Army Questioned Another 8,000 Armor Plates (UPDATED)

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Here is a preview of a story we will be running tomorrow morning at Military.com:

Army Pulled 8,000 Armor Plates from FieldBy Christian Lowe

The Army recalled more than 8,000 bullet-resistant plates late last year for fear that they might not be able to stop the rifle rounds they were designed to defeat.

According to the top enlisted advisor for the Army's Program Executive Office Soldier - the service's top gear-buying office - officials were worried that a production lot of 8,018 enhanced small arms protective plate inserts, or ESAPIs, might have manufacturing flaws that were not up to specifications.

So in December, the service pulled the plates from the front lines and sent them to ballistics labs for testing to see if they were up to snuff.

"We opted to pull those 8,000 plates just to see -- just as, again, part of our surveillance program" to monitor quality, said Sgt. Maj. Tom Coleman, PEO Soldier sergeant major, in a Feb. 6 interview with military bloggers.

Army officials had failed production lots of plates that were manufactured before and after the recalled plates, so engineers decided to pull the 8,018 to make doubly sure they should have been fielded.

"When the Army looked at the lot acceptance test back then for the big string of plates that were shot, they saw that there were a couple failed lot tests out there. Those plates were never accepted. They were scrapped," Coleman told Military.com. "In between them there were a couple lots that passed, but we said, hey, you know what? Let's pull those plates anyways."

News of further armor recalls comes on the heels of a Pentagon Inspector General report that recommended the Army pull more than 16,000 ESAPI plates made by ArmorWorks from the field due to flawed test procedures on the initial designs.

Though the Army disagreed with the IG's finding, the service's top civilian, Pete Geren, ordered the plates recalled anyway "out of an abundance of caution" and to allay fears among Joes in the war zone that their gear might be sub-par.

The IG report mentioned the 8,018 plate recall deep within its findings, but the Army never made the news public.

"Those lots passed," Coleman said of the 8,000 plates. "Everything was good with them. Some lots in front of and behind them had failed and were not accepted."

Though results were not available, Coleman said the recalled plates are still being tested at ballistics labs, but so far none have shown signs of failure.

Coleman reiterated the Army's position that all ESAPI plates sent to combat had passed quality assurance tests and so-called "first article" tests to confirm the design's ability to withstand armor-piercing rounds and claimed no plates have ever failed.

"We have no reports of deaths from the body armor failing to stop the threat it was designed to stop, none," Coleman said.

The Army is still trying to track down the 16,000 plates tabbed by the IG's office and Coleman said the service has been able to collect some of the plates, but there's still a long way to go.

The Army emphatically claims its testing methodology was sound and that, despite the IG's determination that engineers substituted plates during tests, fudged numbers and failed to set standards in evaluating new designs, no plate was ever accepted in error.

"The plates met the standard to stop the threat round that they're designed to stop," Coleman said. "The issue in question is some of the scoring that is involved, in the way that they score the plates that are shot."

The service claims its ESAPI can stop the most deadly rounds on the battlefield, but after nearly two years the service has developed the "XSAPI" -- a plate that can stop an even more powerful round. Military.com knows the threat round the Army has been working to thwart but will not reveal it for security concerns.

Army officials indicated Feb. 5 they would not field the XSAPI due to its excessive weight, but would warehouse the eventual 120,000 plates in Kuwait in case commanders feel they need the added protection.

Coleman said he hasn't gotten any feedback from the field that the current plates don't stop what they're intended to, but he's ready to take the protection up a notch if needed.

"We haven't seen where the plates that we're using right now are being defeated by anything," Coleman said. "But we do know that there are emerging technologies that in the future could. And that's where XSAPI is going."

-- Christian

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