COMMENTARY | On Aug. 1, the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Defense issued the fourth in its series of reports on the procurement and testing of body armor for issue to United States troops. Report No. D-2011-088 points out that in the period 2004 through 2006 the process of purchasing and testing ballistic ceramic inserts needed improvement. The contracts awarded for "Small Arms Protective Ballistic Inserts" during the period 2004 to 2006 by the Pentagon totaled $2.5 billion.
The process of issuing contract awards for military supplies is complex and often filled with corporate and political intrigue. The contracts for body armor for American troops is one such area of contention. Body armor has become politicized by some politicians and news media outlets.
Current military body armor consists of a vest that contains a number of pockets. Ceramic plates of various sizes go into those pockets. The vests have some resistance to penetration and the plates are intended to provided a much greater resistance to bullets and shrapnel. The primary plates go on the front and back. Many vests also have pockets for plates under the arms and other areas of coverage. The ceramic plates are rated for the force they can absorb and the type of bullet they can defend against.
The plates absorb the forces of the bullet, preventing it from penetrating the soldier wearing the vest. The plate distributes the force of the bullet, often causing bruising and sometimes even fractured ribs. No vest and no plate is totally incapable of being penetrated. A projectile with enough force will go through any plate.
The production of a ballistic ceramic plate is complex. It must withstand a variety of environments and handling and remain capable of providing its rated protection. The manufacture of such plates is limited to a small number of companies that possess the specialized capabilities.
Each manufacturer performs their own testing. The military then tests the plates as well. Contract awards are made as a result of the military's tests, which often produce different results than the manufacturer. In 2006 the military tested "Dragon Skin" armor manufactured by Pinnacle Armor Inc. The armor failed the tests and Pinnacle did not receive a contract to produce armor for the Department of Defense.
They took their cause to the media and to Congress. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, a noted anti-war activist, held several news conferences on the issue. Local New York and national news media covered the conferences and several also launched their own probes.
The Department of Defense maintains that no American service member has ever been deployed with defective body armor. In the period 2004 to 2006, the Army did not test armor for exposure to fungus and to altitude. The increased need for armor and the hurdles in increasing production caused the Army to ask that those tests be excused.
The military has a program to examine body armor after use. Armor from killed or wounded troops is forwarded to the Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program for analysis.
- Department of Defense
- body armor