By John J. KruzelFebruary 2, 2009
WASHINGTON - Soldiers should have full confidence in the quality of a particular series of Army-issued body armor plates that has come under recent scrutiny, Army officials said.
Scores of Army tests and an independent evaluation have determined the effectiveness of three types of ceramic plates manufactured by Armor Works of Chandler, Ariz., said Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, one of the officers who oversees equipment as part of the Army's Program Executive Office Soldier.
"Those plates being worn on the backs and fronts of Soldiers all around the world are quality product," Fuller said in an interview.
An audit published today by the Defense Department's Inspector General concluded the Army did not adhere to contract requirements in the first phase of tests performed on three designs submitted by Armor Works, and recommended the 16,413 sets of these plates in the field be returned.
Army Secretary Pete Geren disputed this finding, but agreed to order the withdrawal of the nearly 33,000 components from the total armor plate supply of about 9 million, as a precautionary measure.
Fuller said reactions to the audit have caused a "perception issue" being fueled by a characterization of the protective components as being unsafe. But a battery of tests performed throughout the life cycle of Army equipment ensures the effectiveness of Soldiers' gear, he added.
"The [news] organizations are saying we are doing a recall because we have defective armor," he said. "That is not the case."
While the Army concedes there were "anomalies" in its initial evaluation process, known as first article tests, repeated follow-up analyses by the Army and a separate review by the Director of Operational Test & Evaluation office, validate the equipment's safety, Fuller said.
The test and evaluation office, the Defense Department's premier ballistics testing shop, functions independently of the Army.
"That's why we're standing behind these three sets of designs of body armor," Fuller said. "We've tested it, we've validated it -- in this case, we've even had someone else validate the same information."
The Army, meanwhile, has asked the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense to adjudicate its disagreement with the Inspector General - the first time a mediation request of this kind has been invoked, Fuller said.
Asked what message he sends troops in the field wearing Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, which entails the Armor Works designs, Fuller said, "Wear them --you've got the best thing on ... It'll stop that round."
Sgt. Maj. Tom Coleman, who has had four tours of duty and also works in the Program Executive Office Soldier, said he has full confidence in the plates that are being returned, adding that he has seen them withstand a bullet round in combat.
"I've seen plates that have been hit, and I've seen what happens; it's primarily bruising," Coleman said. "I have never seen the skin get broken on a round that hit the armor.
"I have never seen it fail," he added. "And there are no reports that I've seen or that I'm aware of that are out there of any body armor failing to stop the round it was designed to stop."