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Whose Test is the Best?

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In another case of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't, the Army's getting zinged by the GAO on its armor testing procedure.

We reported on the investigation that prompted this GAO look earlier this year, but the long and the short of it is that government auditors found flaws in how the Army was testing the first prototypes of its more powerful AP-round-stopping X-SAPI.

The GAO recommended a host of independent audits, test procedure modifications and other "oversight" as it normally does. And the Army, in a statement, largely agreed with the idea that more oversight is better:

The Department of the Army announced today that it has established additional quality control measures to further ensure that body armor testing documentation and procurement processes are rigorous, consistent, and use available best practices. To this end, the Army has added several quality control positions to include a Senior Executive Service position as the quality assurance director of personal protective equipment. This new senior-level position will report directly to the Army Acquisition Executive. These changes address issues raised in a GAO report...

In the interest of full disclosure, I was invited to attend an Army press briefing on their response to the GAO report on Friday but got tied up and couldn't make it.

The bottom line remains what I indicated last year when the IG found test flaws: armor testing is as much art as it is science. The GAO wants oversight independent of the government, while others level sharp criticism over the Army's continued use of HP White Labs in Street, MD, for its armor testing -- believing doing so would make their results more unbiased since Aberdeen is essentially an Army command.

Now the GAO says Aberdeen is jacked up...ugh...

The armor testing community is a small one, I can think of only three labs in the US with testing experience for personal body armor with government contracts. With the science of armor materials and designs clashing constantly with threat modalities the ability to verify product effectiveness is constantly changing. I think the testers' heads are in the right place, but clearly there needs to be one standard and some over the shoulder checking.

As duplicitous as the Army can be with its armor claims ("The Best Body Armor in the World Bar None"), I tend to believe that since the microscope on armor and testing has swung so squarely on the service, they're loath to bob and weave to save their own skin on this one. But we'll see...

-- Christian

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