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Transcript: Gen. Sorenson’s statements about Dragon Skin vs. Interceptor armor

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The following is a U.S. Department of Defense Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) News Transcript – Unclassified

Presenter: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, deputy, Acquisition and Systems Management, for the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology

March 31, 2006

News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Sorenson

GEN. SORENSON: Good afternoon.

I’ve just been asked to come down here to talk about a few things with respect to some reports that have been in the press. But before I do that, let me make — and I don’t have any formal statement — but let me just talk a little bit about what we do in the Army with respect to delivering of capability.

We have a very disciplined process that we go through in terms of providing capability and fielding equipment. It’s a very disciplined process. It’s a very rigorous process. It has stood the test of time. And there are three fundamental aspects of this:…

the equipment that we deliver to the soldier is safe, it is suitable and it’s effective. And we have standards to make sure that all those particular criteria are met. If, in fact, those criteria are not met, then the equipment is not fielded. And I know in some cases there have been advertisements about capabilities that particular companies have that they think is better than what we have, in this case, delivered, but the fact of the matter is they have not met the Army’s standard to date.

And I can tell you that I respond to letters on a very frequent basis that either companies or individuals have sent in to Congressional members, that they’ve got the latest, greatest product and why can’t we use it. And all we do is give them the point of contact, who to go to — who to do see with respect to demonstrating that they can meet the Army’s standard. And that’s just but the facts of life. I mean, you can meet the Army’s standard, we’ll field. You can’t meet, we don’t field. And there is — that is a red line for us.

So with that, I don’t really have anything more to say, but I’m here to answer some of your questions.

Q General Sorenson?

GEN. SORENSON: Yeah.

Q Matthew Cox from Army Times.

Do you believe in the safety message that says that Dragon Skin currently — the current form of it — does not meet the Army requirements?

GEN. SORENSON: That’s correct.

Q Can you go into some detail as to why it does not?

GEN. SORENSON: Well, I’m not going to go into the specific details, but I’ll say this. That particular, if you will, capability right now has basically been a Small Business Innovative Research project that the Army has put close to a million dollars into, and we are encouraging everybody to provide their good ideas.

I can just tell you at this point in time that the standard that we have set for our individual body armor is known to all, and we have an independent lab that does it, so it’s not some sort of special Army test, you know, done in a back room where you kind of grade the paper. It’s an independent lab that does the evaluation, and they have, at this point in time, agreed to provide some product-representative capabilities sometime in the next few months and we can actually go up and demonstrate a test. But to date, they have not provided production-representative capability for us to evaluate.

Okay. Yes, sir?

Ma’am?

Q General, can you tell us today with certainty that everyone who’s serving in Iraq and Afghanistan has the best possible body armor available? Is that — are you confident they —

GEN. SORENSON: I can say that with — unequivocally state that we have provided to the field, to theater, effective, I think it was the first part of March here, where we got a response back from Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) that we had provided them their requirement in terms of IBA — basically the outer tactical vest, as well as the SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert), ESAPI (the plates) whatever is required, that they have satisfied that requirement. And that is currently in theater, that’s true.

Q Would you say that these companies that are offering up this other armor — are they war profiteers, then, or …?

GEN. SORENSON: No, I would not go so far as to say that. Again, what I’m saying is this particular company, Pinnacle Armor, we have — the Army has invested close to a million dollars in terms of trying to encourage them to work with and develop a different set of body armor, if you will.

I mean, the body armor that we’re currently now providing in terms of fielding has gone through seven iterations — seven improvements, if you will. And so they’ve basically gone back and taken a look at that and tried to come up with a different way of doing it, and we’re encouraging them to do such. But until they meet the Army’s standard in terms of what we set for safety, for being effective and suitable, it’s not going to be fielded.

Yes, sir?

Q Now, can I just clarify one point that you made and then ask a question? You said that earlier in March you were informed that the amount of body armor was in the field that needed to be there?

GEN. SORENSON: Right.

Q Are you saying that until the beginning of this month, there wasn’t?

GEN. SORENSON: Oh, no, no, no. No, let me reiterate what I said. We have continued to provide capability to the theater. We have continued to meet their requirements. The latest iteration, the latest improvement has now been completely fielded to theater. So what I mean by that is, as of March – now — we’ve actually provided the latest capability. Up until that point in time, we just kept evolving over time. So we have met requirements way! back, and we can go back and provide that history for you in terms of chronology, when we have satisfied different requirements, but we have satisfied requirements all along. All I’m saying is in this particular case it was the latest iteration of improvements that we basically provided to theater.

Q Was there ever a shortage of — oh, I’m sorry. You had another question. Go ahead.

Q I just wanted to ask, if a soldier doesn’t think that they are being given the best equipment, what’s wrong with them using something they buy with their own money that they have confidence in?

GEN. SORENSON: Well, we put out a safety of use message, and we put it out to the commanders. And basically, the safety of use message said that we consider that if there’s something other than what we have given and standardized as our IBA standard, that there is a concern that the Army has in terms of death or injury. So it’s a pretty significant statement to put out a safety of use message. It’s not something we take lightly.

And, you know, if a Soldier is just going to basically disobey, then I’m not sure what — you know, that’s a command issue that has to be taken care of in the theater and within the particular command. So, I don’t know if that answers the question.

Q So — (inaudible) — they could be disciplined if they’re wearing —

GEN. SORENSON: Yes, that’s correct.

Q General, was there ever a shortage of body armor in Iraq? And when did it — when was the problem corrected, if there was a problem?

GEN. SORENSON: Well, I mean, I don’t know — how far are we going back here?

Q Well, since the U.S. troops invaded, and was there a point where there was a shortage, and when was it over?

GEN. SORENSON: I would say this. You know, when we first deployed, yeah, the guys that basically or the people that basically had body armor were essentially the infantry or the armor soldiers — the ones who were doing the fight. And then after time, you know, we figured out that the fight was no longer just the road to Baghdad … it was essentially an asymmetric war, because we had people driving trucks that also became basically like infantry.

And so, yes, we had to ramp up. And was there a shortage over time? Yes. And when we first got started, we didn’t have, you know, hundreds and thousands of these sets that we had deployed.

Q Well, what do you have now?

GEN. SORENSON: We have over — I would say at this — we have satisfied the requirements, so it’s over 200,000 sets in theater.

Q Now, as I understand it, the appeal of this — some of the alternative body armor that you can buy commercially is, as you’re well aware, the number one complaint with body armor is it’s heavy.

GEN. SORENSON: Right.

Q And some of this stuff is lighter and more flexible. And isn’t there a trade-off in terms of, you know, having more mobility versus having more armor? And if soldiers are looking for something that maybe gives them more mobility, perhaps doesn’t give them the same protection, is that not something that people in the field who have to really deal with this ought to be able to take into account?

GEN. SORENSON: Well, I’ll say this, that’s true. I mean, but in some cases here we have not seen that this capability has done anything with respect to preventing — providing any level of force protection that we evaluate as even standard. So from that standpoint, it’s — I’m not sure wearing it provides anything more than what they’re wearing with the SAPI plates — with the — rather the OTV vest or something of that nature.

So I mean, it’s not —

Q Do you think it even provides minimum protection?

GEN. SORENSON: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I mean, there is particular evidence to state that we’re not really sure what it provides, and it has not demonstrated it can provide up to standard.

Q General, put aside the question of war profiteering. This company has made claims about this body armor that have been repeated and repeated, and have certainly raised expectations, you know, among families of soldiers that are deployed and among the soldiers themselves.

Is that unhelpful that they have raised these expectations? And have they made false claims about their product?

GEN. SORENSON: Well, again, I don’t want to label anything here with respect to that particular connotation, but what I would say is the following: I think the mothers and the fathers that are currently having soldiers deployed, whether they’re female or male, ought to feel comfortable with the fact and know from the standpoint that we have provided the best body armor that is available anywhere in the world. All these other claims that are being made are essentially at this point in time, that’s exactly what they are — claims. They have not been tested. They have not been evaluated. &nbs! p;They have not passed the rigor that we put into standards determining whether something is safe, effective and suitable. And until such time that they can do that, we will not give them, if you will, the good housekeeping seal of approval. Okay?

So from that standpoint, you know, if soldiers are doing this, they’re doing it at their own risk. And quite frankly, it’s probably not advisable because we have not found that the protection provided by these other particular systems is anywhere near what the soldiers have today.

Q General, can you say — does this weaken your argument at all that the other services have not followed suit, and/or that DOD has not sort of issued this directive in a blanket way to cover all of DOD, but the other services obviously allowing other armor to continue?

And then just secondarily, Pinnacle has said that they are going to provide this equipment for testing in May. Once that is done, is there an opening here to allow that, if it passes the test?

GEN. SORENSON: Let me — let me address the first point.

First of all, the requirement that — or the standard that has been satisfied at this point in time for the Army is the same for the Marine Corps. So the Marines and the Army are basically doing the same thing.

Now, I will say that there is another service that has procured this type of capability, but has recently recalled it because it did not meet standards.

So I don’t know, you know, if the other service — I can’t speak for the other services, like the Air Force and Navy — I can’t even speak for the Marine Corps, other than to say that I do know we have the same requirement. But what they decide is acceptable and suitable for their soldiers and airmen and sailors is essentially up to them.

Q Do you mean —

GEN. SORENSON: But let me get to the next question.

Your second question was, if they come in fact and show that they can demonstrate the capability, would we consider buying it? And I would say at the same point in time, the answer would be yes.

Q Or allowing soldiers to wear it, if they so choose to buy it themselves?

GEN. SORENSON: If they can provide the capability that satisfies the test which, to date, anything that they’ve delivered has not satisfied the test.

Q General Sorenson, I understand there are about 3,000 of these, according to the company, that are in theater now. It’s kind of an unusual issue because it’s sort of like saying you can purchase whatever weapon you want if you think it works better than the one you’re issued.

Is there any question that having a couple of soldiers — this isn’t something I’ve heard anyone mention — garbed in something that appears different is possibly a blue-on-blue issue? Because if you’ve got one guy who looks different from other soldiers and you’re in a split-second sort of situation where people have to decide whether someone’s a friendly or not, could that possibly be hazardous to that soldier?

GEN. SORENSON: Well, it could be. But I’m not sure that the — I wouldn’t even hesitate to suggest that that would be a possibility here. I mean, it may look different, but with everything else the soldiers are wearing, I’m not sure it’s going to materially show. Okay? I mean it is — I guess I would say this, could that be a potential scenario? The answer is yes. Is it likely? I’m not sure, okay?

The fact of the matter is — I get back to what I said earlier — we want these soldiers to have the best equipment, and that equipment is safe, suitable and effective. And to date, safety measures are predominant with everything we do. And we have received various reports back from soldiers who have been saved — you know, obviously with their plates and so forth, and that’s what we’ve basically focused on.

Q Well, what about soldiers and their families —

GEN. SORENSON: Let me just — let me just get back here.

Q I’m wondering if the Army has done any studies of casualties that would show that there is, you know, a significant incident of casualties that occurred with people wearing body armor that’s the commercial variety, you know, the kind that you want —

GEN. SORENSON: Well, there again, we do not use the theater of operations as a test case. So in some cases — in other words, what I’m saying, we’re not just out there — "You try this and see if it works, and if it doesn’t work, ‘sorry, you had a bad day.’"

Q But they are using it in the field, right? I mean —

GEN. SORENSON: Again, to my knowledge, I do not know. I mean, the claims are such — we have not been able to verify those claims. Every particular issue and statement that we sent out to the theater or as anybody wearing this, we have not received comments back that they are, so I do not know who has it. But I can tell you Army soldiers at this point in time, based upon the safety of use message that was sent out, are prohibited at this point in time from wearing it, and commanders — it’s a command requirement to basically take care of that.

Q General —

GEN. SORENSON: Yes, sir.

Q — there have been reports that soldiers have complained about the weight of their personal body armor, especially in Iraq in the summertime. I assume that must something you all are addressing, trying to reduce the weight.

GEN. SORENSON: Yes. Yes.

Q Is that one of your big efforts right now —

GEN. SORENSON: Right. And like I said, this company was — this Small Business Innovative Research was essentially awarded on that particular behalf that maybe they’ve got a different solution that we can take a look at and clearly making it to the point that it satisfies the standard and making it lighter is clearly what everybody is interested in.

But we have continued to examine all types of composites, all types of materials. So this is just a constant evolution. And if someone finds the Holy Grail, then we’ll be right there to back up the dump truck and buy it!

Q But you haven’t certified this armor? That’s the main —

GEN. SORENSON: That’s actually correct. It has not been certified.

Q Well, what about soldiers and their families who bought commercially available armor in good faith, thinking that it would be something that would be useful, and now they’re stuck with it? Is there any means for them to be reimbursed? I remember hearing something about legislation about reimbursement. What’s the status of that? Is there any reimbursement for people who put their own money out back when they thought they needed it?

GEN. SORENSON: You know, I think I’m going to have to — I don’t really know that I can answer that question, Jamie, entirely because I’m not sure exactly where that is.

I know at one point in time — I think what we decided with respect to the safety of use message that was sent out on this particular system, the safety of use message essentially said we’ll go ahead and pay for the shipping cost to bring it back, but we will not at this point in time reimburse for the procurement of that particular system.

But on others, I think there is basic legislation that essentially says at a point in time when we did have a gap, when we weren’t able to provide the armor, those that basically procured armor can at this point submit a claim; that claim will be evaluated. If found to be valid, they will then be reimbursed.

STAFF: One more question, please, because we’ve got to —

Q General Sorenson —

Q General —

STAFF: This gentleman right here.

Q First of all, a quick question: Why did you specify one company specifically in that safety message, for question A?

GEN. SORENSON: Sure.

Q And for question B, could you be more specific about the money that you say you invested in the development of that specific body armor? Because company officials claim that the Army never invested any money and that they developed this system in 1998, before — and brought it to the Army.

GEN. SORENSON: Well, whether they developed it in 1998 — I can’t really address if in fact they have. I can tell you for a fact that we have a contract with them for Small Business Innovative Research, that we have provided something less than a million dollars — and it’s close to a million dollars. And that is — I mean — (coughs) — I’m sort of coughing — excuse me — because I’m "shocked" that they would say that.

Q Did that — (off mike) — then purchase the 30 vests, the vests —

GEN. SORENSON: Because they have a contract.

Q Right.

GEN. SORENSON: Now, if they want to go ahead and have us take the money back off the contract … we can easily do that. (Laughter.)

Q So that would — (off mike) — purchase of 30 vests — (off mike)?

GEN. SORENSON: No. No, no, no, no.

Q No —

GEN. SORENSON: No, that money is, again — the Small Business Innovative Research is a science and technology effort —

Q Okay.

GEN. SORENSON: — where we encourage many companies that are small. If they’ve got good ideas, they go through a process and they go through a — you know, showing what their capability is, and then we make an award. Okay. And they have gone through phase one, which was basically awarded in 2001. Phase two is to complete here in — I think July 2006. So they’ve gone through two phases.

Now, if they started this prior to that, that’s fine. Maybe we just added to it in order to help, you know, push them along.

Q What are you asking them to do? What is it —

GEN. SORENSON: Again, to demonstrate a capability. And all we said is, we would go ahead and actually pay for 30 sets of something coming off their production line that we can then take through our basic, you know, test phase that we do with everything else that we’ve done. And all these seven improvements that we’ve done on IBA have gone through the same test process. It’s been demonstrated to stand the — it has stood the test of time. It works. It’s effective. Everybody knows what it is. And they know what it is as well.

So when they show up with their stuff, we’ll test it. Depending upon what the test results show, we’ll buy it. Okay.

Q General, thank you.

Q I have one more question. I understand that the production of ESAPI plates has been reduced, and I’m wondering why that is and when that happened and by how much.

GEN. SORENSON: No, let me be clear about that. We had an immediate need to go ahead and satisfy theater requirements. We pushed to satisfy those theater requirements. We have not reduced the quantity with respect to how much ESAPI we are going to buy.

Now, at some point in time, mathematics are once you equip the entire Army, then you get into a sustain phase. So while we’ve ramped up to buy a lot of stuff with a lot of companies, we may have to back off just to get to sustainment. But we are still working to satisfy the, if you will, total Army requirement.

Q So you haven’t transitioned into that sustainment phase yet?

GEN. SORENSON: Not that I’m aware of, no. No. Because it was an indefinite in order quantity contract. And so nothing at this point in time has been reduced.

Thank you very much.

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