Webb raises issue with testing of body armor

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., today wrote Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to express his concerns over the findings of a Government Accountability Office report released Oct. 16, 2009, citing deviations in testing protocols used in the U.S. Army’s testing of body armor conducted last year under a contract solicitation issued in 2007.

Sen. Webb and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, both members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services in 2007, requested the GAO investigation in May 2007 in light of their concerns about the effectiveness and reliability of body armor being issued to service members. “I greatly appreciate the audit team’s demonstrated commitment over the past two years,” wrote Sen. Webb. “Our men and women in uniform deserve to have the highest degree of confidence that the body armor they are issued meets or exceeds the military’s requirements for ballistic protection.”

The GAO found that established testing protocols were not always followed and, as a result, concluded the Army’s intended test objectives for performance requirements were not met. Although acknowledging that deviations occurred during testing, the Department of Defense and the Army did not concur with the GAO’s conclusion. In their view, the tests satisfied Army objectives.

“The lack of consensus between GAO and DOT&E is disturbing,” Sen. Webb said. He strongly urged the Secretary of Defense to adopt the GAO’s recommendations to have an independent assessment of the Army’s test data or to repeat the tests in order to ensure that prior testing outcomes were not erroneously influenced.

The Army plans to complete additional phases of ballistic testing by the end of this year to confirm a high statistical confidence in the body armor’s performance. For this reason, Sen. Webb will ask the GAO to continue its independent assessment of this testing to ensure that “body armor procured under this solicitation will defeat the threats for which it is designed.” He also wrote that, “absent a compelling, emergent operational requirement, armor procured under this contract should not be fielded until all of the additional phases of testing have been completed and assessed as meeting or exceeding Army requirements.”



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