Why Now?
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
  Body Armor
Jeff over at Main & Central wrote about people receiving dire warnings from the brass at the US Special Operations Command not to use privately purchased body armor, more specifically Pinnacle Dragon Skin armor. People are threatened with a range of punishments for failing to use the government issued armor.

Before I go into my rant, How Stuff Works has a primer on body armor, so you can understand what is actually being discussed, and The Defense Review has a link rich article on the controversy.

I had a "flak jacket" in Southeast Asia. I used to sit on it in the aircraft because ground fire was the problem and that seemed to be the best way of dealing with it.

In law enforcement I bought my own armor because I wanted something that would actually provide protection and the recommended choice depended on the "bad guys" being fairly good shots to be effective.

The "flak jacket" was bulky, heavy, hot, and stiff. The soft armor was much lighter and more flexible, but it was definitely hot and it was obvious that you were wearing a vest if you wore it under the uniform shirt without a jacket. Neither was total protection but they would stop better than 90% of the threats.

This grief coming out of USSOC bugs me on a number of levels. Anyone who has had contact with the guys in Special Ops will tell you that they are not exactly "by the book". The weapons they carry are almost never standard issue. A lot of Air Force Special Ops guys have sawed-off shotguns and automatic weapons that definitely did not come from the Base Equipment Management Office. These guys tend not to worry about wearing a complete and proper uniform at all times, as they are in a very "results oriented" environment. You give them a mission and they do it. If they needed detailed instructions they wouldn't be in Special Ops. An order like this to people in Special Ops smells like politics. This came from the Pentagon, not the battlefield.

Someone is positioning himself for a new job and is currying favor with a power center. It may be someone looking for a posting to the Pentagon, or someone lining up a civilian job for retirement. The order makes no sense in any other context.

This Pentagon has apparently signed a series of single source contracts. These contracts are stupid when there is a major conflict. The people who have the contract are not likely to be equipped for a major increase in orders and if their system breaks down the troops on the ground are going to be adversely affected. When it became obvious that more armor would be needed, other companies should have been contacted to fulfill the requirements. This is a management problem.

Having read the available information on the Dragon Skin armor, it would be my choice. The contractors in Iraq have the money to buy whatever they want, and they are buying the Pinnacle armor. Why can't American GIs?

Update: Len points to the "not invented here" mindset in the military that is part of the problem.


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