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More Army Armor Woes

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I'm sure you all have already seen this, but here's a story we ran as our lead item at Military.com this morning:

DoD Audit Finds Body Armor Buys Flawed

The Army can't be sure some of its body armor met safety standards, partly because it didn't do proper paperwork on initial testing of the protective vests, a Defense Department audit said.

Democratic Rep. Louise M. Slaughter of New York, who requested the department inspector general's report, on April 3 demanded the firing of officials responsible. But the Army said the gear is safe and the issue is a disagreement over when and what type of testing is required - principally so-called "first article testing" typically done on a product before a contract is awarded.

The inspector general reviewed $5.2 billion worth of Army and Marine Corps contracts for body armor from 2004 through 2006.

"Specific information concerning testing and approval of first articles was not included in 13 of 28 Army contracts and orders reviewed, and contracting files were not maintained in 11 of 28 Army contracts to show why procurement decisions were made," the report concluded.

"As a result, DoD has no assurance that first articles produced under 13 of the 28 contracts and orders reviewed met the required standards," or that 11 of the 28 contracts were awarded based on informed decisions, it said.

The news wires beat me to the punch on this, but I did find the report on the DoD IG web site if you want to read it for yourself...

I also pinged PEO Soldier for their reaction to the report. Here's what they told me:

Soldier protection is the Army's top priority. Since its initial fielding in 1999, the Army's Interceptor Body Armor has demonstrated superior combat performance in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many Soldiers are alive today because of it. Prior to issuing body armor to Soldiers, the U.S. Army conducts rigorous and extensive testing to ensure it meets Army standards and is safe for use by Soldiers in combat.

The Army is in full and complete compliance with the FAR, DFAR, source law and current policy in every case concerning body armor procurement.

The fact that the Defense Department Inspector General was not completely able to verify testing and approval of first-article testing or aspects of contracting files does not mean the body armor did not meet specifications.

The Army requires two levels of performance verification prior to acceptance of body armor issued to Soldiers: First Article Test (FAT) and Lot Acceptance Test (LAT). These two test requirements verify that body armor meets U.S. Army standards before being issued to Soldiers and ensure production processes remain in check. The Army's response to the draft report states that first-article testing is a regular and consistent current business practice for purchasing body armor.

The current body armor is doing what it is designed to do: stop or slow bullets and fragments, and reduce the severity of wounds.Prevention of injuries to our men and women is a top priority for the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense.

IG Report Points:

  • The IG reviewed Army and Marine Corps contracts and orders awarded between January 2004 and December 2006.
  • The scope of the review was limited to reviewing pre-solicitation and the solicitation and evaluation phases of the acquisition process, as well as contracting files related to first-article testing.

DoD IG found:

  • Specific information concerning testing and approval of first articles was not included in 13 of 28 Army contracts and orders.
  • Contracting files were not maintained in 11 of 28 Army contracts to show why procurement decisions were made.
  • DoD has no assurance first articles produced under 13 contracts met required standards or 11 contracts were awarded based on informed decisions.
  • First-article testing is performed before or in the initial stage of production to determine whether the proposed product conforms with contract requirements.
  • Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) allows first-article testing to be waived if the contractor is already producing the item under contract.

Now, I don't like the idea that the Army took shortcuts in testing. But I can understand that the service wouldn't pay for a series of FAT tests if they're contracting for another large buy of the same vest.

When I looked into the Marine Corps armor flaws -- where waivers were issued on specific production lots of armor that government testers believed were flawed -- the rejections did not require a FAT test to verify. In fact, the engineers looked at earlier FAT test data as a benchmark for performance of the new, flawed lots.

Technically, it seems correct that if the Army -- or any service -- is buying a new type of armor, or new components or either with new manufacturing techniques, a FAT test must be conducted. It seems to me on the surface that the Army issued a new contract to the same company -- Point Blank -- for the same vest with the same components and manufacturing technology as previous ones. That shouldn't technically require another FAT test. But, I guess you could argue that it's better to be safe than sorry.

As a commenter on the Military.com story put it:

"Yeah, it's too bad they cut through all the red tape to rush this equipment out to the troops instead of the usual procedure that keeps new gear in the prototype phase until years after the need has passed and the technology has become obsolete."

You can kind of see the guy's point.

-- Christian

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