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Army Says Body Armor Safe, Despite GAO Report

By C. Todd Lopez
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2009 – Despite testing anomalies cited in a Government Accountability Office report on body armor released today, the program executive officer for the organization that fields new equipment to soldiers said the armor plates in question are safe.

At a Pentagon news conference just hours after release of the GAO report, Army said Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller said the 85,000 "X Small Arms Protective Inserts" of interest in the report have not been fielded to soldiers and are in storage, and that the plates now in use are safe.

"We have the best body armor by far," Fuller said. "And we appreciate the oversight we get from organizations such as GAO, because what they do is ensure we provide the very best to our soldiers."

Fuller said the Army has worked closely with GAO and other organizations to improve testing and evaluation in the acquisition process, and that the Army has, in fact, made improvements. The GAO report, he said, points out pains the Army has had with improvements in its evaluation and testing processes.

"The challenge we are having with this GAO audit report is they are challenging our processes, and I think what we are really identifying is we have had an evolution of processes and we need to better articulate what we are doing there," he said.

The 85,000 inserts in question are ceramic plates that fit into tactical vests for wear by soldiers to provide protection against projectiles and fragmentation. The GAO report questions the Army’s adherence to some testing protocols when evaluating the plates.

"Overall reliability and repeatability of the test results are uncertain," the report said.

Fuller said the Army is conducting additional testing on the plates to document their safety in compliance with standards. Phase II testing, he said, already has been conducted, and Phase III testing will start in November.

"We told GAO [and] we told the Hill yesterday, we are interested in taking all this data, the Phase II testing, Phase III testing, the additional surveillance testing -- wrap it all up in one report and provide it back to the Hill," Fuller said.

Fuller said he hopes to articulate to both GAO and Congress that although Army testing protocols have experienced challenges, the armor is, in fact, safe. Phase II testing on both plate designs in question have shown a "very high statistical confidence interval," the general said.

"They are fantastic plates," he added.

(C. Todd Lopez works at Army News Service.)

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