U.S. News

U.S. Army pulls body armor after testing criticized

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army said on Thursday it was withdrawing some 16,400 sets of body armor, even though it considers them safe, because a Pentagon watchdog found that the designs had not been properly tested.

The Army said it did not agree with the conclusion by the Pentagon’s inspector general and has asked Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England to adjudicate.

But it said it would replace the armor currently used in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, until the dispute was resolved. It said the sets to be replaced represented 1.6 percent of its total body armor inventory.

“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,” the Army said in a statement.

The inspector general’s report found that the Army did not follow correct procedures in its initial testing of some armor plates which are inserted into protective vests.

The watchdog said it believed that three designs, made by Arizona-based company ArmorWorks Enterprises LLC, failed the tests although they were declared to have passed.

“The Army does not have assurance that all inserts purchased ... provide the level of protection required by the contract,” said the report, obtained by Reuters.

ArmorWorks did not have any immediate comment on the report.

The Army said the Pentagon’s own testing department disagreed with the inspector general’s conclusion, believing all three designs had passed the tests.

It described the testing department as “the government’s preeminent and independent authority in the highly specialized field of ballistic testing.”

Brigadier General Peter Fuller, the head of the Army office that develops and fields equipment for soldiers, said he was not aware of any casualties caused by faulty body armor.

Armor plates, including some mentioned in the inspector general’s report, have been subjected to X-ray tests after years of use and still found to be effective, he said.

“No one has been killed because they had defective body armor. And why’s that? Because we don’t issue defective body armor,” he said on a conference call with reporters.

Army Secretary Pete Geren said the inspector general was questioning only three of the more than 2,300 body armor tests conducted by the force.

“The government’s preeminent independent expert ... says the plates passed those three tests,” he said. “Since 2002, we have produced and fielded over 2 million plates of body armor. That body armor has saved the lives of thousands of soldiers.”

Additional reporting by David Morgan, Editing by Sandra Maler