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American Forces Press Service

Soldiers' Armor Best in the World, General Says

By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2007 – The Army spares no expense or effort to provide soldiers the top level of protection technology available, the officer in charge of outfitting and equipping Army soldiers said yesterday.

The service has fielded the most effective body armor tested thus far, said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, Program Executive Officer Soldier, on a call with “bloggers” and online journalists.

His comments came in response to May 17 and 20 NBC News reports challenging the Army's use of Interceptor body armor vs. the newer "Dragon Skin" armor developed by Pinnacle Armor Inc.

The NBC reports claimed Dragon Skin performed better in independent testing than the body armor currently in use by soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

That was not the case in a series of Army-run tests, Brown stated.

In Army testing conducted May 16 to 19, 2006, the Dragon Skin armor “failed catastrophically,” Brown said. The armor sustained “13 out of 48 complete penetrations under a variety of conditions,” Brown explained.

When comparing armor manufacturers, “it’s a sudden-death playoff,” the general noted. “One failure is failure.”

As a matter of policy, the Army does not publicly release testing information, Brown said, but in this case, leaders believed the value of reassuring soldiers’ families and loved ones trumped other concerns.

“We generally don’t talk about our vulnerabilities and our counters to those vulnerabilities in public because we believe that informs a very media-savvy and Internet-savvy al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.,” Brown said.

“However, there’s a balance to be struck,” he said, “and we think the NBC reporting tipped the balance in favor of ‘we had to go public in order to support the soldiers’ confidence in their equipment.’”

Even the opening shots of the NBC segments showed a soldier wearing Interceptor armor, taking a shot from an enemy round, falling over, and getting up to re-engage the enemy, Brown described. “If one picture is worth a thousand words, that should have been quite impressive right there,” he said.

Furthermore, the general noted, his organization operates with all of the financial and leadership support it requires to best equip deployed forces by actively pursuing new measures and technologies.

“We are always researching for the next best thing,” he said, with expenditures for basic research, nanotechnology, off-the-shelf systems and other avenues for research and development.

In the case of body armor, Brown explained, “It is about the bullet, but it’s not all about the bullet. It also has to cover the maximum amount of area. It also has to be light enough for the soldier to use. And, it has to work in conjunction with all the other soldier equipment.”

Interceptor armor weighs 28 pounds; while the Dragon Skin equivalent weighs 47 pounds.

“You should not load up the human body with more than one third of their body weight for extended periods of time,” Brown said. “For a 150-pound soldier, a 47-pound vest would be the entire one third of their body weight” before accounting for other equipment such as helmet, rifle, boots and canteen, he explained.

Those demands recommend use of the Interceptor armor over and above its stronger performance in testing, Brown said.

“Today we have the best body armor in the world, bar none,” he stated. “It is live-fire tested; it is proven in combat.”

(Tim Kilbride is assigned to New Media, American Forces Information Service.)

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