WASHINGTON – Any body armor company that wishes to test its armor against the Interceptor body armor that the Army and Marines are currently wearing has until the end of July to submit its request to the House Armed Services Committee.
That was the decision of the committee after a hearing Wednesday in response to a controversy surrounding Pinnacle Armor's Dragon Skin vests and the Interceptor vests being used by the Army.
The Army banned the use of Dragon Skin for its soldiers more than a year ago,but recent news stories alleged that Dragon Skin is the most protective body armor. Army officials put it to the test,finding that Dragon Skin was penetrated by bullets and failed four of eight tests.
Murray Neal,chief executive officer of Pinnacle Armor Inc.,was a witness at the hearing,along with Philip Coyle,senior advisor of the World Security Institute. They both defended the Dragon Skin vest,despite the Army's test results.
Coyle was invited by NBC-TV to witness a Dragon Skin test conducted at the Beschussamt Mellrichstadt ballistics laboratory in Germany on May 3. His observations were a large part of Pinnacle's defense.
“This test series showed that Dragon Skin could defeat this threat and meet both the Army standard and the tougher [National Institute of Justice] standard,” he said.
Neal contended that the Army tests were faulty and did not reflect Dragon Skin vests' true protection.
“There is a pattern of anti-Dragon Skin misinformation coming from the military,” he said.
The question then became: “Which test is right?” Rep. Duncan Hunter,R-Calif.,the committee's ranking Republican,posed the question to Neal and Coyle.
“How can the Army test be so different from the test you took in Germany?” he asked.
“Once in a while,you'll end up with complete penetration,” Neal admitted.
Army witnesses defended the current vests but said they were always looking for better equipment.
Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson,who works for the assistant secretary for acquisitions,logistics and technology,stood by his claim that soldiers are always equipped with the most protective armor.
“Every soldier has at least one set of body armor,and when improvements are made,we field the new equipment to our troops as soon as possible,with priority to those in combat or deploying to combat,” he said.
Col. Kevin Noonan,of the special operations command,said military services want to share solutions to problems and are testing equipment to meet the special operations forces' requirements.
The committee plans to conduct a third-party test in late July to give any body armor companies a chance to prove if their vests can stand up to the pressures that soldiers must endure.
“I think it's clear that we need to have another test,” Hunter said.