Army & Media Dispute Body Armor Effectiveness

Lawmakers want Army body armor retested
By DONNA BORAK, AP Business Writer Wed Jun 6

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers on Wednesday requested additional independent tests to determine whether standard-issue body armor for U.S. soldiers is more effective than an alternative.

At issue are conflicts between year-old test results released by the Army last month and comparisons made by NBC News and broadcast in May.

"Let's get right down to the nuts and bolts here," Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., ranking member of the House Armed Services committee, said at a hearing on the issue. "Which test is right? Or, maybe, are both of them right?"

NBC News tests conducted May 3 at a ballistics laboratory in Germany, and reviewed by retired U.S. Gen. Wayne Downing, showed that in simulated combat conditions Dragon Skin, made by privately held Pinnacle Armor Inc., outperformed Interceptor, the Army's standard-issue armor.

The Army disputes those results and released a report last month contradicting NBC's claims after the network aired a report on the matter. Senior Army officials said at Wednesday's hearing they were confident in their own "unbiased" test results.

Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson, military deputy to the Assistant Secretary for the Army, said despite the wishes of Congress and Dragon Skin's manufacturer, the Army will not conduct a side-by-side test.

However, Ross said the Army will conduct separate tests of all vendors' body armor, including Dragon Skin, under a pending contract.

Murray Neal, Pinnacle's chief executive, testified Wednesday that the Army misrepresented and distorted its May 2006 test results.

"I'm asking for an independent test because the information coming out of the Army is fraught full of inaccuracies," Neal said.

Hunter questioned why representatives from the Fresno, Calif.-based company, who witnessed the Army's testing, did not raise concerns earlier if they thought the Army had conducted a faulty test. The test was performed for the military by H.P. White Laboratory, an independent ballistics center in Maryland.

Dragon Skin is provided to some special services soldiers and others can buy it with their own money if they don't like the heavier-weight Interceptor armor.

Congressional members led by Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., are requesting an independent study by the Government Accountability Office to review the Army's testing procedures, a comparison study and review of current safety compliance rules.

Pinnacle has competed for Army contracts on body armor but lost out five times because its product did not meet specifications.

Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Ceradyne Inc. and Chandler, Ariz.-based Armor Works LLC are two companies that manufacture Interceptor.

Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics Corp., identified in an earlier story as a body armor manufacturer, makes armor for vehicles, not personnel.

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