Archive for the 'Body Armor' Category

Safe Enough to Shed Body Armor?

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 9 months ago

Courtesy of Forward Deployed, we learn that some of the Marines in Anbar might be shedding body armor soon.

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq — The commander of a U.S. Marine Corps unit in Iraq wants to have his Marines begin patrolling without helmets and with less body armor.But the Marines would have the gear at their local patrol bases and could resume wearing it whenever needed, said Lt. Col. Kelly Alexander, commanding officer of Task Force Highlander, part of Regimental Combat Team-2, which operates in western Anbar province.The proposed changes apply to what is called PPE, or personal protective equipment.Alexander said a change to a “soft posture

Body Armor Goes Political

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 11 months ago


Discussions on body armor for Soldiers and Marines can be highly technical, and most of them have been, right up until recently.  Senators are now winning political points by talking about body armor that will never be deployed because it is too heavy to wear on the battlefield; the Government Accountability Office is performing investigations that fail to address government accountability; the Army refuses even to consider assistance to its testing program by an independent engineering consultant; and all the while Marines are still being denied the equipment that they need.  Body armor has gone political.

Introduction & Background

In Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, we gave a primer on the features and characteristics of the currently deployed body armor (the Interceptor Body Armor and the Modular Tactical Vest, or Spartan 2 Assault Vest), and expanded the investigation into the claims and counterclaims of Pinnacle, and the Army, respectively, concerning the Dragon Skin body armor.  Finally, we outlined a way forward for all concerned parties, this way being the best solution for the Soldier and Marine irrespective of how other parties feel about it.  The recommendations included but were not limited to the development of analytical models of the body armor types, a re-examination of the testing protocol, a review of the test data and more testing as deemed appropriate, and real world input from Soldiers and Marines concerning ‘wearability’ and heavy battlefield weight.  This was to be led by an independent engineering consultant to the Department of Defense.

There were political machinations at work prior to our article on body armor wars, but these wars are becoming increasingly political and less oriented towards technical substance and reviewer independence.  Shrill voices who have never put on body armor are now weighing in, clearly attempting to gain political points.

Survey of the Debate

Below we catalog recent articles which bear on the issue of body armor and the Dragon Skin versus the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) / MTV (Modular Tactical Vest, or Spartan 2).

On April 26, 2007, the Government Accountability Office published their preliminary findings in Defense Logistics: Army and Marine Corps’s Individual Body Armor System Issues, as GAO-07-662R.  Other than standardization of test protocol for soft ballistic panels, the GAO reported a substantial amount of detail to Congress concerning their findings, none of which were worthy of mention as problems.  The study and report focused on meeting theater requirements and body armor availability, testing protocol, post-deployment inspections and information sharing between the Army and Marine Corps.  A comparison of the IBA/MTV with the Dragon Skin (or an assessment of claims made by Pinnacle) was not within the scope of the study.

On May 2, 2007, OpFor published the summary of the GAO’s investigation into the body armor testing, and reported “sorry Pinnacle, no government conspiracy.”  OpFor followed up this article with two more articles: May 21, 2007 and May 22, 2007, both of which were extremely critical of the Dragon Skin and the claims by Pinnacle.

On May 18, 2007, Senators Clinton and Webb issued a press release in which they “called on Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker to initiate a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation to reassess the body armor systems currently being issued by all the military services and the Special Operations Command for effectiveness and reliability against the threats facing U.S. troops in combat.”  Note that this press release recommends a different GAO investigation, one that focuses on the currently deployed systems versus the Dragon Skin.

On May 20, 2007, two days after Senators Clinton and Webb issued their press release, NBC published an article on the Dragon Skin body armor entitled Are U.S. Soldiers Wearing the Best Body Armor?  In addition to conducting their own tests after which they call into question the Army test results, they NBC slips in their summary statement up front, saying that “the Army’s Interceptor uses four rigid plates to stop the most lethal bullets, leaving some vital organs unprotected. Dragon Skin — with discs that interconnect like Medieval chainmail — can wrap most of a soldier’s torso, providing a greater area of maximum protection.”

Also on May 20, 2007, Jeff Huber of Pen and Sword published an article that was highly critical of the Army’s handling of the body armor situation.  The article at Pen and Sword presupposes the superiority of the Dragon Skin to the IBA/MTV.

On May 28, 2007, The Captain’s Journal published Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward.  In this article we sided with OpFor concerning battlefield weight, although we decidedly favored completely independent testing and analysis by a mechanical and forensic engineering firm, as well as review of all DoD testing protocols of body armor.  We provided a list of ten recommendations for such a project.  On the same day, Blackfive published a list of useful links to the body armor controversy, and concurred with our opinion regarding independent testing and analysis.

On June 5, 2007, DefenseTech published an article entitled The Dragon Skin Circus Begins.  Defense Tech received an advance copy of testimony before congress and supplied some technical analysis and criticism, and using an extensive history of coverage of this body armor issue, raised a number of technical issues associated with both the Dragon Skin testing and the testimony before Congress.

On June 6, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the controversy, and ranking member Duncan Hunter, whose son is a Marine who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, issued a statement both warning on the one hand of the necessity to test in high temperature conditions, and on the other of the need for retesting of the body armor systems.  Despite the requests, Army officials declined to retest the body armor systems under any other protocol than a new contract.  On June 7, 2007, DefenseTech published a post-mortem on the Dragon Skin Congressional hearing.

On June 7, 2007, Daily Kos weighed in with the most vitriolic and shrill article yet on body armor.  The article sees an evil administration at every turn, refusing to consider the safety of the troops.  This insightful comment sits at the end of the responses to the article for those readers patient enough to endure the beating: “Dragon Skin’s attempt to disguise lobbying as concern for the troops isn’t terribly creative.”

On June 11, Air Force contracting officials sought to prohibit Pinnacle Armor from signing new contracts with the U.S. Government, alleging false claims by Pinnacle to have met ballistic standards that in fact they did not.  On June 14, the Navy issued the same order that the Marines did, banning personally purchased body armor.

Even more recently, American Legion Post 735, which spent $6000 for Spartan 2 Vests (commercial equivalent to the Modular Tactical Vest) for Marines soon to be deployed to the Anbar province, have had their equipment retired and denied use by Marines due to Marine administrative order MARADMIN 262/07 that we discussed in Gear and Equipment Problems for the Marines.  Be careful not to confuse this with the debate about Dragon Skin body armor, since New York Congressman Brian Higgins, albeit with the best of intentions, has made this mistake and issued a press release asking for the same independent probe that Senators Clinton and Webb have requested.

Assessment & Evaluation

The chorus of voices discussing body armor has become so loud that clarity and precision are languishing … and body armor has gone political.  Senator Clinton, while standing to gain political points, is at least ignorant of body armor issues.  Senator Webb is not ignorant of body armor issues, and knows full well that the U.S. cannot put Soldiers and Marines in the Dragon Skin’s 48 lbs. of weight (compared to 32 for the Interceptor or MTV).  It must be remembered that the warrior carries not only his body armor, but a hydration system, weapon, ammunition, sometimes communication gear, and often other supplies.  The heavy battlefield weight has led to ankle and knee injuries that incapacitate fighters on the battlefield, thus endangering their lives.  There is currently a push by the Army and Marines to decrease battlefield weight, not increase it.  “Anecdotal evidence is streaming back from the battlefield about Marines breaking their ankles while jumping off of trucks because of the weight they are carrying … Maj. Gen. William D. Catto, commanding officer, Marine Corps Systems Command, during the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exhibition April 6, 2006, said that the “current body armor system is ‘too heavy’.  Catto went on to call for industry “pinheads

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward

BY Herschel Smith
17 years ago

There have been recent calls from members of the Senate for investigations into claims that Pinnacle’s Dragon Skin armor is better than the currently deployed body armor.  Response from the Army was swift and direct.  This article covers some recent history of body armor and the current “dust-up” in the media and Senate, and briefly examines claims and counter-claims.  A way forward is recommended for final disposition of the issues surrounding body armor.  This article has a companion article: Gear and Equipment Problems for the Marines.

NBC News recently did an exposé on the Dragon Skin body armor, raising again the question whether it is superior to the currently deployed body armor (this issue has been followed for years by Soldiers for the Truth).  Before we examine the claims and counterclaims, some history must be rehearsed so that words and concepts and not read and discussed in a vacuum.

The Interceptor body armor system (IBA) was deployed during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The IBA consists mainly of an Outer Tactical Vest (the shell), soft armor panels, and Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI), hard ceramic plates designed to prevent penetration of the 7.62 mm round.  The soft armor is designed to prevent penetration of a 9 mm round and shrapnel from some explosive ordnance.  It covers approximately the entire surface area of the OTV.  There were initially two main SAPI plates, one for the front and the other for the back.

The ballistic capabilities of the SAPI were upgraded, and hence the currently deployed plate is referred to as ESAPI, for enhanced SAPI.  There are also side SAPI plates, and during the first – and sometimes the second – deployment of Soldiers and Marines to OIF, wearing the side SAPIs was optional.  Many Soldiers and Marines chose not to wear them, since as a carrier the IBA was not designed to hold the side SAPIs (I’m looking at the IBA shell as I write).  The side SAPIs were worn in conjunction with the original IBA with use of a molle system.

It was discovered that enemy snipers were aiming for gaps in the SAPI plate coverage (e.g., the side torso under the arms), and so wearing the side SAPIs eventually became mandatory.  The heavy battlefield weight, along with the lack of integration of the side SAPIs into the shell, caused the US Marine Corps to revise its body armor system to the Modular Tactical Vest, or MTV (the commercial version is the Spartan 2 Assault Vest, from Tactical Applications Group).  Having put on both the IBA and the MTV (or Spartan 2) I can attest to the improvements of the MTV over the Interceptor.  Some Marines are still being deployed with the IBA rather than the MTV, and are choosing to purchase the Spartan 2 shell themselves (and transfer the soft panels and SAPI plates to the new carrier).

If the reader recalls seeing video from Iraq, the vests that the soldiers are wearing always seem to be “hiked up” in the back (with very little lower back protection).  As one NCO in the 101st Airborne told me, “the front SAPI is low, the rear SAPI is high, and we hang equipment on the front of our vests using molle loops and carabiners.  Why do you think that we walk leaning backwards?  We’re trying to keep from falling over forwards.”  Battlefield weight (and weight distribution) is a huge deal.  This NCO told me that without the order to wear the side SAPIs, he would choose not to in spite of the increased risk.  More on battlefield weight later.

The new Marine MTV raises the SAPI in the front a little, lowers it in the back a little, and makes use of the soft armor panels more efficiently (it avoids doubling over of the soft armor in the shoulder area with the IBA and deploys the soft panels to their fullest extent).  It fully integrates the side SAPIs into the outer shell with a carrier for the plates, and it provides soft panel neck and groin protection.  Contrary to the IBA which places the full weight of the soft armor and SAPI plates on the shoulders, its design hugs the body and places the weight on the hips, much like an internal frame backpack.  Finally, the MTV has a quick release system, a system that is designed with a single pull cord that instantly disassembles the vest, typically used during escape situations when someone is trapped in a vehicle rollover or weighed down in deep water.  This feature is particularly popular with Marines and especially Navy Corpsmen who want to get injured Marines out of their gear quickly.  The Marines with whom I have talked have spoken very approvingly of the MTV (Spartan 2).  It is popular, the improved features are important and valuable, and it represents a quantifiable improvement over previous versions.

But in spite of the superiority of the MTV to the IBA, both systems use the same philosophical approach: an overall carrier, holding soft ballistic panels designed to stop very small arms (e.g., 9 mm and shrapnel) supplemented by SAPI plates of some finite surface area (in the front, back and sides) designed to stop 7.62 mm rounds from AK-47s.  Now comes Pinnacle’s Dragon Skin, with a completely different philosophical approach to body armor.

Dragon Skin uses an interconnected system of ballistic discs held together with adhesive.  The accolades are certainly impressive, but as soon as the NBC report was issued, the Department of Defense came to the defense of the IBA and leveled some significant criticisms against the Dragon Skin.

In response to a May 17 NBC News report challenging the Army’s use of Interceptor body armor vs. the newer “Dragon Skin

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