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Army pulls body armor, despite assertion of safety

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 02, 2009) -- The Army is collecting more than 16,000 sets of body armor ballistic inserts, even though it considers those inserts to be fully capable of doing the job they were designed to do.

The action involves 16,413 sets of Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert plates, or 32,826 plates in total, a mere 1.68 percent of the Army's total inventory of 1.9 million ESAPI plates.

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The results of "first article tests" on the effectiveness of three designs of ballistic inserts -- the M3D2S2, MP2S2, and M4D2 designs -- are being questioned by the Department of Defense Inspector General. However, both the Army, who conducted the tests, and the office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, who independently assessed and verified the results, disagree with the DOD IG's report.

"The government's pre-eminent, independent authority on testing and evaluation is the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation," said Brig. Gen. Peter N. Fuller, of Program Executive Officer, Soldier and commanding general of the Soldier Systems Center. "DOT&E examined the Army's testing of the armor plates referred to in the IG report and determined that the plates passed the tests. In clear, unequivocal language, DOT&E declared that 'the three designs meet the performance specification in place at the time of each test.'"

Because there is disagreement between the DOD IG and DOT&E -- both offices of the Department of Defense -- about the effectiveness of the ballistic inserts, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren has asked the deputy secretary of Defense to adjudicate the opposing viewpoints.

The Army maintains the ballistic inserts issued to Soldiers are effective, and do in fact provide protection for Soldiers who wear them. However, in order to ensure Soldiers maintain confidence in the body armor issued to them, the Army has agreed to collect the plates until the issue is further reviewed.

"Based on DOT&E's evaluation of the testing, the Army considers the armor plates in question to be safe," Fuller said. "Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the plates are being collected to ensure continued confidence in the Army's commitment to the safety of our Soldiers.

In the DOD IG report dated Jan. 29, the IG says testing on some of the inserts was not properly conducted.

"First article testing for Army Contract 0040 (W91CRB-04-D-0040) was not consistently conducted or scored in accordance with contract terms, conditions, and specifications," the report reads. "Consequently, we believe three of the eight ballistic insert designs that passed first article testing actually failed."

The DOD/IG's conclusion does not mean the inserts are unsafe, however.

"We did not review the safety of the ballistic inserts," the report read. "Therefore, we did not determine whether these inserts provide the protection intended."

What the IG's report did, however, is question the reliability of testing on the inserts -- in effect discrediting both the results of the tests conducted by the Army, and independent assessment and verification of those tests by DOT&E.

"As a result, the Army does not have assurance that all inserts purchased under Contract 0040 provide the level of protection required by the contract," the report reads.

The Army actually conducted tests on 21 body armor designs, concluding that eight passed and 13 failed. The DOD IG's report disputes that finding, saying an additional three of the designs that received passes by the Army should have also failed.

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