We ran a headline on Military.com this morning about a report released yesterday by the Pentagon Inspector General on body armor testing

The report says the Army did poor quality assurance on several lots of Point Blank-made Interceptor Body Armor vests, posing a risk of about 340 lots of OTVs that weren’t inspected or randomly tested because the materials were the same. 

As some of you might remember, I did quite a bit of writing on the body armor issue back in 2005, culminating in a major story that the Marine Corps fielded thousands of Interceptor vests that Natick engineers said were dubious. Those stories prompted Congress to press for a series of DoD level investigations on testing and QA, and this most recent report is the third since 2007. 

The Army Program Manager for Soldier Equipment (PM SEQ) did not consistently enforce ballistic testing requirements for the five contracts. On two of the five contracts, PM SEQ lowered the testing requirements after three individual tests did not achieve the minimum velocity requirements. PM SEQ lowered the requirement to reduce the risk from fielding delays. On all five contracts, PM SEQ waived an accelerated aging test because they no longer believed the test was appropriate. On 1 of the 5 contracts, PM SEQ accepted 70 lots before a First Article Test (FAT) was performed because the materials used were identical to previously approved materials. Of 900 lots on the five contracts, 560 met the lot acceptance test (LAT) requirements. For the remaining 340 lots, PM SEQ did not require LATs because either the materials were previously approved, or PM SEQ did not require the insertion of new ballistic panels. 

Basically this report covers a series of contracts fulfilled by Point Blank between 2004 and 2006. The context of this shortcutting by the Army is that from mid-2003 through about 2005, both the Army and the Marine Corps were scrambling to field full-up body armor systems to all Soldiers and grunts where before they were given only to front line troops. This put a lot of pressure on the Syscoms and PEOs of the world to get product out the door as quickly as possible. Remember the “momma had to buy me body armor” myths? 

This is also why the Army reduced the new fragmentation V50 requirements from the 2002 level to the 1998 levels. Technology wasn’t there yet to increase ballistic capability without also increasing weight. So rather than delay shipments and find a solution, the Army let the requirement slip. 

So it’s not surprising the Army said “well, if the materials are the same and there’s no change in design, why hold up shipments to Joes in the field taking hits from a growing insurgency. And oh yeah, Congress is breathing down our necks…” That’s essentially the argument the Marine Corps made, though they went after the one guy at Natick who said “wait a minute.” 

DoD Inspector General Report on Body Army Testing

The problem with this is that the armor is hand made. I went to PBB down in Florida and saw the “manufacturing” process. Literally rows and rows of sewing machines with immigrant workers stitching together Kevlar panels and assembling the vests. 

When anything is made by hand like this, there’s the possibility of errors — what if one of the seamstresses wasn’t paying attention and left out a couple panels of Kevlar on a dozen vests? It’s unlikely this would be caught in a random lot test, but it’s possible. 

We recommend that the Commanding General, Army Program Executive Office Soldier, institute a policy that requires all decisions to waive the first article and lot acceptance tests be approved in writing and any other decisions that may impact the Interceptor Body Armor Program must be justified in writing and provided to the contracting office along with adequate documentation to support the decision. 

And PEO concurred…

So no more waiving lot tests and QA pulls at the ground level. If you’re gonna take a short cut, make the Big Guy sign off on it. Sounds reasonable to me.

I’m checking to see what impact this has on Soldiers right now — ie, how many Joes are wearing body armor from these lots. I suspect there’s very few in the inventory, but I’ll update with what I find.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

VTGunner January 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

The US government cutting corners….I mean lets be honest, are we really all that surprised?

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WarPig January 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Dragonskin tests falsified, backdoor deals with Point Blank and BAE, future jobs secured through loopholes in the acquisition policies, the entire ACU fiasco. The PEO has routinely placed contracts and cost ahead of the welfare of our force. They should be given a vote of no confidence and the house cleaned. Those in charge of projects during the time in question should be investigated.

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Karl Dunkleberger January 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Parents were purchasing and sending body armour , in one(@ least) unit the men were told to turn in these sent pieces because they were "non Issue",officer left unit a week later,other units until mid 2006 men were wearing different kinds hopefully we have battle zone tests , good and bad , my guess WiKileaks has that information as well.To believe Mr Rummy sent men into war without the best gear , just so billionairs and millionairs got theirs! Make me want to puke!

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Joe LittleBear January 7, 2011 at 5:40 am

LED's in the vest ??? Isn't that " lighting up the target " for the enemy to shoot at ? Police officers were taught to hold their flashlight at arm's length to the side,…..not in front of their body….in the event that the perp might shoot at the light…

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theCelt January 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm

shut up you're making them look bad.

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Joe LittleBear January 10, 2011 at 5:26 am

O.K. I'll ask another question,,,,,why are they insisting that the troops can't wear the Dragonskin armor which was bought and sent to them by private funding, and insist on the troops wearing the vests with the pockets for the bricks to go in…??? The Dragonskin allow much more mobility and comfort…..and confidence..

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deng yat riek January 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm

America now your not America you use to known
you are united kingdom us you see from your eye in America any where you go you see different pace
different culture
you are multiculture nation
America International dream of dream

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mrdataferret January 19, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Great report here. Really appreciate the inside insights and experience conveyed in the above post. For newbies to the topic and perhaps others here's a handy synopsis of the IG's report on the body armor testing and quality assurance shortcuts – http://bit.ly/eFMQap – at our non-partisan knowledge base site, Public Data Ferret. We're based in the Pac NW, greater Seattle, where this particular IG report got no play at all in the mainstream media.

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7 yr vet July 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Don't blame BAE for other companies screw-ups. FYI BAE hasn't had a contract for vests in over two years. KDH is the main manufacturer now. The BAE employees who made the vests are now un-employed or will be soon with the closure of the Jefferson City, TN. plant scheduled for August, 11. The real crime is small U.S. companies (armor holdings) being bought by big overseas companies for the technology and then shut down.

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karl Dunkle September 13, 2012 at 10:24 am

Its actually the republicans cutting corners, so their buddies oin corperations, can get another tax cut, actually I cant Imagin how they sleep, with all that Blood Money in their cayman island accounts?

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