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Is the U.S. Army Deliberately Endangering the Lives of Our Warfighters?

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by David Crane
[email protected]

Well, the next day (January 14th), Mr. Helms wrote about a very disturbing situation. Helms reported that two soldiers getting ready to deploy to Iraq were being forced to leave their Pinnacle Armor Dragon Skin vests behind. They were informed that if didn’t leave the Dragon Skin body armor behind, their $400,000 SGLI life insurance policies might be nullified in the event of their deaths, so their beneficiaries would receive nothing. Helms also reported that the two soldiers were told they might also face disciplinary action for not complying with the order to leave the Pinnacle Armor vests behind.

According to the SFTT report, the soldiers complied with the order, so they will now have to…

wear official issue body armor–most likely the Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor System Outer Tactical Vest (OTV), which has been the subject of considerable criticism of late, with regard to ballistic performance and durability.


Helms/SFTT reports
that one of the soldier’s commanders expressed deep regret about ordering him to leave his Dragon Skin body armor behind, but that he "had no choice because the orders came from very high up." If this report is true, it’s DefenseReview’s opinion that an investigation should be launched immediately into who is behind these orders. Whoever it is, (again, if the SFTT report is accurate) they deserve to be prosecuted. They’re putting the lives of infantrymen in danger by increasing the likelihood they’ll be killed in combat. It’s actually ironic and arguably criminal that they’re threatening our soldiers with losing their death benefits while simultaneously increasing the likelihood that those soldiers will be killed in combat. Assuming Helms’ information is accurate, it would appear that there’s a concerted effort afoot to protect U.S. Army Natick’s Interceptor body armor program by any means necessary. The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center/U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center doesn’t hold any patent rights (or intellectual property rights of any kind) on Pinnacle Armor Dragon Skin, so perhaps they (elements of the Department of Defense (DoD)/U.S. Army command structure) just want to kill it, along with the guys who want to wear it.

Defense Review sincerely hopes that’s not the case. So, we hope that the DefenseWatch/SFTT report is inaccurate. We’ll try to get to the bottom of it.

These days, our infantry warfighters are suffering 95% of the combat casualties, so they deserve to have the absolute best infantry small arms and body armor that this country can afford. But, apparently, that’s not what they’re getting. The body armor situation is really just par for the course, since our infantry has been contending with sub-standard small arms for decades. The 5.56x45mm FN M249 SAW/LMG (Squad Automatic Weapon/Light Machine Gun) should have been replaced a long time ago. It’s too heavy (a claimed weight of 16.75 lbs) for an LMG/SAW, and isn’t sufficiently reliable or accurate. Every bonafide small arms expert that DefenseReview has spoken with has characterized the FN M249 SAW as "a piece of crap", and we’re quoting them diplomatically. The 7.62x51mm FN M240B GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun), at 27 lbs empty, is way too heavy for mobile infantry use. And, both weapons represent approx. 50-year old tech. Even the latest variants of the M16, the M16A4 rifle and Colt M4/M4A1 Carbine represent technology that’s at least 50 years old, now, and should have been replaced with a better solution a long time ago.

The problem is that the best current small arms solutions are being actively blocked by DoD/U.S. Army elements that control the small arms procurement/adoption system. This system is broken and corrupt. Elements within U.S. Army Materiel Command, and Picatinny Arsenal/JSSAP appear to be more concerned with their own careers and survival than the lives/survival of our infantry warfighters (our guys on the ground doing the actual fighting). The current small arms development and procurement/adoption system isn’t just broken. It’s terminally broken, and needs to be completely overhauled. To DefenseReview’s knowledge, Picatinny Arsenal/JSSAP hasn’t developed and successfully fielded a single infantry small arm since Picatinny took over military small arms procurement/adoption after the old Springfield Armory (U.S. Army, not private company currently operating in Illinois) was rased to the ground over 40 years ago. Picatinny Arsenal/JSSAP unfortunately hasn’t proven itself to be any more effective than the old Springfield Armory, and our infantry warfighters are suffering for it. Unfortunately, like any organism, the current system will fight tooth and nail to defend itself in order to live on. But, make no mistake, it needs to be killed, just like the old Springfield Armory (U.S. Army’s Springfield Armory, not the current private company in Illinois) before it.

Understand that the best small arms concepts/solutions right now are coming from small (small arms) design and development firms, not from large defense contractors, but these small firms/companies are not receiving any of the development money that’s floating around. There’s a mentality in the DoD and U.S. Army hierarchy that only the large defense contractors should get development funds for small arms development. They’ve thus created a closed loop where only those large defense contractors who are part of the in-crowd get funding for their small arms projects that never seem to amount to much. The HK XM29/OICW program is perhaps the most visible example of this problem in recent years. The HK XM8 program is a continuation of this flawed system. The XM8 was an offshoot of the deeply troubled ATK/HK XM29/OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) program, and was an attempt to salvage the most viable part of the XM29/OICW–the underbarrel-mounted 5.56mm "kinetic-energy" portion of the weapon, but even the XM8 was flawed and couldn’t pass muster. Now, the gas piston-driven/op rod HK416 carbine is perhaps a more intelligent and viable solution than the XM8, but the HK416 doesn’t offer any lethality advantage (or proven combat-reliability advantage, for that matter) over the M16 series (like the M16A4 rifle) or M4/M4A1 Carbine. Even if the HK416 proves to stay a little cooler on full-auto fire, requires a little less maintenance in the field, or works a little better on full-auto with a silencer/suppressor attached (We have yet to see concrete data on any of these three points.), is it worth the cost of converting all of our assault rifles and carbines over without getting increased lethality/hit probability in return? I think not.

And, why the HK416 instead of the Patriot Ordnance Factory, Inc. (P.O.F-USA) P-415/P-416 Gas Piston Uppers w/C.R.O.S., FNH SCAR-L (5.56mm)/SCAR-H (7.62mm) system, Robinson Armament XCR Multi-Caliber Carbine, or Cobb MCR system, any of which might prove to be just as good or better than the HK416? But none of those systems would be any more lethal, either. It should be noted that the FN SCAR-L/SCAR-H weapons system would most likely be a more expensive solution, since it would require replacing the entire weapon, rather than just the upper receiver. Going to the FN SCAR system would also require a greater degree of operator retraining, since the system is different in operation, ergonomics, and takedown in relation to the AR-15/M16-variant weapons.

It’s important to note that there are infantry small arms concepts out there that can be completely developed and fielded within 2.5-3 years that would dominate all the aforementioned small arms systems and provide the troops with a significant lethality advantage (and in the case of a certain 7.62mm GPMG concept, a very big weight advantage) over all current assault rifles and machine guns being fielded by U.S. infantry forces. That’s right, there are small arms systems concepts out there that are ready to go. All they need is funding. Our troops could have far-superior infantry small arms at their disposal that would literally dominate all the other small arms systems (assault rifle/carbines and machine guns) on the current battlefield. But, this, most likely, won’t happen. These vastly superior small arms concepts (purposely unnamed for the time-being) have virtually no chance in the current bureaucratic U.S. military procurement/adoption environment, because they’re on the outside of the system, not the inside. So, companies like ATK (Alliant Techsystems), GDATP (General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products), FNH USA (U.S. manufacturing and marketing arm of FN Herstal, Belgium), HK USA/HK Defense (U.S. marketing arm fo Heckler & Koch, Germany), Colt, and other major small arms/light weapons/crew-served weapons manufacturers will continue to get the big development (funding) and procurement contracts for the foreseeable future, and our infantry warfighters will continue fighting in places like Fallujah and Najaf (Iraq) with assault rifles and machine guns that aren’t nearly as good as they deserve. Virtually all small arms currently issued to and employed/deployed by our infantry forces are made by foreign companies–FN Herstal and Beretta–and right now, the DoD/U.S. Army appears to be doing everything in its power to give Heckler & Koch a major military contract, one way or the other, whether it be the HK XM8, HK416, or an HK pistol in .45 ACP.

If it weren’t so tragic, it would be funny that one of the biggest potential scandals–corruption in the U.S. military’s small arms development and procurement/adoption system–hasn’t been reported on at all by the "mainstream" media. At least the corruption relating to body armor procurement/adoption appears to be getting some attention, now. However, just like Army Materiel Command and Picatinny Arsenal/JSSAP have a stranglehold on infantry small arms development and procurement/adoption, U.S. Army Natick may have the same type of stranglehold on infantry body armor. We’ll look into it.

Ultimately, no matter how advanced your aircraft, ships, subs, missile systems, communications systems, and other big-ticket items are, it always comes down to our guys on the ground, our infantry warfighters. And, with regard to equipment (hardware), after strategic and tactical intel and communcations, their survival comes down to two primary components–weapons (assault rifles and machine guns) and body armor. That’s their primary line of defense (relating to equipment/hardware)–their light support system, if you will, and they’re not getting what they could be getting if the DoD/U.S. Army’s system were fair, open, and much quicker.

According to Jim Sullivan (L. James Sullivan), arguably the best and most prolific small arms designer/developer in the world (currently living), "taking just assault rifles as an example, our troops have been outgunned for 30 years. The AK-74, carried by every one of our third world opponents, is superior to the M16, which I co-designed and developed at Armalite 47 years ago [work actually started in June 1957, when it was still called the AR-15, and ended in 1959]. 60% of our military personnel who actually take a shot at the enemy, do it with some type of small arm [rifle/carbine, machine gun, or pistol]." Mr. Sullivan later went on to co-design and develop the Stoner 63 Weapon System (at Cadillac Gage) in the early 1960′s for the U.S. military and Ultimax 100 LMG/SAW (at CIS, now ST Kinetics, Singapore) in the late 1970′s/early 1980′s for the Singapore Armed Forces.

Side note on the Ultimax: The Ultimax 100 LMG/SAW is particularly important in the history of infantry small arms design and development. With it’s employment of "Constant-Recoil", which Sullivan patented for gas-operated firearms, the Ultimax 100 proved that a lightweight machine gun could outhit a heavier machine gun (in the same caliber) on full-auto. "Constant-Recoil" is a patented (since expired) recoil attenuation/mitigation system which greatly increases hit probability for full-auto small arms (machine guns). You can actually hold the Ultimax 100 up against your chin and fire (full auto) without hurting yourself. The Ultimax is considered by every small arm expert that Defense Review has spoken with to be significantly superior to the FN M249 SAW, which is the U.S. military’s primary light machine gun/squad automatic weapon. The 9-pound (dry weight) Ultimax is lighter, more controllable, more reliable in adverse conditions, and faster to reload than the M249 SAW. Well-known small arms expert/writer/historian Charles Cutshaw (a.k.a. Charlie Cutshaw) recently told DefRev that Jim Sullivan’s Ultimax 100 LMG/SAW is, hands down, "the best light machine gun [/squad automatic weapon] in the world, today." At approx. 9 lbs (dry/empty weight), the Ultimax is also the lightest –and, simultaneously, the most controllable–LMG/SAW in the world.

Anyway, let’s all hope that the SFTT report (about the soldiers having to leave their Pinnacle Armor Dragon Skin behind) is inaccurate. DefenseReview sincerely hopes that it’s not true.

On another side note, Defense Tech reported on January 17th (2006) that it’s their understanding that "the basic Dragon Skin vest weighs about 8 lbs. more than the Interceptor OTV armor that soldiers generally wear now. That extra weight, I’m guessing, is the reason why one commander tried to spook his men out of their Skin." According to a Pinnacle Armor representative (when we asked him about Dragon Skin weight vs. Interceptor weight), (excerpted) "[for] any given size, our technology [Dragon Skin] weighs the same as their’s[Interceptor], when you ad the side SAPI [plates]. We [provide] more coverage at the same weight as what they provide, and we make it flexible, and more durable, and more usable. [Ours is] only an inch thick, and it stays out of the way. Durability–ours lasts the entire length of the warranty [6 years]. You can drop our complete vest out of a two-story window, pick it up and shoot it, and you’re not going to have degradation like you are with their’s [Interceptor body armor]. [Interceptor body armor (with the plates in it) can't be] dropped from chest high, and then take a hit and survive. [For the same size] Our standard [Dragon Skin] vest weighs the same as their vest with two plates [front and back], and our full coverage option weighs the same as their’s with side SAPI’s."

When we asked the Pinnacle Armor representative how Dragon Skin’s front and back coverage (surface area) compares to Interceptor’s coverage, he replied "We have 40% more coverage than two 10×12-inch plates in a large. And, then we have 120 square inches more in our full coverage than two 10x12s [front and back SAPI, ISAPI, or ESAPI plates] and two side SAPIs–8x10s–then what they have, and, of course, [Dragon Skin] is durable, flexible. It takes a hell of a lot more hits than theirs." The Pinnacle Armor rep got more specific on this point, but DefenseReview is leaving this information out of this article for the purpose of OPSEC (Operational Security).

DefenseReview has also received an unconfirmed/unverified report that Dr. James Zheng (Jim Zheng) at U.S. Army Natick has a very critical report in his posession on SAPI plate durability and performance in the field. We’ll try to get our hands on that report. We’ve also heard that the Chicago Tribune is going to publish an interesting article on Interceptor body armor and/or SAPI plates on January 22nd (Sunday), but we’re not sure about this. This is just a rumor, at this point.

Is the U.S. Army Deliberately Endangering the Lives of Our Warfighters? by
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About David Crane

David Crane started publishing online in 2001. Since that time, governments, military organizations, Special Operators (i.e. professional trigger pullers), agencies, and civilian tactical shooters the world over have come to depend on Defense Review as the authoritative source of news and information on "the latest and greatest" in the field of military defense and tactical technology and hardware, including tactical firearms, ammunition, equipment, gear, and training.

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