NBC Accuses Pentagon of Using Less Safe Body Armor… But is it?


By: Warner Todd Huston

Back on May 20th, the NBC News Investigative Unit excitedly reported that US Armed forces and the Pentagon may be forcing our soldiers to use body armor that is not as effective as newer models being produced. In an alarming TV report called “Are U.S. soldiers wearing the best body armor?”, NBC intimated that the Pentagon was sending our troops substandard bullet proof vests when they knew there was a better product out there suggesting that our government is putting our soldier’s safety at risk. But, further Congressional investigations and military testing results are beginning to prove that NBC’s breathless report about substandard armor is misleading. Will NBC do a follow up report admitting that their facts were wrong now that their original report has been revealed as hasty and ill informed?

Back on May 20th, intrepid NBC “investigator” Lisa Myers reported that NBC conducted “independent ballistics tests” to prove that Dragon Skin, the product created by Pinnacle Armor, was superior to the military’s currently used “Interceptor” body armor product.

But that isn’t all. NBC also claimed that there was a conspiracy against Dragon Skin. In their investigative report, NBC quotes a Nevin Rupert who claims that the Army refuses to certify Dragon Skin because approving Dragon Skin armor somehow threatened the Army’s power and funding.

“It wasn’t their program. It threatened their program and mission funding,” Rupert claimed in an interview with Myers.

The upshot of Myers’ report is that some sort of Army cabal in the military was excluding Dragon Skin because they were more interested in funding than the troops’ safety.

This May 20th report led to a series of Congressional hearings to ascertain what, if anything, was going on with this issue.

On June 7th, however, we get this report from GovermentExecutive.com (among many other sources):

House Armed Services Committee members Wednesday accused a body armor maker with falsifying information about its product and making unsubstantiated claims that the Army rigged live-fire tests to set the firm’s vests up for failure.

During a long hearing that often seemed like a trial, the Fresno, Calif.-based Pinnacle Armor Inc. offered lawmakers no firm evidence to back up its public assertions that Army officials manipulated tests on its Dragon Skin body armor to cover up the vests’ true capabilities.

Given the chance to prove that their armor is the best, as NBC claimed it might be, Pinnacle executives could not even produce a single bit of proof that their product met standards, was better than what is currently being used by our armed forces, or that they are being unfairly frozen out of the appropriations and contracts system.

So, what does NBC say about the reliability of their “investigative” report?

The report “brings NBC’s credibility into serious question,” said Thompson, who added that the news organization disregarded the Army’s own evidence to pursue a “salacious story.” Skelton announced at the hearing that NBC News declined an invitation to appear before the committee.

A call to NBC’s Washington bureau was not returned at presstime.

Yeah. Imagine that.

There seems to be all sorts of unanswered questions. From the fact that the adhesive used on Dragon Skin is not effective:

More troubling to Army testers was the near complete delamination of the disks from the Kevlar backing within the Dragon Skin on several of the environmental tests.

To Pinnacle’s inexplicable labeling that certified that the Law Enforcement community certified the product when it had not done so:

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.

… and from GovernmentExecutive.com:

The panel’s hearing came as the Air Force, which also has tested the Pinnacle Armor vests, has opened a criminal investigation into the firm over allegations that it had placed a label on their Dragon Skin armor improperly stating that it had been certified to a ballistic level it had not.

Yet, here we had NBC claiming that the Dragon Skin vests were far better and that there was some eeeevil military conspiracy against them, that Pinnacle was as innocent as the driven snow. The truth seems far murkier.

As to NBC’s claims that their “independent” ballistics tests showed Dragon Skin to be better than the Army’s current vests, the Army thoroughly disputes this claim.

First is the fact that NBC did not use US Government approved “Interceptor” armor suppliers for their tests:

Army officials testified Wednesday that the interceptor body armor tested against the Dragon Skin in the NBC test was not produced by any of the six companies that supply the vests to the military, a fact that may have contributed to the interceptor armor’s poor showing.

Second was that US Military tests showed much the opposite of NBC’s claims:

“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 (Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology) said. “The bottom line is that the Dragon Skin vest did not stop the bullets.”

Clearly NBC’s report is not as true as they presented it to be.

So, the question remains open. Will NBC follow up their alarmist and seemingly completely WRONG claims against our Military? Will they admit that the Pentagon did not try to quash the fortunes of a company that could have provided our soldiers with better protection from enemy bullets? Will NBC admit that they unfairly assaulted the reputation and efficacy of the US Military’s procurement process in this case?

We are waiting for an answer NBC.

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