US Army officials insist that no American service member or civilian has ever deployed to combat theatres with defective body armour. The comments come in the wake of a Pentagon report showing that inserts added to five million bullet-proof vests may be faulty.
“I am not aware of any incident downrange where the body armour failed to protect against a round it was designed to defeat,” said Lieutenant General Bill Phillips, one of the US Army’s top acquisition officials.
“There is nothing more important in Army acquisition. There’s nothing more important to our Army than soldier protection or soldier safety,” Phillips said during a Pentagon news conference. US forces have the best body armour in the world, he added.
The Army procures body armour for all services and Defence Department civilians. A DOD Inspector General Report on seven contracts between 2004 and 2006 looked at the way the Army tested body armour during that period and what the service could do to improve it, he said.
“All of the recommendations from that report have been implemented,” Phillips said. “We won’t come to full closure until October this year, when we finish the final recommendations.”
Service members are the best judge of the body armour and helmets issued today, said Army Colonel Bill Cole, the project manager at Programme Executive Office Soldier, adding that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines issued the armour “have high confidence” in its protective properties.
The Army will continue to improve all equipment for service members, Phillips said. “We can always improve our processes, and we can always get better,” the general added. “As we learn about better ways of testing, it is important we will implement those changes.”
During the period of the report – 2004 to 2006 – the Army did not test how body armour responds when exposed to fungus and to altitude. The Army asked to be excused from those tests so the service could rush the enhanced small-arms protective plates to service members, Cole explained.
The bottom line is that absolutely no one has been sent downrange with defective equipment, Phillips said, and the Army continues to test new equipment and to pull body plates from inventory to run tests.
“Time and time again, we’ve shown these plates stop the most stressing bullet in theatre,” Cole said. To protect deployed service members he would not disclose what round that is.
During the test, the Army fires the bullet at the plates at a speed that far exceeds the muzzle velocity or the normal weapon. “Again and again, they stop the enemy bullets they were designed to stop,” Cole said.
Phillips and Cole said hundreds of stories exist of service members surviving point-blank enemy fire with only bruises.
Earlier this month a Pentagon report revealed that the inserts added to five million bullet proof vests may not be up to standards due to poor testing, potentially putting at risk the lives of US soldiers.
The vests were manufactured between 2004 and 2006 by seven firms in a contract worth some US$2.5 billion, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general.
“The Army lacks assurance that 5.1 million ballistic inserts acquired through the seven contracts provide appropriate protection,” the report said.
“We determined that ballistic testing and quality assurance for Interceptor Body Armour inserts did not have proper controls to ensure that the ballistic inserts met contract requirements.
“Consequently, the Army cannot be sure that the appropriate level of protection has been achieved.”
According to quality control, the inserts should be tested at an ambient temperature of around 58 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (14 to 26 degrees C), with humidity levels of around 40-60%.
However, the report found that in 52% of the cases these conditions were not met.
This is not the first time body armour has not lived up to standards. In February last year, Lincoln Fabrics Ltd, a Canadian weaver of ballistic fabrics, and its American subsidiary, agreed to pay the United States US$4 million to settle a lawsuit against Lincoln weaving Zylon fabric used in the manufacture and sale of defective Zylon bullet-proof vests.
Lincoln manufactured Zylon fabric was used in bullet-proof vests sold by several companies, including Second Chance Body Armour Inc., First Choice Armour Inc. and Point Blank Body Armor Inc. These vests were purchased by the United States, and its allies.
The United States alleged that the Zylon in the vests lost its ballistic capability quickly, especially when exposed to heat and humidity.
The United States previously settled with six other participants in the Zylon body armour industry for over US$54 million.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon report published by the New York Times in January 2006 found that 80% of the Marines killed in the Iraq war from chest wounds would have survived if their bullet-proof vests had been more effective and had covered them more.