WASHINGTON – When stories emerged that soldiers might not be outfitted with the most protective armored vests,Army officials put them to the test.
Army officials released a report that said the Pinnacle vests “suffered catastrophic failure.” They provided X-rays of the armor before and after each test. Of the eight vests tested,four failed,with a total of 13 penetrations in 48 shots at the vest.
The effectiveness of Dragon Skin vests versus Interceptor vests has been a controversial topic for more than a year. The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to update the public on any new developments with the body armor.
The vests were also tested in a variety of environmental conditions,including temperatures as high as 160 degrees and as low as minus 60 degrees. They were exposed to diesel fuel,oil and saltwater immersion and a 14-hour temperature cycle from minus 25 degrees to 120 degrees.
Rep. Jim Saxton,R-N.J.,attended the briefing and spoke later at a press conference.
“The evidence is pretty much irrefutable. … In the real world,the Pinnacle Armor failed,and I would say that [a] soldier would want to wear the best armor,” he said.
The report did not include the results and details of tests on the Interceptor Armor,Saxton said,because it could lead to soldiers being harmed.
Javier LaRosa,53,of Maryville,Tenn.,a Navy veteran and father of Marine Lance Cpl. Alex LaRosa,recently began raising money to purchase Dragon Skin vests for 36 soldiers in his son's platoon. His son is in training and expects to go to Iraq soon.
As of Monday,LaRosa and his wife had raised about $26,000.
Vests from both companies cost from $2,400 to $6,000. Dragon Skin vests are more expensive.
LaRosa said he recently visited Pinnacle headquarters to see firsthand how Dragon Skin vests perform under pressure. He watched as Pinnacle officials shot at three vests.
“I saw that the vest,in fact,held and was not penetrated. That's the one thing that I saw with my own two eyes,” he said.
While the Army has banned Dragon Skin vests,LaRosa said the vests are still allowed by the Marines. But,if the Marines do change their policy and restrict the use of Dragon Skin vests,LaRosa will put the money toward other military necessities.
“Based on what they need,we will then cover that need,” he said. “But this is only in the event that the military says ‘no' to Dragon Skin.”
Constructed of overlapping,silver-dollar sized disks,Dragon Skin armor is noted most for its flexibility. However,Saxton said,”In several conditions related to heat,and other factors of testing,the Pinnacle Armor delaminated and created holes through which bullets are passed.”
“They claim that the disks will migrate when the glue fails. I don't believe it,” LaRosa said.
A staff member on the Armed Services Committee who asked not to be identified by name said the Interceptor vests are constructed of soft armor,hard armor and ceramic tile. Included in some of the soft material is Kevlar,a light but strong synthetic fiber.
The report also says that a 28 pound Interceptor vest can cover the same amount of body area as a 47.5 pound Pinnacle vest.
Murray Neal,chief executive officer of Pinnacle Armor,and others will testify at Wednesday's hearing.
Neal could not be reached for comment over the past several days,but he has told other news organizations that another test is needed. He said a neutral party,neither Pinnacle nor the Army,should do the test.
Rep. Gene Taylor,D- Miss.,also spoke at the news conference.
“NBC,CBS,FOX,little old lady down the street,if they want to run a test,let them run a test. I think they'll come to the same conclusion,” he said. “If they don't,I'd love to know about it. But based on what I saw today,in what appeared to be a very fair test,I think the Army's made the right decision.”