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U.S. Army Stops Independent Testing of Interceptor Body Armor (UPDATE 1)

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By Roger Charles
DefenseWatch

10-17-2007

UPDATE to following article: Two congressional sources report that the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (on the staff of the Secretary of Defense) caught the Army’s attempted exemption of current Interceptor vendors from independent testing, as allowed in the original solicitation. Under pressure from DOT&E, in August the Army issued a modification not listing the exemption. All responders will now undergo at least part of the independent technical assessment, although current vendors remain exempt from initial qualifying tests. DefenseWatch will issue additional UPDATE’s as new, confirmed information warrants.

In
a June 22 letter to Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee (SASC), "Pete" Geren (then Acting Secretary of the
Army) wrote, "..the U.S. Army will provide independent and unbiased testers to evaluate all proposals to the body armor solicitation."

Geren did not place an asterisk after this statement, one notifying Levin that all current Interceptor Body Army vendors have been exempted from testing.

But, he should have since only new responders to the Army’s solicitation will be forced to…

undergo extensive, expensive independent testing that was the subject of so much debate and discussion in Congress. (See quotes below, and see the original Request For Proposal, page 67, paragraph 4.A(2), and page 69, paragraph 6.B(1)).

The
status-quo, pro-Interceptor crowd has achieved its number one objective
– continue hiding the sub-standard performance of Interceptor’s
protective ballistic plates by not allowing independent testing.
Testing that for the first time the Army would not have been able to
control.

Army acquisition officials have skillfully crafted the current RFP to exempt favored Interceptor vendors from almost certain embarrassing test results,
while forcing new contenders to run the gauntlet of lengthy, expensive
– and unprecedented — two-tiered testing. (More about these items in
an upcoming issue of DefenseWatch.)

For
sure, some folks inside the Washington Beltway will be getting healthy
Christmas bonuses for pulling off this Houdini-like escape for the
Interceptor gang. No doubt these bonuses will be well deserved — this
is about as clever a maneuver as this writer has ever witnessed.

Yep,
many in the Military Industrial Complex "Iron Triangle" — (1) Army
acquisition, (2) congressional enablers, and (3) contractors/lobbyists
– will be financially rewarded for ensuring that America’s brave
frontline grunts continue wearing inferior body armor on the killing
fields. Those not getting immediate rewards in the form of huge
end-of-the-year bonuses in the private sector will get their deferred
payments after they pass through the revolving door from "public
service" into Contractor/Lobbyist Fat City.

Just how was the acquisition process rigged to keep Interceptor "standard issue"?

First,
they wrote the RFP so that current contractors producing Interceptor
are "grand-fathered" based on qualification tests that took place up to
nine years ago, supervised by Army acquisition officials under
"closed-door" conditions. Further, at least two of the vendors have
on-the-record, pending investigations for failure to comply with
contract specifications on items critical to the life-saving
performance of their products, but neither has been suspended from
participation in current or future Army body armor contracts. Not
surprisingly, access to needed test data has been denied, even to
Congress.


EXEMPTION FOR CURRENT INTERCEPTOR PROVIDERS

Army
acquisition officials drafted the RFP in such a way that current
Interceptor producers don’t have to go through testing of either
Production Demonstration Models (PDM’s ), or testing of additional
items under protocols of the First Article Test (FAT). And remember,
current Interceptor producers qualified their products through a
"closed-door" FAT process under the supervision of Army-only
acquisition officials that included some identified in previous
DefenseWatch articles. Officials committed to concealing the true
performance of Interceptor plates.

Congress clearly intended for all body armor alternatives to be tested — see the statements quoted below — yet, the Army expressly ignored by grand-fathering.

Worth
noting is the date the RFP was issued: 23 May 2007. Eleven days before
the HASC hearing of June 6, the Army issued their RFP, grand-fathering
current Interceptor contractors. Yet, two Army generals, a three-star
and a one-star, sat a congressional hearing and spoke not a word about
the Army had already planned to circumvent the key reason for that
hearing: Congress’ demand for full and fair testing of all available
body armors.

As
a result, the only body armor to undergo independent testing as
demanded by bi-partisan leaders of both the HASC and the SASC will be
that provided by prospective new vendors.

Even
though the test overseers (the Director of Test & Evaluation and
the Director of Defense Research and Engineering — both are from
Office of the Secretary of Defense) were supposedly required by our
Congress to vet all commercially available body armor alternatives, the
Army has seen fit to defy this directive and give their chosen few a
pass. The bottom line is that these independent agencies will not be testing the increasingly suspect Interceptor ballistic plates. Just as the GAO (Government Accountability Office) observers will be watching only prospective new vendors’ products.

So much for a full and fair test of all body armor alternatives.


KEY CONGRESSIONAL STATEMENTS:

Senators Carl Levin (Chairman) & John McCain (Ranking Member), SASC:


We are convinced that the Department
of Defense must definitively and officially determine the facts
regarding the protective qualities of the body armor we are currently
providing our troops and that of any other commercially available comparable and competing system.

Accordingly, we request that you order the Director, Defense Research
and Engineering, under the oversight of the Director, Operational Test
and Evaluation, to conduct a comprehensive technical
assessment of the individual body armor systems currently available in
the domestic market that claim to be capable of level IV protection.
(Letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates of May 21, 2007) (Emphasis added.)

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton & James Webb (SASC) in a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States:


we request that the Government Accountability Office reassess the
various body armor systems currently being employed by all branches of
the armed forces and the Special Operations Command for effectiveness
and reliability against the threats facing our troops in combat. The
scope of this review should include: (1) a comparison and testing of the Interceptor Body Army system with other commercially available products
including the Pinnacle Dragon Skin Body Armor (sic) system and the
Special Operations Forces Equipment Advanced Requirements (SPEAR) to determine if our troops are currently issued the best available body armor system; a determination of the necessary procurement steps required to obtain and field the best body armor systems for the armed forces;
and (3) a review to confirm compliance and applicability of current
body armor system policies and Safety-of-Use Messages for wear that
apply to conventional forces and special operations forces in Iraq and
Afghanistan. (Letter to The Honorable David M. Walker, Comptroller
General of the United States, dated May 18, 2007) (Emphasis added.)

Senator James Webb:

For several years, I
have heard reports from active duty troops and military experts that
Dragon Skin body armor is more effective than that currently being used.
We owe it to those who are in harm’s way to examine conclusively whether this is true.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton:

With United States troops risking their lives daily in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, we owe it to them to make sure thy have the best equipment possible.
(Joint Press Release by Senators Webb and Clinton with accompanying
text of letter to the Comptroller General, dated May 18, 2007)
(Emphasis added.)

Rep. Ike Skelton, Chairman of the HASC:

"I would urge the Army to conduct comprehensive first article tests of the current body armor system [Interceptor] and the Pinnacle Dragon Skin system using an independent third party as control. (Opening Statement, Full Committee Hearing re Department of Defense Body Armor Programs, June 6, 2007) (Emphasis added.)

Rep. Duncan Hunter, Ranking Member of the HASC:

"So I hope that we finish this hearing off by coming to some kind of an agreed third-party test… that will help to resolve this issue… I think we’ve got all of the information that we need to put this stuff side by side, get those M-14′s ready to go. [Duncan wanted M-14's with their 7.62mm rounds to be used testing of both body armors.] And if we can get better equipment to the troops, let’s do it…
we need to sweep all the underbrush aside and look directly at the key
question, which is, does this technology [Dragon Skin] have some value?
And is it, in fact, if we test it with a straight-up, side-by-side test,
will it demonstrate values that either now or if changed somewhat, if
adapted, would save more lives of our folks in theater?(Transcript of
HASC hearing, pages 5, 119, and 136, June 6, 2007) (Emphasis added.)

Rep. Mike Ross and 41 colleagues in the House of Representatives:

… we are calling for an unbiased, external investigation to determine whether the IBA is the most effective body armor available for our troops. This would include an independent
assessment of the previous tests conducted on Dragon Skin to determine
if they were done objectively using the current standard testing
practices and also an independent, objective assessment of the Dragon
Skin Body Armor…
We are also requesting copies of
any conclusive evidence confirming that the Dragon Skin body army does
not meet the military’s specifications and the Interceptor Body Armor
currently being used is the best body armor available.
(Letter
to the Secretary of Defense and to the Acting Secretary of the Army
from Congressman Mike Ross and 41 colleagues, dated April 25, 2007)
(Emphasis added.)

CONCLUSION

So,
if you are under the impression that Congress directed that there be
independent technical assessments of all commercially available body
armors, including Interceptor, you can see after reading the above
quotes that you are joined by at least four US Senators and 44 members
of the House of Representatives, including both the Chairman and
Ranking members of both Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

Hopefully,
last-minute intervention will compel the Army to comply with the
above-quoted congressional directives that all commercially available
body armors be fully and fairly tested by independent, unbiased experts.

After four and a half years and needless deaths of our young soldiers, honest and open testing is sadly long overdue.

Editor’s
note: For those readers who share DefenseWatch’s feeling of outrage and
betrayal of America’s frontline troops by the Army’s conniving in the
RFP, contact your congressional representatives and demand that
Interceptor must be subjected — for the first time
– to full and fair testing conducted by independent agencies in a
totally transparent process. The lives of our brave frontline warriors
are at stake.

U.S. Army Stops Independent Testing of Interceptor Body Armor (UPDATE 1) 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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