Body Armor on Track

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The investigative arm of Congress released an updated report Friday on the status of the U.S. militarys body armor acquisition efforts and the effectiveness of the armor the services are fielding.

The reports were conducted at the behest of the U.S. Comptroller General - the head of the Government Accountability Office after news reports brought to light shortfalls in armor fielding and flaws in testing that resulted in tens of thousands of vest sent to the war zone that had not passed spec during quality assurance testing.

The latest GAO report found the Army and Marine Corps had effectively revamped their testing regimen and raised their specifications to meet emerging threats in the combat zone. It also marked one of the first times that a government entity has stated formally that the new Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert plates, or ESAPI, were developed to address the threat of armor piercing 7.62 rounds.

During my reporting on this issue, the services threatened me with everything short of a shank in a dark alley if I revealed the reasons behind the ESPAI buy. Specifically, the Marine Corps had a plate in its hands (that I knew about) with a hole in it from an armor-piercing round around the first of the year in 2005. They shared the plate with Army ballistics experts, who were concerned by the penetration as well.

The plate was examined at ballistics labs, including HP White in Street, Md., where the Army prefers to do its ballistic tests. Tungsten-carbide residue was found in the impact zone, leading experts to conclude the armor-piercing round penetration.

Thus the rush for ESAPI began

The services seem to have gotten their act together when it comes to specifications and testing, the GAO report shows. Congressional auditors did mention, however, an initiative by the Pentagons office for operational test and evaluation to standardize the Army/Marine Corps testing regime - which is slightly different and conducted at separate NIJ-certified testing sites that will be put into place in 2007.

-- Christian

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