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Air Force considers ban on body armor maker

Jun. 12, 2007 - 09:14AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 12, 2007 - 09:14AM  |  
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Air Force Materiel Command recommended Friday that the Air Force bar Pinnacle Armor Inc., the maker of Dragon Skin body armor, from signing new contracts with the U.S. government, CongressDaily reported.

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Air Force Materiel Command recommended Friday that the Air Force bar Pinnacle Armor Inc., the maker of Dragon Skin body armor, from signing new contracts with the U.S. government, CongressDaily reported.

Headquarters Air Force will review the recommendation and decide on a potential ban within several weeks, the report said.

The recommendation comes just days after it was revealed that the Air Force Office of Special Investigations is investigating the California-based manufacturer on allegations that it falsely claimed Dragon Skin vests were certified to a level of protection they did not possess.

Pinnacle has denied any wrongdoing.

OSI contracted to buy 590 Dragon Skin vests based on literature from and claims by the company, Douglas Thomas, executive director of OSI, testified June 6 on Capitol Hill.

The vests were delivered and fielded between October 2005 and January 2006 to deployed and deploying OSI agents, Thomas said.

Dragon Skin subsequently failed two tests conducted by the Air Force.

"In February 2006, we issued a stop order/immediate discontinue message to all our personnel, which basically says stop using them ... and send them back to headquarters," said Capt. Christine Millette, an OSI spokeswoman.

On May 11, 2006, OSI received verification from the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center that the type of Dragon Skin vests the Air Force purchased had not been tested or certified to National Institute of Justice standards, Thomas said.

"That was a big surprise because that's one of the reasons we purchased the vests," he said, adding that the vests received by OSI were clearly and falsely marked NIJ Level III.

"In May 2006, OSI opened a joint criminal investigation with [Defense Criminal Investigative Service] for false [National Institute of Justice] certification on the vest and false representation of its capabilities," Thomas said. "In June 2006, we tested the vest again. It failed."

The claim made by Pinnacle "is a serious fraudulent claim," said Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

Meanwhile, military officials, lawmakers and industry professionals continue to debate whether Pinnacle's vests outperform the military's Interceptor armor.

Murray Neal, chief executive officer of Pinnacle, joined Thomas, Thompson and representatives from the other services June 6 in front of the House Armed Services Committee. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the committee chairman, questioned Pinnacle about its claim, which was placed on the vests and dated April 14, 2006.

"I have in front of me a later letter from the Department of Justice dated Dec. 20, 2006," Skelton said. "What I find to be interesting is that this attachment to the [body armor] is dated April 14, 2006, and the actual certification is Dec. 20, 2006. ... this is a serious discrepancy of making an assertion months before it actually came to pass."

NIJ has a body armor testing program to "enhance the confidence of public safety agencies and officers," said Jonathan Morgan, deputy director of the institute.

Pinnacle has submitted seven models of Dragon Skin-based armor to NIJ since May 2006, Morgan said. The company resubmitted two of the seven models after inconclusive results. Of those nine submissions, five failed to comply with NIJ standards, one passed, two were found to be inconclusive and one is pending, Morgan said.

The Army will test Dragon Skin vests — along with products from any other bidder — if the company submits its product to a request for proposals that's open until late July, Thompson said. The Army will look at any offers from manufacturers who believe they can improve on the enhanced small-arms protective inserts and enhanced side ballistic inserts now worn by soldiers, Thompson said.

Neal said all he wants is a fair test for his product.

"The bottom line for me ... is that Dragon Skin has been verified as the best body armor in the world," he testified. "Therefore, all we ask is for a third-party independent testing of Dragon Skin at a facility that has Office of the Secretary of Defense and Department of Testing and Evaluation oversight."

Lawmakers grilled Neal and Philip Coyle, a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information, about a test, commissioned by NBC TV, that the news agency said shows Dragon Skin is superior to the Interceptor armor being worn in combat. Coyle served as a witness for the NBC test.

The NBC report, which aired May 20, prompted lawmakers to call the hearing, which included witnesses from the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy.

Lawmakers called for another test to put the Dragon Skin-Interceptor debate to rest, but they did not seem convinced by Neal's testimony. They spent more than three hours questioning him about the ability of Dragon Skin, and his assertions that a May 2006 Army test of his product was manipulated to favor Interceptor.

Coyle wasn't spared, either. After testifying that the NBC test clearly showed Dragon Skin was superior to Interceptor, Coyle conceded, after being questioned repeatedly by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the committee's ranking member, that Dragon Skin is "not ready for prime time."

The Army — along with the other services — stands by Interceptor and the May 2006 Army test that showed Interceptor outperforming Dragon Skin, he said.

"Before the testing was halted, the Dragon Skin vest suffered 13 of 48 first- or second-round shot complete penetrations, failing four of eight initial subtests," Thompson said. "The bottom line is that the Dragon Skin vest did not stop the bullets."

Staff writers Michelle Tan and Erik Holmes contributed to this report.

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