WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 22, 2007) - U.S. troops operating in Iraq and Afghanistan have the best body armor in the world, and the Army is constantly looking for ways to improve force protection, the general in charge of the program told reporters here today.
"Force protection is the No. 1 priority of the U.S. Army. We value our Soldiers very highly, and we do everything we can do to ensure that they have the finest in force protection as they go into the battle," Brig. Gen. R. Mark Brown, Program Executive Officer Soldier, said at a Pentagon news conference.
In response to a May 17 NBC News report challenging the Army's use of Interceptor body armor vs. the newer "Dragon Skin" armor developed by Pinnacle Armor Inc., Brig. Gen. Brown today released information about the testing that ruled out Dragon Skin a year ago.
The tests were conducted May 16 to 19, 2006, at H.P. White labs near Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The Pinnacle armor was subjected to the same tests Interceptor body armor goes through, first being X-rayed and analyzed and then undergoing a series of live-fire tests, Brown said. The live-fire tests included room-temperature tests, harsh environment tests, and durability and drop tests.
Of the eight Pinnacle vests tested, four of them failed the tests, with 13 rounds penetrating completely on the first or second shot, Brig. Gen. Brown said. After the first complete penetration, the vests technically failed the test, but the Army continued the testing to be fair, he said.
The Pinnacle vests also were subjected to extreme temperature variations, from minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which would be a realistic cycle if the equipment was loaded onto a plane and flown to the Middle East, Brig. Gen. Brown said. These temperature tests caused the adhesive holding the Dragon Skin's protective discs together to fail, and the discs gathered at the bottom of the vest, leaving gaps in protection, he said.
Brig. Gen. Brown also noted that the Dragon Skin vests are significantly heavier and thicker than the Interceptor vests. Dragon Skin vests in size extra large are 47.5 pounds and 1.7 to 1.9 inches thick; the Interceptor vests in size large, which offer an equivalent coverage area to the extra large Dragon Skin vests, weigh 28 pounds and are 1.3 inches thick.
"Bottom line is it does not meet Army standards," the general said of the Pinnacle body armor.
Brig. Gen. Brown showed reporters videos of the tests, which were supervised by the chief executive officer of Pinnacle. He also displayed the actual vests that were tested, with markers showing the penetration sites.
The Army did not initially release the information about the tests because of possible security concerns, Brown said. "We are facing a very media-savvy enemy," he said. "They're not only media-savvy, they are Internet savvy. ... Everything that we put out into the public domain, we pretty much assume that they get. We don't like to discuss our vulnerabilities and our counters to the vulnerabilities in the open public."
However, after the NBC report, Army leaders felt they needed to counter any doubts in the minds of servicemembers and their Families, Brig. Gen. Brown said. "Our Soldiers and, more importantly, the Families - the wives, the children, the parents - have to have confidence that our soldiers have the best equipment in the world," he said.
Right now, the Army's safety-of-use message mandates all Soldiers use Interceptor body armor, which has passed the same tests the Pinnacle armor failed, Brig. Gen. Brown said. The Army is interested in a more flexible armor, like the Pinnacle design, and if the company improves its product, it could be reconsidered, he said.
Brig. Gen. Brown stressed that the Army has more than one set of body armor for every Soldier in the combat theater, and that he has all the money and support he needs to make improvements to force protection. Also, the Army is constantly working to develop new technologies that will deliver better protection.
"This is not just a matter of debate for us; this is personal," he said, noting that many of his staff members have relatives or friends who have served or are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
(Sgt. Sara Wood serves with American Forces Press Service.)