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.

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