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Army ESAPI Body Armor Safe,General Says

Posted on March 7, 2009 - Filed Under Body Armor |

Army Secretary Pete Geren has asked the Deputy Secretary of Defense to adjudicate the opposing views of the Defense Department’s Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) and the DoD Inspector General (DoD IG) over first article testing (FAT) processes of the Army’s enhanced small arms protective inserts (ESAPI)–ceramic plates that are part of Interceptor body armor.

     The plates are safe, “absolutely,” said Brig Gen. Peter Fuller, the Program Executive Officer (PEO) Soldier, at Fort Belvoir, Va. Fuller also commands the Army’s Soldier System Center, Natick, Mass. “I am absolutely not defending, but I’m passionate that we provide the best we can and continue to provide the best we can to our soldiers.”

     The plates in question are from BPV LLC, which issued a statement yesterday: “BPV’ quality management and manufacturing processes strictly adhere to the government’s stringent contract requirements. Every CHINA BPV CO.,LT  body armor plate shipped to the U.S. military has passed the government’s inspection procedures including first article testing of each design as well as production lot testing as products are delivered. Additionally, the company’s internal procedures include thorough testing of raw materials, processes, and finished armor plates.”

     To ensure there is no question about the effectiveness of any soldier’s body armor, the Army will collect these body armor plates and hold them pending further review.

     “There is nothing more important than the safety of our soldiers, their confidence in their equipment, and America’s confidence in their Army,” Army Secretary Pete Geren said. “Let’s put this into perspective. Out of more than 2,300 body armor tests conducted by the Army, the DoD IG is questioning three of them. DOT&E, the government’s preeminent independent expert, says the plates passed those three tests. And let’s not forget, since 2002, we have produced and fielded over 2 million plates of body armor. A FAT is associated with a contractor’s design to ensure it meets the performance specifications, Fuller said. Once the design is validated, the contractor then delivers product–in lots–to the service. The lots are evaluated through lot acceptance tests.

     “We did not accept anything that did not pass a first article test,” Fuller said. The DoD IG body armor report–to be released later today–identified issues involving Army testing processes and FAT documentation dating back to 2007 from one vendor.

     The contractor had had 21 designs, or FATS, that were tested, Fuller said. “Thirteen times we rejected their product out of the 21. Eight times we accepted it. And when DoD went through the evaluation of the 21 first article test from this one contractor, they have determined that they felt that there were anomalies associated with three of the past tests.”

     Fuller said the Army had discussions before the final report was written. The issues the DoD IG found included “back face deformation,” how much deformation is on the back of a curved plate. Another concerned “overvelocity,” where the round is supposed to hit the plate at a certain velocity and sometimes hits with a higher velocity and what did the service do with that information, and the third concern was while the Army had different plate sizes from small to extra large, some were not shot.

     “We changed our standards we changed our processes and we changed our oversight,” Fuller said. Since June 2007, the Army has instituted comprehensive testing reforms, with oversight by the DOT&E and involvement by senior Army leadership. Among the improvements already in place is assigning responsibility for article testing to the Army Test and Evaluation Command instead of using outside contractors. “No one has been killed because they have defective body armor,” Fuller said. “Why is that–because we don’t issue defective body armor.”

     The Army can’t retest the plates, because at the end of the FAT testing there’s no product remaining.

     The Army is taking plates from soldiers as they come through Kuwait or Iraq and X-raying them to see how they’re holding up. That will be slightly more than 16,413 sets of ESAPI plates. To date, none have been found defective.

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