor met safety standards, partly because it didn’t do proper paperwork on initial testing of the protective vests, a Defense Department audit said.

The inspector general reviewed $5.2 billion worth of Army and Marine Corps contracts for body armor from 2004 through 2006.

“Specific information concerning testing and approval of first articles was not included in 13 of 28 Army contracts and orders reviewed, and contracting files were not maintained in 11 of 28 Army contracts to show why procurement decisions were made,” the report concluded.

“First article testing,” or FAT, is the initial testing the Pentagon applies to equipment it has procured. For body armor, such testing has included such procedures as exposure to extreme heat and cold, exposure to diesel fuel and ballistic-threat testing (i.e., shooting at the armor) – or at least, that’s what the FAT protocol was supposed to have included. According to the IG’s report, that didn’t happen on contracts worth billions of dollars.

Not thousands, not millions – billions.

The report (PDF file) said, among other things,

DoD has no assurance that first articles produced under 13 of the 28 contracts and orders reviewed met the required standards, or that 11 of the 28 contracts were awarded based on informed procurement decisions. [emphasis added]

The inspector general’s report comes after congressional hearings held last spring and a prior NBC News investigative report that cast doubt on the Army’s testing of body armor. The report, when read in the context of earlier statements and events, should lay to rest any remaining doubt about the Pentagon’s credibility with respect to body armor testing and procurement.

The body armor controversy erupted almost two-and-a-half years ago when the Pentagon forbade soldiers and Marines from wearing any body armor other than the government-issued Interceptor. The Pentagon steadfastly maintained that Interceptor was vastly superior to anything else available, including another type of body armor called Dragon Skin. The Pentagon went so far as to issue a “Safety of Use Message” in March 2006, citing safety concerns as justification for the ban.  Proponents of Dragon Skin complained loudly, and the Army reluctantly conducted testing in May 2006.

According to the Army, Dragon Skin failed that testing spectacularly, with 13 of 48 test shots penetrating the vests. The Army presented no video of the ballistics portion of the test.

NBC News, however, got a much different result when it conducted its own tests in spring 2007: not only did Dragon Skin not fail, it stopped everything fired at it. But NBC did not stop at testing Dragon Skin. For months, concerned parties had been calling for side-by-side comparisons of Dragon Skin with Interceptor. So NBC obliged, and subjected Interceptor to the same ballistics tests as Dragon Skin. Never before had Interceptor been tested in front of a public audience.

When NBC fired the same armor-piercing ammunition at Interceptor as it had at Dragon Skin, the difference in performance could not have been more dramatic: Dragon Skin stopped all six shots easily; Interceptor failed at the fourth shot, which blew a huge hole in the clay mannequin’s torso. What’s more, Dragon Skin showed less “back face deformation” (BFD); that is, the inside of the vest “pushed in” to the test mannequin’s torso less with Dragon Skin than with Interceptor, a key measure of body armor’s efficacy.

Partially as a result of that NBC piece, Congress held hearings on the matter in June 2007, and ordered that additional testing be done by a third party. The inspector general’s audit is the first of two reports on the matter; another is expected to be released by the GAO within the near future, and some sources indicate that it will be even more damning than the IG’s audit.

The IG report, casting doubt as it does on the Army’s testing of a multi-billion-dollar Pentagon program, blows out of the water and exposes as lies many of the smug assertions made emphatically and repeatedly by Army personnel who had vested interests in trumpeting the integrity of the body-armor testing program and the efficacy of Interceptor.

The Pentagon’s assertions during the controversy have been two-pronged:

First, that Interceptor has been thoroughly tested and has never failed; and

Second, that Dragon Skin has been thoroughly tested and has failed “catastrophically.”

Beginning with the NBC report, though, more and more evidence has been reported which undercuts both sides of the Pentagon’s claims.

In July 2007, Dragon Skin was tested at the Army’s Aberdeen Testing Center, using the “high-temperature” environmental test that the Army had said was the cause of Dragon Skin’s failure in the May 2006 test. The two Dragon Skin vests tested stopped four and five armor-piercing rounds, respectively, with no failures.

In February 2008, at Aberdeen’s “Industry Day,” Interceptor failed to stop the very first Level III round (not even as powerful as the Level IV armor-piercing rounds the Interceptor was supposed to be able to stop) fired at it, breaking loose a three-inch chunk from the corner of the plate.

Finally, the assertion that Interceptor has been subject to rigorous testing has been utterly debunked by the inspector general’s audit report. The IG audited all of the body armor contracts issued, totaling $5.2 billion. Some of its findings:

For one contract for a total of 10,000 units of armor, a contract worth $1.9 million,

our review of the contract file indicated the [testing] was never performed after contract award

Here’s what the report said about another contract, a contract for 850,000 sets of body armor, and worth $190 million:

W91CRB-05-D-0003 (OTV) – The PEO stated that FAT was conducted on December 3, 2004, at H.P. White Laboratory, Incorporated and was certified after the fact by the contracting officer in a letter dated June 16, 2006.

– yeah: “certified after the fact” – by a letter written a year and a half after the supposed “tests,” and only once the IG had begun its audit.

For a contract for 840,000 sets of armor, worth $239 million:

13. W91CRB-04-D-0014 (DAPs) – The PEO stated that no FAT letter was issued by the contracting officer, and that FAT was verified by test data from H.P. White Laboratory, Incorporated on March 13, 2003. This order contained no purchase description to accompany the contract; therefore, if testing was completed, the test facility would not have known what specifications to test against. Based on this information and the lack of documentation in the contracting file, we cannot validate the PEO’s statement that FAT was verified on March 13, 2003.

And here the IG’s report tells of a contract for 10,000 units, worth $15 million, that they decided to give a pass to:

11. W91CRB-05-F-0086 (ESAPI) – The PEO stated that verification of FAT was certified by the contracting officer in a letter dated September 7, 2005. As stated in our draft report, we looked through contract files for approvals or disapprovals of requests for waivers or deviation from contract requirements. This letter and documentation to support the FAT results were not included in the contracting file; the letter was provided by the PEO after we completed our review. Although we were not able to validate the test results, we updated the report to remove this order from the list of contracts that did not complete FAT. [emphasis added]

“PEO” is the director of the Army’s Program Executive Officer – Soldier headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where a controversial test of Dragon Skin body armor was conducted in May 2006. The IG’s report took PEO to task, making recommendations specifically to address issues it found there. PEO’s response to the IG was, in essence, “F-you.” In a letter from PEO to the IG included in the report, PEO says,

The U.S. Army conducts rigorous and extensive testing of body armor to ensure that it meets Army standards and is safe for use by Soldiers in combat. The U.S. Army require two levels of performance and verification prior to acceptance of body armor to issue to Soldiers; First Article Test (FAT) and Lot Acceptance Test (LAT). FAT and LAT verify two key ballistic performance parameters for Body Armor, Ballistic Limit and Resistance to Penetration. These two test requirements verify that body armor meets U.S. Army standards before being issued to Soldiers and ensure production processes remain in check.

With typical bureaucratic understatement, the IG considered PEO Soldier’s comments about the IG’s recommendations “not responsive”:

The PEO’s comments on Recommendation 1.a. are not responsive. While we agree that procedures exist for testing and evaluation to ensure contract conformance, our audit results show that those procedures are not consistently followed . . . The PEO’s comments on Recommendation 1.b. are not responsive . . . The PEO’s comments on Recommendation 1.c. are not responsive . . .  [emphasis added]

See a pattern here?

The PEO letter goes on to describe LAT testing:

Furthermore, the U.S. Army conducts post-issue surveillance testing to ensure no degradation of body armor testing over time. LAT and surveillance testing . . . are a critical part of the body armor testing program.

As far as I have been able to determine, the “post-issue surveillance testing” cited by PEO Soldier consists of a recommended daily “once-over” the soldier in the field is supposed to administer to his ballistic plates. How many soldiers actually remove the plates from their pockets on the vests and go over them for damage is open to question. According to Karl Masters, the Army’s project manager for the Interceptor Body Armor program, and “point man” with respect to the controversial May 2006 testing of Dragon Skin, the Pentagon was exploring an additional in-the-field testing protocol:

What we are doing [is] . . . using a mobile shelter with a digital x-ray inspection system to periodically inspect serviceability via non-destructive testing of the plates. We . . . ran it through an operational assessment, testing a sample of 2,000 plates . . . System is GTG and we are doing a demo at Fort Drum this summer when 10th Mountain elements rotate home. Our objectives are to provide a quick serviceability inspection method for the warfighter and calculate a combat consumption planning factor for the [armor plate] inserts. We are working with the boys in the box to do an in-theater evaluation ASAP.

I would like to hear from any Iraq or Afghanistan vets to see whether their body armor was ever taken from them to be tested in such a fashion – or, for that matter, to ask them what their inspection protocol was. So far, the few vets I have discussed this with have indicated that their body armor was in their custody at all times during their combat postings, and further that often the armor was handed down to them by the unit previously occupying their posting.

Also, any vets who know of any incidents where body armor was penetrated (or, conversely, where it was not penetrated) by any ballistic threat), please contact me in the comments or via e-mail (in my Profile).

So – the inspector general says testing wasn’t done on a very large number of occasions. But – but – but – the Pentagon assured us over and over that they were tested!:

From a posting  Karl Masters made on Professional Soldiers on June 9, 2006:

The Defense Contract Management Agency has on site QA reps that select a random sample of ESAPI plates for quality assurance ballistic testing from each and every production lot of ESAPI – from every manufacturer that is qualified to build ESAPI for the Army. There are only 6 that have passed the ESAPI First Artical Test protocol and are qualified and under contract to build these plates.

To ensure ESAPI plates maintain consistently high ballistic performance in combat, an ESAPI from every sample pulled from every lot from every manufacturer gets tested against 7.62x54R B-32 API – before the lot is accepted by PEO Soldier.

Each and every ESAPI lot is tested against the B-32 API threat. That means that we do quite a bit of testing, but this is a small price to pay to ensure that Soldiers get kit that they can rely on to perform when it counts.

It also gives us confidence that any material problem, process change, or any other factor affecting ESAPI ballistic performance is detected – before it gets to an Operator/Soldier/Marine/Airman/Sailor in combat.

Let’s reprise that lede from AP again:

The Army can’t be sure some of its body armor met safety standards, partly because it didn’t do proper paperwork on initial testing of the protective vests, a Defense Department audit said.

Yeah. The Army also can’t be sure if its body armor met safety standards because every time Interceptor has been tested out in the open since NBC’s tests of May 2007, it has failed.



Huh. Now, that’s odd. Because when Congress was investigating the Army’s testing of Dragon Skin body armor last spring, Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, head of the Army’s Program Executive Officer – Soldier (PEO Soldier) command, put on a dog-and-pony show press briefing in which he gave this muddled but yet somehow emphatic response to a questioner:

Q     Just to be clear, the Interceptor body armor that you have got has never failed any of these tests?

GEN. BROWN: Not in the first article test. We would have a lot that would fail. We test each lot, and if the lot failed, we go back and we say, “What happened? Was it a production mistake, a technical mistake?” And then we’d find out why it failed. But the ones that the soldiers have all passed the first article test.

Oooh. Except for the ones that didn’t – like the Inspector General reported.

Or, shoot, there was that batch of 23,000 vests that the Marine Corps had to recall back in 2004 – but only after it became apparent that they were about to be exposed by the news media:

Most Point Blank vests passed the tests, but the Marine liaison to Point Blank recommended the service reject the production lots of those that failed – numbering thousands of vests in total, according to memos, dated in mid-2004, obtained by the Marine Corps Times and reproduced on the Internet. The Marines then tested vests from those lots again at another test range, and they passed, Landis said. Marine officials issued waivers allowing the vests to go to the troops, but decided to recall the vests from the field when they learned of the imminent article.

Oh! – and in their prepared statement (PDF file) to the House Armed Services Committee on June 6, 2007, Brown and Lieutenant General N. Ross Thompson III stated the following:

The IBA system has been subjected to rigorous ballistic testing . . . The IBA system has passed those tests with no failures . . .

It is important to reiterate that this was the same fair and independent testing that was passed by our current Interceptor Body Armor system with zero catastrophic failures, and zero first shot complete penetrations . . .

[N]o body armor will be fielded to our troops until it has passed rigorous testing . . .

(A friendly reminder, boys – lying to Congress is a felony.)

So – what inference can one draw from the combination of: (1) the IG’s stilted, bureaucratic and very measured report; (2) the repeated public failures of Interceptor to withstand minimal ballistic threats in open tests; and (3) the laughable way the Army has handled the public face of what should be a very simple issue to put to bed one way or another?

Well, if one were a skeptic, mindful of Pentagon procurement scandals such as the Darleen Druyun fiasco, the Osprey boondoggle, the Trophy anti-RPG mess, Duncan Hunter’s DP-2, and The Boat Nobody Wanted, one might be led to the conclusion that the Pentagon doesn’t want people to know the truth about the body armor system that has cost American taxpayers more than $5 billion. One can only hope it hasn’t cost any American lives.

The inspector general’s findings throw into doubt all of the contracts awarded for Interceptor Body Armor for the armed forces. In light of Interceptor’s dismal performance on the NBC “Dateline” segment, and the utter failure of Level III Interceptor in a more recent test, the only prudent thing to do would be to subject Interceptor to a new round of complete first article testing.

The answer is obvious: Start from scratch. Wipe the slate clean. Begin again. Create a level playing field for every supplier. Open up the competition, and let the best body armor win.

However, given the Pentagon’s amply demonstrated inability to conduct such tests in a responsible and transparent manner, the tests must be conducted by an independent agency, one with no connection to the awarding of contracts for the military.

And as long as testing is being done, body armor systems should be tested to failure, not simply to determine whether they can stop one or two rounds (which is the current first article standard).

Finally, if the billions of dollars in contracts for interceptor were shown to have been awarded fraudulently, those responsible for such awards must be brought to justice.  

Originally in Orange


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  1. Iraq = corporate ATM

    • OPOL on April 4, 2008 at 16:52

    Dovetails nicely with Magnifico’s War Pigs essay.

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