August 14, 2007:
Skin armor was recently decertified by the National Institute of Justice,
adding more controversy to the debate
over the value of this armor design for protective vests. This loss of
certification will cause many police agencies to reject this armor as a result.
This is a serious blow to the manufacturer, which is trying to get the armor adopted by the
Department of Defense.
Dragon Skin was intended to
provide better all-around protection against incoming fire. One problem with
most protective vests is that there are places where the protective ceramic
plates only cover a small portion of the body. Dragon Skin solved that problem,
but weighed 20 pounds more than the Interceptor.
This is a big deal for the
average grunt. How? Well, take a look at what a grunt usually carries: An M16
rifle or M4 carbine, loaded with a 30-round magazine. Then there are six or
seven spare magazines. Then there's a M9 pistol, loaded with a 15-round clip,
with two or three spares also carried. Four grenades are also carried, along
with two canteens (although troops also tend to acquire Camelbak for drinking
water as well), bayonet, gas mask, and a helmet. That load tends to come in at
35 pounds. And that is assuming they have a Stryker or Bradley to leave their
packs in. If not, the troops have to carry their pack, with at least two MREs,
a poncho and liner, another canteen, and other items (extra socks, towel, and
entrenching tool). That runs another 22 pounds.
So, the extra 20 pounds of a
Dragon Skin vest versus an Interceptor vest is a big deal for the infantry.
Plus, there are concerns about how well Dragon Skin performs. NBC ran tests in
Germany that seemed to favor the armor, but Army tests found flaws. The Army
also had concerns about how well Dragon Skin could hold up in very hot
temperatures (the inside of a Bradley or a Stryker can get much hotter than outside
temperature, particularly in a desert environment).
The Army did the tests last
year at the insistence of Congress - who wanted the armor to be given a chance.
Now that the armor has failed, the manufacturer is going to the court of public
opinion to overturn the verdict of the Army tests. Now, the Army is caught in a
battle to not only save the lives of its troops, but the reputation of those
who test equipment for the troops. The Department of Justice and National
Institute of Justice appears to be backing the Army. The company that makes
Dragon Skin, though, has friends in Congress - and Congress can overturn a
decision to not buy gear. And so, the controversy will continue. - Harold C.