The Army has issued soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan personal body armor, comprising an outer protective vest and ceramic plate inserts. GAO observed Preliminary Design Model testing of new plate designs, which resulted in the Army's awarding contracts in September 2008 valued at a total of over $8 billion to vendors of the designs that passed that testing. Between November and December 2008, the Army conducted further testing, called First Article Testing, on these designs. GAO is reporting on the degree to which the Army followed its established testing protocols during these two tests. GAO did not provide an expert ballistics evaluation of the results of testing. GAO, using a structured, GAO-developed data collection instrument, observed both tests at the Army's Aberdeen Test Center, analyzed data, and interviewed agency and industry officials to evaluate observed deviations from testing protocols. However, independent ballistics testing expertise is needed to determine the full effect of these deviations.
Matter for Congressional Consideration
|DOD did not concur with our recommendation for an independent evaluation of First Article Testing results and accordingly plans to take no action to provide such an assessment. DOD asserted that the issues we identified do not alter the effects of testing. However, based on our analysis and findings there is sufficient evidence to raise questions as to whether the issues we identified had an impact on testing results. As a result, we continue to believe it is necessary to have an independent external expert review these test results and the overall effect of the testing deviations we observed on those results before any armor is fielded to military personnel. Without such an independent review, the First Article Test results remain questionable, undermining the confidence of the public and those who might rely on the armor for protection. Consequently, Congress may wish to consider directing the Office of the Secretary of Defense to either require that an independent external review of these body armor test results be conducted or that DOD officially amend its testing protocols to reflect any revised test procedures and repeat First Article Testing to ensure that only properly tested designs are fielded.||The Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to DOD encouraging it to address GAO's recommendation. In response, the Army contracted with the National Academies to conduct an independent assessment of the body armor test protocols, procedures, and results. Based on that assessment, the Army revised its test protocols and procedures to improve internal controls and managements practices.|
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Defense||1. To determine what effect, if any, the problems we observed had on the test data and on the outcomes of First Article Testing, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to provide for an independent evaluation of the First Article Testing results by ballistics and statistical experts external to DOD before any armor is fielded to soldiers under this contract solicitation and that the Army report the results of that assessment to the office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation and the Congress. In performing this evaluation, the independent experts should specifically evaluate the effects of the following practices observed during First Article Testing: (1) the rounding of back-face deformation measurements; (2) not scoring penetrations of material through the plate as a complete penetration unless broken fibers are observed in the Kevlar backing behind each plate; (3) the use of the laser scanner to measure back-face deformations without a full evaluation of its accuracy as it was actually used during testing, to include the use of the software modifications and operation under actual test conditions; (4) the exposure of the clay backing material to rain and other outside environmental conditions as well as the effect of high oven temperatures during storage and conditioning; and (5) the use of an additional series of clay calibration drops when the first series of clay calibration drops does not pass required specifications.|
|Department of Defense||2. To better align actual test practices with established testing protocols during future body armor testing, the Secretary of the Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to document all key decisions made to clarify or change the testing protocols.|
|Department of the Army||3. With respect to the specific inconsistencies we identified between the test practices and testing protocols, the Secretary of the Army, based on the results of the independent expert review of the First Article Test results, should (1) determine whether those practices that deviated from established testing protocols during First Article Testing will be continued during future testing and change the established testing protocols to reflect those revised practices; and (2) evaluate and re-certify the accuracy of the laser scanner to the correct standard with all software modifications incorporated and include in this analysis a side-by-side comparison of the laser measurements of the actual back-face deformations with those taken by digital caliper to determine whether laser measurements can meet the standard of the testing protocols.|
|Department of Defense||4. To improve internal controls over the integrity and reliability of test data for future testing as well as provide for consistent test conditions and comparable data between tests, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to provide for an independent peer review of Aberdeen Test Center's body armor testing protocols, facilities, and instrumentation to ensure that proper internal controls and sound management practices are in place. This peer review should be performed by testing experts external to the Army and DOD.|