The Army continually seeks to improve its processes and has implemented all the recommendations of a recent Defense Department Inspector General (DoD IG) report questioning testing of body armor plates, so soldiers receive the best body armor available, a top acquisition official said.
“All the recommendations within the report have been implemented and we won’t come to full closure on those until about October of this year,” Lt. Gen. William Phillips, principal military deputy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, told reporters yesterday at a Pentagon roundtable.
“There’s nothing that’s more important to Army acquisition. There’s nothing that’s more important to our Army than soldier protection or soldier safety,” Phillips said.” That is job one for us.”
Phillips said the service continues to seek improvement for soldier equipment, and that’s what the DoD IG report is really about: “continuous improvement.”
The Army has said similar things repeatedly in response to the periodic DoD IG reports on body armor, and continues to have a high level of confidence in it.
Phillips about a month ago took a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq talking to division commanders and traveled to meet soldiers at Forward Operating Base Joyce, just coming off an operation in Northeastern Afghanistan where they closed with and destroyed about 150 fighters that were either Taliban or insurgents.
”Not one soldier voiced concern about the body armor or the soldier protective equipment they were wearing,” Phillips said. “Our soldiers, in my opinion-Bill Phillips—are the most lethal weapon on the battlefield today. They will close with and engage with the enemy in a heartbeat and you see that time and time again in combat operations.”
For example, he said, the Army’s recent Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. Sal Giunta, was hit a number of times in the chest with AK-47 rounds and continued to fight…because he had confidence in his equipment and he also wanted to save his fellow soldiers, Phillips said.
Soldiers having confidence in their equipment is a combat multiplier on the battlefield, it is incredibly powerful,” Phillips said, and he can say from firsthand experience soldiers do have confidence in their equipment.
The most recent report said Army testing of the body armor inserts was “inconsistent” and offered a variety of recommendations (Defense Daily, Aug. 4).
This report looked back to previous reports done in 2004 and 2006, and considered body armor in various aspects on some seven contracts valued at some $2.5 billion. The contracts went to six contractors: ArmorWorks (two contracts), Simula, Cercom, Composix, Armacel Armor, and Ceradyne [CRDN].
In 2008, for example, the DoD IG rapped what it called inadequate documentation on testing and other items for contracts (Defense Daily, April 4, 2008).
The DoD IG worked closely with Col. William Cole, project manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment within the Program Executive Office for Soldiers, and was able to implement many report recommendations a year ago.
“As soon as we find we can do something better I want to assure you the Army’s going to take quick and decisive action and to make sure we are focusing on soldier protection,” Phillips said.
The Army can always improve its processes, and improve, and as the service learns about better ways of testing, it’s important to implement those changes. The Army also listened to the test community. The service testing of body armor is overseen by the director of operational test and evaluation. (DOT&E). Yesterday, Phillips received a call from one of the top officials in DOT&E stand behind the Army’s testing of its ballistics plates going into the body armor.
“With complete confidence we do provide our soldiers the best body armor that exists in the world today; it is the most tested body armor in the world today,” Phillips said. “I’m not aware of any incident downrange where the body armor failed to protect against a round that it was designed to defeat.”