By David Crane
defrev at gmail dot com
February 5, 2009
On January 29, 2009, the Washington Times reported that the U.S. Army is recalling "more than 16,000 sets of ceramic body armor plates that the Pentagon’s inspector general believes were not properly tested and could jeopardize the lives of U.S. service personnel." This came just one day after the Times reported that the armor was "deemed unsafe by Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell." It would seem logical that "ceramic body armor plates" means ESAPI (also written E-SAPI) Level IV hard armor plates, but DefenseReview does not have confirmation on this, yet.
A DoD official is reported to have said that there are no reports of armor plate defects or deaths rusulting from the plates’ use. According to the Washington Times, the DoD official stated that the armor plates are being recalled "so that…
soldiers will not worry that they are wearing unsafe armor." The 16,000 recalled plates, all manufactured between 2005 and 2007, constitute 1.6 percent of the 1.9 million plates that the Army has purchased to date.
Danger Room over at Wired Blog Network has picked up on this story, and cites a March 31, 2008 DoD Inspector General Report on DOD Procurement Policy for Body Armor (Report No. D-2008-067) (PDF) that revealed that the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) "had procured billions of dollars in body armor without full testing." A new DoD Inspector General report that includes its latest findings on U.S. military body armor procurement is supposed to be released very soon (or possibly has already been released). However, a DoD official familiar with the situation has responded by saying that the "Army is going to push back" against this new DoD IG report, and accused the IG of "digging until something was found that was not very solid."
According to the Washington Times, U.S. Army and DoD officials are submitting (or have already submitted) information to the Inspector General’s office to challenge the latest findings. The Times also reported that in March 2008, the IG found that that "the Army did not follow federal requirements in procuring body armor components and identified deficiencies in 16 of 28 Army contracts."
Maj. Clifford Yarbrough, who served with the 3rd Special Forces group in Afghanistan, told The Times that his unit, along with other Special Forces and the Delta Forces, were issued titanium plates. These plates, which are ordered by these special units under a separate budget, can withstand multiple hits by the enemy and have saved many lives, said Maj. Yarbrough, who now teaches at a high school in Arkansas.
The major, who has two enlisted sons, said that the ceramic plates issued to Army and Marine Corps personnel do not provide sufficient protection against close enemy fire.
"Interceptor vests are not fielded with the interceptor titanium that give the men more enhanced protection," he said. "We had guys who were engaged, and short of a 50 caliber, it would stop everything. They got a little trauma from the bruising. Normally, those rounds would go right through them."
Army officials stand by the body armor that’s been fielded so far, and plan to challenge the IG’s March 2008 audit that found that in 11 of the 28 conracts, "adequate files were not kept and that it could not be determined whether the best informed decisions were made regarding procurement of body armor," according to the Times. This audit was apparently limited to Armya nd Marine Corps body armor contracts awarded and orders made between January 2004 and December 2006, which amounted to more than $5.2 billion.