Thursday, June 07, 2007

Military Body Armor Tests

Appears that the Dragon Skin claims aren't up to par after all.
The technical expert solicited by a major news network to certify its tests of Dragon Skin body armor admitted Wednesday that the controversial vests weren't "ready for prime time."

In an investigative report broadcast by NBC May 20, the network used the expert opinion of Dr. Phillip Coyle - the former director of test and evaluation at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration - to certify results of side-by-side tests conducted at NBC's expense in Germany.

In testimony submitted to the House Armed Services Committee during a June 6 hearing in the issue, Coyle stated Dragon Skin - manufactured by Fresno, Calif.-based Pinnacle Armor - was "better … against multiple rounds and in reducing blunt force trauma" than the Army's current rifle-resistant Interceptor armor.

But after being confronted with conflicting information by lawmakers who questioned the NBC test results and provided Army-supplied data of vest failures from a May 2006 test, Coyle backed away from his staunch defense of Dragon Skin.

"You're saying today ... that you cannot say that it's ready for prime time. That's your testimony?" Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) asked Coyle.

Coyle agreed that the NBC tests fell short of proving Dragon Skin was ready for fielding.
The Dragon Skin company spokesman:
Sitting beside Coyle at the hearing, Pinnacle president Murray Neal put forward a vigorous, if disjointed, defense of his product, telling lawmakers in written testimony the Army was manipulating test results, conducted unfair shots on his armor and released contradictory data to lawmakers and the media.

"Nothing jives, nothing makes sense," Neal told committee members. "The information coming from the Army is fraught with inconsistencies."

I'd like to know what an "unfair shot" is. And the only relevant data point comes down to whether the testing of the competing armor was done in the same manner. Once those identical tests are performed, then analysis of design specific weaknesses should, and must be done. One issue I see is the problem with the small scales in the Dragon Skin. Can a shot turn that scale sufficiently to allow penetration? And what about weight?

This also comes down to the question of what changes have been made in the armor since first field implementation. Are the tests being performed on the latest system or on the systems as originally analyzed by the Army. Part of the deception here is that they want to make you believe that the military screwed up the original testing, when in fact they have made changes to their system. I don't see any issue with the military reassessing the armor for ongoing contracts of new equipment, especially considering that better technology will come along. The issue comes down to the military must meet standards that they themselves are willing to stand behind. (As in they will be willing to wear the armor in combat.)

This also ignores the issues with weight. The original tests showed the Dragon Skin being nearly double the weight of the Interceptor. That's bad when you need to run. I wonder if that is still at issue? They only discuss penetration testing here and not any other criteria.

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