February 9, 2008:
An American firm was recently fined $2.2
million for supplying substandard Kevlar cloth for use in helmets used by the
U.S. Army. The firm weaved the Kevlar thread into cloth that was used to make
the helmets. Kevlar is light and very resistant to bullets and shell fragments.
Layers of it are used in helmets and protective vests. But its resistance to
projectiles depends on how dense the weave is. The government specification is
35x35 Kevlar threads per square inch. The fined company was using 34x34, or
sometimes as low as 32x34. This saved the company Kevlar thread, which is
expensive. The amount of money saved was less than the $2.2 million fine. The
two employees of the firm that alerted the government received a $400,000
There were no reports of the
substandard Kevlar leading to deaths or injuries to any troops. Testing of the
helmets made with the substandard cloth also failed to produce any failures.
It's not unusual to find military
equipment that is not built to the specifications, often long after the
equipment entered service. For example, manufacturers of the Kevlar thread have
been found using substandard manufacturing processes. In this case, the thread
was more liable to weaken if exposed to a lot of heat, like the kind
encountered during Iraqi Summers. The recent grounding of over 400 F-15C
fighters was due to a defect in aluminum components (longerons) of the aircraft
structure. Some of these longerons failed after the stress of several thousand
hours in the air, causing aircraft to crash.
New longerons have to be manufactured, according to specifications, to
get many of these aircraft back into the air. Many of the substandard longerons
have small cracks, and all the substandard ones will have to be removed and
replaced. There are many more examples, because shoddy goods for the troops is
an ancient tradition that is not going away any time soon.