Now that NBC has bought into the Dragon Skin hype, from Professional Soldiers comes the best article I have seen yet. I’ve made a little noise in my attempts to disspell some of the myths surrounding Dragon Skin, but consider this the definitive response to NBC, Pinnacle, Soldiers For The Truth, and the rest.
This was posted today on Professional Soldiers by a gentleman who uses the handle The Reaper. He intentionally guards his identity on the internet, but I will submit to our readers that he is a very experienced Special Forces officer of unquestionable integrity. This comes to me from a friend who has met him, so it is secondhand information. Anyone who wishes to know more about him should ask him directly.
Also, the Army test results are available for public disemmination. A copy can be found here.
There may be something better called Dragon Skin, but better than what?
Bottom line up front. From 16-19 May 2006, in Department of Defense (DoD) test protocols at HP White Labs, Pinnacle SOV 3000 Level IV Dragon Skin vests suffered 13 first or second shot complete penetrations, failing four of eight initial subtests with Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts (ESAPI) threat baseline 7.62 x 63mm M2 Armor Piercing (AP) ammunition. The Project Manager (PM) Soldier Equipment Briefing report is on line and is easily available.
I say again, of eight Pinnacle SOV 3000 Level IV Dragon Skin (DS) vests tested for V0 penetration, four of them failed, and 13 of 48 rounds fired for record were complete penetrations. Of these, significant first shot failures were noted when the DS vests were exposed to diesel fuel, a serious concern since almost all of our vehicles use this fuel and between spillage during refueling and the potential for saturation after an IED attack on US convoys, vests can easily be contaminated with fuels. A first shot complete penetration was also observed after a DS vest was drop tested. Anyone who has served understands that a 48 pound vest is going to get dropped, dragged, and abused a LOT in a combat zone, even during normal patrolling and movement. Finally, and most significantly, the vest cannot be exposed to heat. With solar loads regularly generating vehicle interior temperatures well in excess of 150 degrees, the DS vest disks delaminate themselves and fall to the bottom of the vest, effectively reducing the armor protection to nearly nothing. All panels shot after high temperature exposure failed in the first shot. This is unacceptable and is hardly a characteristic I would look for in a product to replace the current proven ESAPI in conjunction with the Enhanced Side Ballistic Inserts (ESBI).
According to the X-Rays in the Army report, all hits were in protected areas with full disk coverage. Also easily seen in the X-Rays is the complete failure of the vests adhesive to retain the disks in place during extreme hot and cold weather testing.
NBC also neglected to mention the weight penalty of the Pinnacle SOV 3000 Level IV Dragon Skin vests, which can weigh up to 47.5 pounds or 20 pounds more than the Interceptor vest with ESAPI and ESBI. They appear to have tested the armor, flat, which favors the flexible Pinnacle armor. And they tested it at room temperature only, which means, I suppose, that if you are a soldier who never leaves the office, say, at NBC headquarters, the Dragon Skin may work well for you. If you, however, actually have to go outside, well, you may not want to throw away the Interceptor with the ESAPI quite yet.
The Pinnacle SOV 3000 vests tested were purchased and manufactured the same month that the Army PM test was conducted. They were tested under the ESAPI Purchase Description for front and rear, and ESBI Purchase Description for left and right side. All tests were conducted with 7.62 x 63mm 166 grain M2 AP projectiles stripped from Government Issue complete rounds and hand loaded for each shot by HP White Lab personnel. These rounds were loaded to a specific velocity (+ or – 25 fps) known to replicate the most common threat AP ammunition. In scientific testing, 27%, or more than one in four of these rounds went completely through the armor and into the target. Are you sure you want to suit up a loved one in this stuff?
Strangely, in their investigative reporting seeking to prove the superiority of the Dragon Skin armor over Interceptor with ESAPI, NBC did not appear to use actual ESAPI and ESBI plates for the comparison. Instead, they seem to have shot some other armor that Jim Magee provided and that he stated ““This is what the soldiers and Marines are wearing.” In fact, it may not be. So much for journalistic integrity.
Did the Army really ban the armor last year and issue a Safety Of Use Message (SOUM) even before formally testing it?
Not exactly. Army personnel witnessed a May 2004 test of DS in SAPI plate configuration where the Dragon Skin vests failed catastrophically. Nevin Rupert, Murray Neal, and Chief Scientist Dr. James Zheng were all on the range watching that day. I believe that Mr. Neal stopped the test early due to catastrophic failures of the Dragon Skin. There were also Army, AF, and USMC observed and reported failures of the DS armor in ballistic testing prior to the release of the Army Safety of Use Message in March 2006. The Dragon Skin armor design has a history of failure. Look at the Army PM report.
Would NBC allow soldiers to wear prayer beads and paper party hats as armor until the Army formally tested it and issued a soldier safety release?
Some people may think that Dragon Skin is the best out there, hands down, or that it is better than the Interceptor. Seemingly credible people also believe that they have seen UFOs, and that Elvis lives. That does not make it true.
The SOV 3000 Level IV Dragon Skin vests are too heavy, prone to failure under threat fire, and unreliable in extreme temps. I am not sure what role James Magee, Colonel, USMC (Ret.), the former President of Point Blank Body Armor, Inc. has in this, but there may be motives here that are currently unknown. I would be hesitant taking people’s own word for their expertise, especially given his position at Soldiers For The Truth (SFTT). His claim that he is the “inventor” of Interceptor body armor seems like a bit of a stretch as well, since people who have been on the Army body armor program since the late ’90s do not recognize his name.
More stopping power and more coverage? Not exactly. In the Army tests, which cost the taxpayers over $250,000 just last year, stopping power of the Dragon Skin was questionable, as was the ability of the armor to maintain ballistic integrity in high temperatures typical of the AOR. More rifle coverage and less ballistic integrity for 20 lbs. of extra weight? Hmm, not sure I like that trade-off. The GAO seemed satisfied with the Army and Marine ESAPI programs as well in their report as of 26 April 2007.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may, or may not have bought Dragon Skin for elite operatives in Iraq. I don’t have access to that information, but the CIA is not subject to US Army procurement policies or regulations. Ask them why they bought it, how it worked for them, and if they are still procuring it for their personnel.
Mr. Nevin Rupert now calls himself a whistleblower. He says the Army’s timing wasn’t coincidental. He claims that their loyalty is to their organization and maintaining funds. Rupert believes he was recently fired by the Army, he says, for supporting Dragon Skin.
There are plenty of disgruntled employees in every organization. I suspect that Mr. Rupert was relieved for cause. As a Federal employee, he cannot be terminated without good reason. I am sure that he would prefer that the details not be discussed, but I believe that his termination may have had to do with other matters than some dark conspiracy. He can open his employee files to the media if he really wants to.
Rupert also says he was ordered not to attend the May 2006 tests of Dragon Skin. If he was not able to be an impartial tester and finder of facts, as his job required, then what role was he to have played at the test? It would appear that the performance of the armor would speak for itself. And it did. It failed miserably, especially at temperature extremes, when most of the armor disks delaminated themselves and fell into a nice belt at the bottom of the vest. Not much protection down there, but I am sure they made a nice jingling sound as they were moved around.
As far as the officers and scientists involved in the testing, what interest would Army officers from combat arms have in supporting a lesser technology armor? Because it wasn’t invented by the Army? They don’t hold stock or care what the source of the armor is, just that it works. Do you really think that would put their brothers’ lives at risk over some sort of parochial turf war? And their own as well, when they get issued the gear on their next deployment? I am sure that they would much rather be back in a unit rather than stuck in an office job pushing papers. I know I would.
I am not sure how things work in the news industry, but does Lisa Myers know everything her staff does or brings with them to shoots? Is she responsible for endorsing everything they do? Do they occasionally deviate from her guidance? Should we follow them with a camera and see?
Does she review and approve their expense accounts for company equipment? Can she provide a list of every item her crew carries, and the source of those items? Does her driver have clean underwear? Is she responsible for knowing that level of detail? Why should the general be?
NBC News claims to have commissioned an independent, side-by-side test of Dragon Skin and the Army’s Interceptor vest. According to them, Dragon Skin outperformed the Army’s body armor in stopping the most lethal threats.
There are only two labs that are National Institute of Justice (NIJ) certified to run NIJ body armor tests. They are the HP White Laboratory in Street, MD and US Test Labs in Wichita, KS. A third lab, Chesapeake Testing in Chase, MD, is under NIJ review for certification. Additional military facilities certify body armor performance for DoD. NBC does not own one of them, nor does NBC appear to be pursuing a scientific approach at a licensed facility. A proper test would require over two dozen SOV 3000 Level IV Dragon Skin vests to be placed on a human torso model and shot by specific threat rounds at a standard range and impact velocity, from specific angles and impact points, and under a variety of contamination and environmental conditions that soldiers might face in combat. Fresh off the manufacturing line ESAPI would be shot for comparison, if further certification or validation (already awarded to the ESAPI) was needed.
Was the “Interceptor” ESAPI armor NBC tested government issued or procured independently? The markings on the armor seen in the video are unfamiliar and they appear to be independently procured non-issue plates from non-standard or non-qualified vendors. Wouldn’t a fair test use the fresh issue ESAPI plates, like the Pinnacle armor provided? Are the alleged ESAPIs NBC tested fresh and certified current production? Did they come from Pinnacle or a surplus store dumpster? There are six qualified vendors that have passed ESAPI first article protocol. The vendors deny providing plates to NBC. And none of them are Canadian.
NBC has not yet mentioned what model Dragon Skin was shot. Apples have to be compared to apples. You can wear armor that will stop .50 BMG, but you will not be mobile in it. I can test a stock appearing Ford Mustang that has twice the rated horsepower too, but it doesn’t mean the one you buy will perform like it does.
What was their sample size? Did they shoot up 30 SOV 3000s or ESAPIs?
Where did they shoot it? From the video, it appears to be on a flat surface. Do you see a lot of soldiers shaped like doors? Is there a problem with testing it on a torso shaped platform, replicating the soldier that NBC is so concerned about? Did they test single and multiple round impacts on all four impact faces of the vests?
What weapon, projectile, and impact velocity did NBC use? There is only one Army performance standard for ESAPI body armor testing. Was it the prescribed threat level for testing that is required in the acquisition documents? Are we counting on the enemy firing only a single round at the Pinnacle SOV 3000 level IV Dragon Skin vest? What happens if he has plenty of ammo that day and shoots twice?
The Army conducted tests of both types of armor at the HP White test lab, the NIJ certified facility for testing body armor, in accordance with the required protocol for scientific testing. Where was the NBC test conducted? What were the protocols? What threats did the DS stop that the ESAPI did not? The Army used multiple environmental protocols designed to duplicate the different climates our soldiers serve under. Again, what protocols did NBC employ? If the user is sitting at a desk, clean and dry in a Forward Operating Base (FOB), as tested by NBC, the DS probably works fine. If the wearer has to go outside and deal with the weather, sweat, contamination, etc., according to the May 2006 test, it isn’t going to stop Jack, half of the time (four out of eight vests failed in certified testing). Furthermore, a size extra large Dragon Skin weighs 47.5 pounds (vs. 28 pounds for the equivalent fitting OTV with ESAPI and ESBI side plates) for 743 sq. in. (vs. 720 for the Interceptor with ESAPI) of total coverage. With Interceptor Body Armor (IBA), rifle protection is the sum of the areas of the front and rear plates and the 2 side plates. The Pinnacle Dragon Skin armor does provide more rifle coverage, as long as it is climate controlled and not shot much, but at a significant weight penalty. I am sure that if I wanted to carry additional plates to equalize the weights, the ESAPI could have done even better.
Gary K. Roberts, DDS, Commander, US Naval Reserve is also cited as conducting a test of the DS armor. While he is a Navy dentist, and an alleged ammo expert, I am unsure how he has become a scientific tester of body armor, or what his official role is. He seems to be interested in environmental testing of body armor, but does not appear to be familiar enough with Military Standard (MIL STD) 810E/810F to understand the ESAPI test protocol. The Armored Mobility Inc. (AMI) armor used as a control in his test is not a military issued plate. He is also quoted on the Pinnacle web site. What was his involvement? Was his a sanctioned Navy test? If so, it failed to follow DoD or NIJ protocols. Was he testing on behalf of Pinnacle? Was he compensated for his testing? Who sponsored it? Unless Dr. Roberts, DDS is able to substantiate his testing as meeting the HP White and NIJ standards for body armor testing, I would have to discount the validity of this test as a basis for comparison with military or NIJ certification of the armor.
The alleged NIJ test that Pinnacle refers to on their web site did not follow the DoD armor test protocol either. NIJ certification tests do not include high temperature, low temperature, or temperature shock conditioning tests. NIJ test conditioning is limited to water spray, all done at ambient conditions. NIJ is looking at adopting temperature cycling and accelerated aging in the new revision, NIJ Standard 0101.05, to be published, but this test was not conducted to the Army standard, so for Army procurement, it is irrelevant. I have heard that law enforcement units who have the Pinnacle armor use one set for training, and keep another locked away in climate control for actual call-outs. Maybe they are aware of this problem as well.
Incidentally, it would appear that Pinnacle continues to have additional legal problems with the government, as the investigators continue probing them for their fraudulent NIJ certification claim problem.
There is a one-time failure policy in the test business for Resistance to Penetration (RTP) tests. Because an actual failure during use may be a death sentence. First shot complete penetrations are NOT allowed in the ESAPI RTP tests. These are considered catastrophic failures, resulting in automatic failure of the First Article Test (FAT). Ballistic limit (V50) tests are looking for 3 partials and 3 completes at the worst case shot location-a single disc area of coverage. The SOV 3000 failed RTP tests 50% of the time, as opposed to the issue ESAPI failing 0% of the time, at twenty pounds less weight. Not sure what kind of odds you like, but if it is my torso inside the vest, I would rather be lighter, faster and better protected over the cool guy factor, especially when it hits over 150 degrees in the back of the vehicle.
General Downing’s comments after observing the tests, even as an employee of NBC, were still non-committal. Perhaps he is aware of the protocol for testing body armor, and NBC’s compliance with that protocol, or lack thereof. Or perhaps not. He was a Ranger and a commander, after all, not a procurement officer.
So these independent, limited tests by NBC raise questions about the Army’s claims?
It would appear that Pinnacle already has some serious credibility issues, including claims posted on their web site. For example, despite Pinnacle’s claim, US Army Special Forces Command, which equips all US Special Forces, has never heard of Pinnacle, much less purchased armor from them.
Why does NBC not speak with the purported father of flexible armor, Mr. Allan D. Bain, whose web site http://www.evolutionarmor.com/Flex.htm states:
“The fact is most of Pinnacle Armor’s systems were invented by Allan D. Bain formally of Armor Technology Corp. Pinnacle Armor started manufacturing after we educated Mr. Neal how to make armor by contract executed in October of 2000 that was fair and honestly fulfilled. Pinnacle Armor and Mr. Neal never manufactured any body armor prior to this date. So if you hear about Pinnacle Armor or the “Dragon Skin” armor being manufactured since 1995 your talking about armor that Pinnacle Armor never made or developed. In fact Murray Neal was a sales representative for Armor Technology from 1997 – October of 2000 a company owned entirely by Allan D. Bain, the true inventor of Dragon Skin.”
“There are quite a few reasons, and if you have read the Pinnacle Armor propaganda you will hear about tales of fraud, sabotage, and protection of the good old boy network as it relates to The “Interceptor Vest”. I can tell you as someone who works with the military on this kind of endeavor there are a lot of reasons why this armor hasn’t been universally adopted and the reasons above are basically false. The truth is Pinnacle Armor received clearance to forward samples to the Army and was paid 170,000 dollars, and that was after they were paid almost a 1,000,000.00 dollars to develop the armor from where we left off after we sold patent rights to Pinnacle Armor in October of 2000.”
“The major flaw was not observing the Article One testing environmental conditioning protocol, which calls for the armor to withstand 165 degrees F for 6 hours. After five years of development and having the protocol in hand you would figure that the adhesive used to affix the tiles to the high strength fabric would be of the high temperature variety, it wasn’t, and because of that these vests failed. OOPS!”
Essentially, the inventor of Dragon Skin freely admits that the current manufacturers of the armor are aware that it cannot handle temperature extremes without falling apart, and pretty much ripped the government off last time. Did NBC look into that?
Critics told NBC they’d like to see the Army re-test and re-evaluate Dragon Skin, so why not retest the DS vest now? Because it is too heavy, and not reliably bullet resistant. Warfighters want lighter and flexible, not heavier and flexible. What if Pinnacle has changed the adhesive? Will Pinnacle be recalling Dragon Skin armor with substandard adhesive manufactured before the Army discovered this shortfall? Well, I would hope so, after a free FAT test at taxpayer expense. All other vendors pay for the FAT if they fail, Army pays if they pass. Would Murray Neal like to donate another 30 vests for destructive testing? Even so, the Army may retest, at a cost of many more tax dollars since the Pinnacle vests are several thousand dollars each. At the end of it, will there be an expose by NBC on how the Army wastes our tax dollars retesting failed body armor? Why is NBC promoting this failed technology? What is their agenda?
For any vendor that wants to compete for Army body armor work, the system is evaluated against the ESAPI standard/requirements as stated in the performance specification-not evaluated against the IBA itself. If you meet the standard, you are eligible for an award if pricing is in the competitive range during Full and Open competitions. To my knowledge, Pinnacle has never responded to a Full and Open competition. Why doesn’t Pinnacle Armor compete for Army business like every other body armor vendor? Why should they get special treatment? It appears to me that Pinnacle is attempting to restrict competition. I wonder how other manufacturers of body armor that have passed the ESAPI FAT protocol feel about this?
What about it, Mr. Neal? Are you willing to ante up this time for a round of government testing, or do you just want to sell the Army another load of defective armor?
And for NBC, would this have been an even juicier story if the Army bought and issued the Dragon Skin, after knowing that it was inadequate and defective, and dozens of soldiers died? Again, this armor failed the Army tests, not slightly, not on a technicality, but miserably and utterly. The designer of the Dragon Skin armor himself admits its inadequacy. Yet some would like it fielded more widely. Look at the Army test results. They speak for themselves. As an American soldier, I am glad that the Army tested it and discovered the real truth, rather than listening to armchair quarterbacks, snake oil salesmen, and charlatans. This refusal to yield to the SFTT, Dr. Roberts, and NBC has saved soldiers’ lives. And that is the real bottom line here.
Let’s repeat that last bit for emphasis:
As an American soldier, I am glad that the Army tested it and discovered the real truth, rather than listening to armchair quarterbacks, snake oil salesmen, and charlatans. This refusal to yield to the SFTT, Dr. Roberts, and NBC has saved soldiers’ lives. And that is the real bottom line here.
Let’s hear Pinnacle and their gang respond to this.
**Update (John)** Christian Lowe blasts NBC’s DS puff piece:
I covered Phil Coyle when he was Director of the Operational Test and Evaluation office at the Pentagon back in the late 1990s. He has been very critical of programs in the past for any hint of lapses in “operational effectiveness” or “operational suitability.” The DS, at this point, clearly fails in the “suitability” category because of its weight. There seems to have been no mention whatsoever of the Dragon Skin’s crushing weight in the NBC piece.
I picked up one of the SOV3000 vests in XL at PEO Soldier and another one at MarCorpsSysCom a couple weeks ago (it clearly appeared that would be the size that fit me best, though I wear a Large Interceptor) and it was staggering how heavy it was. I was blown away.
Why did NBC – and even more important, Phil Coyle, not pick up on this obvious problem? During the show, all we see are technicians handling pieces of the armor, not the whole vest. If they had been, viewers would see that most people can’t pick the vest up by the haul loop with one hand.
Lastly in my “major critique” category is that NBC producers totally ignored the data from the thorough brief they were given by PEO Soldier. They relied on a sit-down interview with BGEN. Mark Brown and one “gotcha” moment when Brown admitted he didn’t know the basis for the SOUM banning DS back in April 2006.
Fact is – and I saw the results only a few weeks after the SOUM was released (ironically, my source was a Marine) – a DS panel was tested in May 2004, before the ESAPI requirement, and failed because earlier iterations used wire to secure the disks rather than adhesive. After the first shot the wire failed and the disks slipped.
So why did NBC ignore the x-ray data from the PEO soldier brief? What would the public’s reaction have been if they’d seen the interviews and tests – then the x-ray photos showing the disks bunched together like a roll of nickels? A few scratched heads, I’m sure.
This story is not going away. We’ll keep on top of it as it develops, so please stay engaged