Army Holds Unusual Briefing on Body Armor Sent to Iraq, Afghanistan

Monday , May 21, 2007

The Army provided one of its most detailed briefings Monday on how it tests body armor before protective vests are declared fit to issue to U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon news conference with Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, the Army's top officer in charge of charge of body armor, detailed a series of tests that he says the current Interceptor system, currently issued to soldiers and Marines, has passed.

The unusual briefing aimed to refute what it calls inaccurate reporting by NBC after the network broadcast a series of reports in which correspondent Lisa Myers raised questions about the Interceptor body armor, which the military maintains is "the best, bar none."

NBC claimed a different type, known as DragonSkin, and made by a company called Pinnacle, actually performed better during independent tests conducted by the network. NBC also interviewed the retired Marine who designed Interceptor and who called DragonSkin the best body armor available.

But Brown said in the series of tests conducted by the military, DragonSkin failed everything from exposure to extreme temperatures to withstanding gunfire. All the tests, the Army says, were performed at a certified U.S. government laboratory and with the CEO of Pinnacle on hand to monitor.

"We have conducted the same test standard for all of our current body armor producers. Every one of them has passed with zero failures," Brown said. "This (Dragonskin) has passed with 13 failures. If they make a product improvement, we are willing to test again to that standard and see if they can make it."

Brown said DragonSkin suffered "catastrophic failures" by not being able to withstand temperature ranges from 60 degrees below zero to 120 above, a range that he says can be expected when vests are used in the arctic or put to use in Iraq. Interceptor has withstood these tests, Brown said.

"Although we are highly confident that we have the best body armor in the world, bar none, we are never satisfied with the status quo," Brown said. "And we are always looking for the next best thing. And to borrow a phrase from Lee Iacocca, if there's something better out there, we're going to buy it — after we've live-fire tested it. "

The Army says all of the information it presented was made available to NBC. Brown added that the military decided to go public with such detailed information at the risk of providing battlefield intelligence to the enemy because the Pentagon wanted to remove any doubt Americans might have about whether soldiers are getting the best body armor available.

"We are facing a very media-savvy enemy. They are not only media-savvy, they are Internet-savvy," Brown said. "We call it the information domain of warfare. Everything that we put out into the public domain, we just must assume that they get. We don't like to discuss our vulnerabilities and our counters to those vulnerabilities in the open public."

FOX News' Nick Simeone contributed to this report.