View Full Version : Pentagon doesn't have enough suits to protect troops from chemical threat, report say

09-23-03, 05:57 AM
Pentagon doesn't have enough suits to protect troops from chemical threat, report says

By Matt Kelley
1:43 p.m. September 22, 2003

WASHINGTON The Pentagon doesn't have enough protective suits to keep U.S. troops safe from chemical or biological attacks, congressional investigators said Monday.

Inventories of the suits are millions short of what the Pentagon says it needs and the shortages will worsen in coming years under current spending plans, the General Accounting Office report said. The problem is compounded by the use of thousands of the suits during the war in Iraq and the looming expiration dates of some older suits, the report said.

The full report was classified, but the GAO released an unclassified summary. That summary said the Pentagon agreed with recommendations to consider stockpiling parts of the suits and to better determine how many of the suits are needed.

The Defense Department has had long-standing problems with inventories of protective gear. The Pentagon recalled about 800,000 defective suits in 2000 but had accounted for only about 550,000 of them by last October, Defense Department officials testified at a House subcommittee hearing then.

Congressional investigators also have documented the military's problems with keeping track of the suits and their expiration dates.

Raymond Decker of the GAO said at the October hearing that those problems put American troops at risk in a chemical or biological warfare environment.

Although President Bush said he ordered the invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein's regime had chemical and biological weapons, none were used and none have been found. U.S. troops often used their protective suits during the Iraq war because of false alarms, however.

Before the war in Iraq, the military had about 4.5 million of the protective suits, including about 1.5 million of the newest and safest version.

The military says it needs a stockpile of about 7 million suits, the latest GAO report said. The current stockpile is set to increase to about 6 million next year, but then fall back to about 4.5 million by 2007, the report said.

Several factors increase the Pentagon's risk of not having enough protective gear, the report said. The military relies on foreign suppliers for some critical components of the suits. Inconsistent and unpredictable yearly funding means large numbers of suits will expire at the same time.

The ability of suit manufacturers to quickly increase production in a crisis is unclear, the report said. That means there could be a delay between when the military ran out of suits in a major war and when the companies could make enough replacement suits, the report said.

On the Net:

General Accounting Office: www.gao.gov/

House Government Reform subcommittee: reform.house.gov/NSETIR/