Potential Advance in Body Armor Fails Tests

By Lolita C. Baldor
Associated Press
Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Army's struggle to find a new, more flexible body armor was dealt a setback yesterday when a California company's high-tech Dragon Skin vests failed to pass military testing, a senior Defense Department official said.

After three days of testing this week, the Army determined that the body armor does not meet military specifications, said the official, who declined to specify which tests the armor failed. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the results have not been released.

The Army paid about $170,000 to buy 30 sets of the armor for the testing.

Generally, during testing, various types of ammunition are fired at the vests, and the armor may also be subjected to extreme temperatures or environmental conditions. The tests were done by H.P. White, an independent ballistic testing lab in Street, Md.

The Army has expressed great interest in getting more flexible body armor. One of the key complaints about the armor used by troops on the battlefield is that it is too heavy and inflexible and may lessen a soldier's speed and agility. The current armor includes heavy ceramic plates in the front, in back and on the sides.

The Dragon Skin testing was initially delayed because of a dispute over testing conditions between the Army and Pinnacle Armor of Fresno, Calif., which makes the product.

Earlier this week, the Army announced it would conduct three days of testing, signaling the dispute's resolution.

A request for comment from Murray Neal, Pinnacle Armor's chief executive, was not immediately returned.

Neal, however, has previously contended that his armor is of high quality and its "capabilities have been proven to be significant improvements over the current Army issue."

He said he has nine years of ballistic data, both classified and unclassified, that show the armor taking over 40 rounds of ammunition from an AK-47, then another 150 rounds from a submachine gun, all at close range without any failure.

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