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Defense Logistics: Army and Marine Corps's Individual Body Armor System Issues

GAO-07-662R Published: Apr 26, 2007. Publicly Released: Apr 26, 2007.
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Since combat operations began in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces have been subjected to frequent and deadly attacks from insurgents using various weapons such as improvised explosive devices (IED), mortars, rocket launchers, and increasingly lethal ballistic threats. Since 2003, to provide protection from ballistic threats, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other areas, has required service members and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians in its area of operations to be issued the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system. Used by all U.S. military service members and DOD civilians in the area of operations, the IBA consists of an outer tactical vest with ballistic inserts or plates that cover the front, back, and sides. As the ballistic threat has evolved, ballistic requirements have also changed. The vest currently provides protection from 9mm rounds, while the inserts provide protection against 7.62mm armor-piercing rounds. Additional protection can also be provided for the shoulder, throat, and groin areas. Concerns also regarding the level of protection and amount of IBA needed to protect U.S. forces have occurred in recent years, prompted by a number of reports, newspaper articles, and recalls of issued body armor by both the Army and the Marine Corps. In May 2005, the Marine Corps recalled body armor because it concluded that the fielded body armor failed to meet contract specifications, and in November 2005, the Army and Marine Corps recalled 14 lots of body armor that failed original ballistic testing. Additionally, in April 2005, we reported on shortages of critical force protection items, including individual body armor. Specifically, we found reasons for the shortages in body armor were due to material shortages, production limitations, and in-theater distribution problems. In the report, we did not make specific recommendations regarding body armor, but we did make several recommendations to improve the effectiveness of DOD's supply system in supporting deployed forces for contingencies. DOD agreed with the intent of the recommendations and cited actions it had or was taking to eliminate supply chain deficiencies. Congress has expressed strong interest in assuring that body armor protects ground forces. Additionally, as part of our efforts to monitor DOD's and the services' actions to protect deployed ground forces, we reviewed the Army and Marine Corps's actions to address concerns regarding body armor to determine if they had taken actions to address these concerns. Because of broad congressional interest in the adequacy of body armor for the ground forces, we prepared this report under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative. Our objectives for this review were to determine to what extent the Army and Marine Corps (1) are meeting the theater requirements for body armor, (2) have the controls in place to assure that the manufacturing and fielding of body armor meet requirements, and (3) are sharing information regarding their efforts on body armor ballistic requirements and testing.

In this review, we found that the Army and Marine Corps have taken several actions to meet theater requirements, assure testing, and share information on body armor. We also found that contractors and non-DOD civilians receive body armor if this provision is included in a negotiated contract. Specifically, we found that the Army and Marine Corps are currently meeting theater ballistic requirements and the required amount needed for personnel in theater, including the amounts needed for the surge of troops into Iraq; have controls in place during manufacturing and after fielding to assure that body armor meets requirements; and share information regarding ballistic requirements and testing, and the development of future body armor systems, although they are not required to do so. Regarding contractors or non-DOD civilians, we found that DOD Instruction 3020.41 allows DOD to provide body armor to contractors where permitted by applicable DOD instructions and military department regulations and where specified under the terms of the contract. CENTCOM's position is that body armor will be provided to contractors if it is part of a negotiated contract.

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Department of Defense contractorsInformation managementMilitary forcesMilitary personnelOperational testingProduct evaluationProtective equipmentReporting requirementsRequirements definitionTestingIraq War and reconstructionInformation sharing