By JIM GARAMONE, American Forces Press Service
Special to South Carolina Military News
WASHINGTON – No American service member or civilian ever has deployed to the combat theater with defective body armor, Army officials stressed Thursday.
“I am not aware of any incident downrange where the body armor failed to protect against a round it was designed to defeat,” said Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, one of the Army’s top acquisition officials.
“There is nothing more important in Army acquisition. There’s nothing more important to our Army than soldier protection or soldier safety,” Phillips said during a Pentagon news conference. U.S. forces have the best body armor in the world, he added.
The Army procures body armor for all services and Defense Department civilians. A DOD Inspector General Report on seven contracts between 2004 and 2006 looked at the way the Army tested body armor during that period and what the service could do to improve it, he said.
“All of the recommendations from that report have been implemented,” Phillips said. “We won’t come to full closure until October this year, when we finish the final recommendations.”
Service members are the best judge of the body armor and helmet issued today, said Army Col. Bill Cole, the project manager at Program Executive Office Soldier, adding that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines issued the armor “have high confidence” in its protective properties.
The Army will continue to improve all equipment for service members, Phillips said. “We can always improve our processes, and we can always get better,” said the general added. “As we learn about better ways of testing, it is important we will implement those changes.”
During the period of the report – 2004 to 2006 – the Army did not test how body armor responds when exposed to fungus and to altitude. The Army asked to be excused from those tests so the service could rush the life-saving enhanced small-arms protective plates to service members, Cole explained.
The bottom line is that absolutely no one has been sent downrange with defective equipment, Phillips said, and the Army continues to test new equipment and to pull body plates from inventory to run tests.
“Time and time again, we’ve shown these plates stop the most stressing bullet in theater,” Cole said. To protect deployed service members, he added, would not disclose what round that is.
During the test, the Army fires the bullet at the plates at a speed that far exceeds the muzzle velocity or the normal weapon. “Again and again, they stop the enemy bullets they were designed to stop,” Cole said.