The debate over Dragon Skin went political with the late-in-the-day release of a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates from top Senate Armed Services Committee lawmakers.
The letter asks Gates to take the Dragon Skin testing up a notch, requesting that his research and engineering guru, John Young, hold his own tests to determine the facts regarding the protective qualities of the body armor we are currently providing our troops and that of any other commercially available comparable and competing system.
This is an interesting turn of events because the letter also calls into question the Armys testing methodology for body armor effectiveness.
Recent press reports raise questions about the fairness and reliability of Army tests of a commercially available body armor and whether it fails, meets, or exceeds the military's ballistic protection requirements.
The Pentagon and the individual services began a total overhaul of their test methodology in late 2005 after stories emerged that failed lots of Point Blank-made Interceptor body armor were shipped to troops despite failed quality assurance tests.
Whether or not McCain and Levins letter prompts a more favorable view of Dragon Skin in the DoD is perhaps a more minor point to the chances their efforts might put to rest once and for all the debate over exactly how to test and evaluate body armor.
For years, the Army tested it armor at HP White and US Labs two civilian owned and run ballistics test facilities. Their motive was to banish any idea that they somehow swayed the results. I dont know a whole lot about US Labs, but Ive spoken with the owner of HP White and he calls the tests as he sees them.
On the other hand, the Marine Corps for years tested its armor at Aberdeen Proving Ground - an Army facility. When lots of vests were failed at Aberdeen, the Corps took those vests to HP White and they passed. Then the service shipped them to troops despite the original adverse results. So, which test facility is better?
And, oh, who tested the purported CIA Dragon Skin vests? What model were they? Its my understanding the SOV3000 (Level IV) is a relatively new design. The National Institute of Justice do not test to the level the Army does on armor-piercing resistant plates. So, theres a third variance in the whole equation.
Hopefully this controversy can force the services to come up with a universal testing regimen with credibility that can also be used by other government agencies so at least some of the doubt over whos got the best armor can be erased.