U.S. Army military exercise. Petar Petrov/AP
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Six defense contractors produced more than 5 million bullet-proof body armor inserts whose quality the Army cannot guarantee, at a cost of upwards of $2.5 billion.

An audit by the Department of Defense inspector general found the inserts—produced by ArmorWorks, Simula, Cercom, Composix, Armacel Armor and Ceradyne from 2004-2006—were not tested consistently for factors such as velocity, humidity, temperature or altitude. Additionally, the results of several tests were not properly documented.

“The Army lacks assurance that 5.1 million ballistic inserts acquired…provide appropriate protection,” the IG wrote.

The report is the most recent in a series of audits first requested by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., following a New York Times story in 2006 that reported 80 percent of Marines who died in Iraq due to upper body wounds could have survived if they had more body armor.

“Despite armor upgrades, many soldiers remain unhappy with the quality of their body armor, and have continued to purchase equipment from private companies,” Slaughter wrote in a letter to the DoD inspector general. “Unfortunately, the Army recently barred service personnel from using non-DoD procured body armor. I am concerned that our soldiers in the field—who think they need better armor than provided to them by DoD—were not consulted before the Army banned privately bought armor.”

The congressionally requested audits found that preliminary testing, called First Article Testing (FAT), was not part of 13 of 28 Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) contracts. The contractors’ qualifications were then investigated further, with the most recent report investigating testing processes for seven of the 13 contracts. The first six were examined in a report released in January.

The problem of producing a quality product did not rest inherently with the contractors, the report found, but with Program Manager Soldier Equipment, the government office charged with overseeing the testing process. The contract purchase description contains requirements for material, design, multiple stages of testing and inspections, but the government “did not ensure adequate oversight of [these] processes or adequately review, approve or document [the] results.”

The report notes that the chief scientist assigned to the project was significantly overworked—from 2004 to 2008, he served as the chief scientist on 28 Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) contracts awarded to 12 different contractors in seven states. He was also the contracting officer’s representative for at least four test lab contracts and was the master scorer for all IBA tests—of which there were more than 13,000—during those four years.

Additionally, a contractor employee was allowed to perform “inherently governmental functions”—that is, approve lots manufactured by his own employer.

“The chief scientist instructed a support contractor employee to ‘review the data and make the call.’ The contractor employee reversed his initial opinion and sent an e-mail…approving the lot. The contractor employee should not have approved the lot,” the IG report said.

Quality assurance tests conducted after the inserts were put into production were also found unreliable because of the method used to determine sample lots for testing. Testers pointed to and removed the required number of inserts from various stacks or pallets, believing this method would provide a statistically representative sample.

In the case of ArmorWorks, plates that were found to be damaged in the sample were replaced without noting the defect.

“The replacement of the defective ballistic inserts in the LAT [Lot Acceptance Testing] sample had serious implications,” the report said. “The action voided the representative sample, and no inference could be made from the LAT to the overall lot.”

Beginning in 2009, the Army started making corrections to many of the problems noted in prior audits or discussed in the report. These included requiring an Army representative to be present during all testing, increasing the number of master scorers, performing tests in a controlled environment and having an independent assessment team observe the testing.

Because of the extent of the changes made, the report made minimal recommendations to the Army. These recommendations centered on refining the types of tests performed on the plates.

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