Dragon Skin vs Interceptor: Not going away

posted at 9:58 am on August 31, 2007 by Bryan

Is Wired’s Danger Room, a great defense tech and war on terror blog, in the tank for Dragon Skin? I hate to think so, but a post over there today is very suggestive that it is.

Here are the facts. Dragon Skin armor failed the Army’s tests. Pinnacle has been debarred by the Air Force. The DoJ decertified Dragon Skin over a mislabeling issue. And the vests weigh about 20 pounds more than the standard issue Interceptor vest, which in and of itself is a serious flaw. And US troops have offered testimonials in favor of Interceptor. And a Pinnacle expert testified this summer that Dragon Skin vests “weren’t ready for prime time”.

But none of that appears in this post over at Danger Room. What we get instead is a rehashing of quotes that are a year and two years old, and touting of one more test that Pinnacle conducted on its own vests, on its own property. Here’s a two-year-old quote from Neal.

“It the Not-Invented-Here syndrome and the Old Boy Network,” he told me. “Some suppliers are preferred over others. The Pentagon are reluctant to buy from ‘outsiders’.”

Neal was so empathic on this point that I thought he must be exaggerating. But subsequent events suggest he may have a point. Last year Karl Masters who organized the US Army’s testing revealed a slight conflict of interest :

“I was recently tasked by the army to conduct the test of the 30 Dragon Skin SOV 3000 level IV body armor purchased for T&E [tests and evaluation],” Masters wrote in a 6 June posting. “My day job is acting product manager for Interceptor Body Armor.”*

Why Danger Room is writing about this now is somewhat mysterious, since the Neal quotes are two years old and the Masters quote is a year old. Nothing in the Wired post is new, except the test being touted by Soldiers for the Truth, which has long been in Dragon Skin’s corner. They’re not objective. The post’s author, David Hambling, is just rehashing old stuff that everyone familiar with the issue already knows, but those who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the armor war might find supportive of Dragon Skin and damaging to the Army and Interceptor. Left out of his post, is anything about the inherently flawed tests that NBC aired, which were under the control of Pinnacle CEO Neal, or any of the evidence that Neal has been using shows like Future Weapons and Mail Call to run what amounts to a misinformation campaign to tout Dragon Skin. Also left out, the more recent Hill testimony, Coyle’s admission, or the Army’s very strong statements in its own defense, which I’ve covered here extensively.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I do think that Dragon Skin has inherent flaws that have to be addressed before Neal should even think about having it retested for use in combat. One, the weight. At about 19 pounds heavier than comparably sized Interceptor, Dragon Skin is just too heavy. You can charge the testing manager with conflict of interest, but the weight differential is just a stubborn fact that he can’t influence. I made the weight decision myself before going to Iraq: I had an Interceptor vest in one hand and a Dragon Skin vest in the other, and because Dragon Skin was very noticeably heavier, I went with Interceptor. When you’re going into potential combat, every ounce counts. Two, the fact that scaled armor is vulnerable from angled shots in ways that plate armor isn’t. It’s just a fact of life that a lucky shot from a rear and side angle has a better chance of getting through Dragon Skin than Interceptor. Dragon Skin did in fact fail the Army’s test, and was penetrated multiple times when a single penetration is a failure. Neal should also address the temperature and oil issues that the Army’s testing brought to light, outside labs that he owns and controls. I do find it curious that Danger Room is touting a test that Pinnacle conducted on its own property and controlled from beginning to end, yet believes that the Army’s tests were flawed by conflict of interest because of Masters’ presence. The Army’s tests weren’t conducted on the manufacturer’s property, for goodness sake. They were conducted in either of the two independent labs that the Army has certified for this work. Pinnacle’s back lot isn’t one of those two labs.

This goes to show what friendly media can get you. NBC’s deeply flawed May 17 story has kept this issue alive long past the point when it ought to have collapsed of its own weight. Danger Room ought to provide more complete and objective coverage of this story. With its Dragon Skin post today, it’s in danger of becoming one more Murray Neal shill.

*Note. The above paragraph:

“I was recently tasked by the army to conduct the test of the 30 Dragon Skin SOV 3000 level IV body armor purchased for T&E [tests and evaluation],” Masters wrote in a 6 June posting. “My day job is acting product manager for Interceptor Body Armor.”

Was originally posted on ProfessionalSoldiers.com.


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I am hardly qualified to comment on body armor, but the truth can’t be found when there’s money around. If a company’s product is found to be inferior, when it comes to safeguarding our troops, there should be no question that they give it up and go back to the drawing board.

Connie on August 31, 2007 at 10:14 AM

My son says that the advantage of Dragon Skin over Interceptor is that it provides some protection to the side and arm pit area where Interceptor does not. I do know if this compensates for the deficiences noted by the Army in any way or not, and this is not an endorsement of Dragon Skin.

But, you can be sure that our enemies know the weaknesses of our body armor and target accordingly, when they can.

Irrespective of the merits or deficiencies of Interceptor, if my son wants more effective armor (and it is available) on a future deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, he’ll get it, even if I pay for it out of my own pocket.

georgej on August 31, 2007 at 10:15 AM

Of course our enemies know the weaknesses of our armor – the NYT ran a article with graphics showing where the weak spots of the armor are – circled in red.

_Jon on August 31, 2007 at 10:50 AM

Both products are better than the clunky Vietnam era flack jackets we wore thru 1983 in the Corp. Ballistically they couldn’t even stop a rim fire .22.

The next generation vests were a few layers of kevlar which were flexible and may stop frag but, again, in no way were rated for even small arms tollerance. They were like wearing a thick wet blanket. I always felt naked when we left the wire wearing them, at least the older flack jackets felt like armor and gave us a psychological sense of security.

Alden Pyle on August 31, 2007 at 10:50 AM

I sort of have a dog in this fight. A friend of my daughters while home on his mid tour leave from Iraq relayed that he had taken 4, 7.62 rounds to the chest in his Interceptor vest, he used the acronym, and as you can see lived to tell about it. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
From reading several of the articles, mostly from Bryan, but other sources as well I don’t believe the Dragon Skin can sustain multiple hits and remain effective. That and the weight issue is simply something that cannot be ignored. When it comes to matters of life and death fancy names and slick marketing don’t cut it. Just like everything in the military the only thing that matters is the results.

LakeRuins on August 31, 2007 at 10:56 AM

From reading several of the articles, mostly from Bryan, but other sources as well I don’t believe the Dragon Skin can sustain multiple hits and remain effective.

Actually, from what I have read and seen it can take multiple hits, but they must be from directly from the front/back. Side and angle shots seem to be the issue, those can and do penetrate.

Tim Burton on August 31, 2007 at 11:39 AM

Soldiers for the Truth is Hackworth’s old group. They are well intentioned, but clouded by their own narrative that the Army doesn’t look out after its own. I’m sorry but they are wrong on this one.

BohicaTwentyTwo on August 31, 2007 at 11:47 AM

And the vests weigh about 20 pounds more than the standard issue Interceptor vest

I keep hearing that, and one question pops into my mind. How heavy is “the standard issue Interceptor vest”?

taznar on August 31, 2007 at 11:53 AM

taznar on August 31, 2007 at 11:53 AM

I think I addressed that in one of my posts, but I might not have. I’m pretty sure it’s in the Vent that we did. At comparable sizes and configurations, the Interceptor is about 28 lbs. The Dragon Skin is about 47 lbs. When you add a weapon, ammo, helmet and other gear, that 19 lbs is a significant difference. When I had the two vests, all I had to do was pick up one and then the other and the difference was more than obvious.

Bryan on August 31, 2007 at 12:09 PM

According to global security, the vest with the front & back plates weighs in at about 16lbs. The DAP add on seems to weigh about another 5lbs.

So basically, you are looking at doubling the weight?

Canadian Imperialist Running Dog on August 31, 2007 at 12:13 PM

Plus, there’s this:

Now Troops Have Body Armor And They Shun It as ‘Too Heavy’
By ANTONIO CASTANEDA
Associated Press
March 27, 2006

HUSAYBAH, Iraq – Extra body armor – the lack of which caused a political storm in America – has flooded into Iraq, but many Marines here promptly stuck it in lockers or under bunks. Too heavy and cumbersome, many say.

Marines already carry loads as heavy as 70 pounds when they patrol the dangerous streets in towns and villages in restive Anbar province. The new armor plates, while only about five pounds per set, are not worth carrying for the additional safety they are said to provide, some say.

Nuance.

Karl on August 31, 2007 at 12:14 PM

I’ve worn body armor on occasion when I’m in Iraq. I’m 5 ft 7 and weigh about 140. When I have on the body armor, helmet and equipment it is very hard to work efficiently. Never mind bending over or picking yourself up from a prone position. It’s really heavy and it gets heavier by the hour. Adding 20 more pounds would almost certainly incapacitate me.

Karl on August 31, 2007 at 12:14 PM

I’ve seen contractors remove the armor plates and stuff the armor pockets with cardboard or whatever so it LOOKS like they have on their gear.

Guardian on August 31, 2007 at 12:21 PM

Yeah, I highly suggest people look at the pieces done on Mail Call and Futureweapons, when they do the Dragon Skin tests, it looks damned impressiive, but you’ll notice everything they fire at it, they do head on, not at an angle.

Bad Candy on August 31, 2007 at 12:41 PM

Does anyone have a link to what the standard is for the test?

Canadian Imperialist Running Dog on August 31, 2007 at 12:48 PM

I can say I have a dog in this fight: I’m a US Army servicemember who has already pulled two tours in Iraq, and I’ve no plans to become a civilian anytime soon.

19 pounds might not seem that bad. I suppose it’s worse for me; I’m 5’5″ and 150 lbs. But once you add in the “battle rattle” of ammunition, weapon, hydration, helmet, breaching gear, radios, and whatever else, you start talking about a pretty decent amount of weight. I had somewhere around 60+ pounds of gear. And I had to conduct combat operations; running, yelling, aiming and firing my weapon under high stress conditions, all while wearing 60+ pounds of stuff. Adrenaline will only take you so far. Many people have already shunned the extra parts that have been issued for the IBA; miniature plates to cover the sides and shoulders, not because they’re too cumbersome but because they’re too heavy.

It’s funny that, as a soldier, most of us are as comfortable as we can be with our training, of squarely facing a threat, pointing as much of the plate as possible at the enemy, and taking our chances on having a faster trigger finger. We are man for man the best trained and best equipped military on the planet, and that’s good enough for us. Why isn’t it good enough for the nation we’re sworn to defend?

Spc Steve on August 31, 2007 at 1:50 PM

The whole Interceptor vs Dragon Skin issue will be MOOT in a few years anyway.

Egfrow on August 31, 2007 at 2:27 PM

Guardian on August 31, 2007 at 12:21 PM
Spc Steve on August 31, 2007 at 1:50 PM

Absolute moral authority: The real thing. Thanks for weighing in, guys, and thank you for serving.

Bryan on August 31, 2007 at 2:37 PM

19 pounds might not seem that bad.

I couldn’t imagine adding 19 pounds to the pack I carry when camping/hiking… and the worst thing I have to worry about is not getting to the next site before the s’mores are gone.

So even though you may start out at 5’5” and 150 lbs, you’re essentially working as someone who’s 5’5″ and 210 lbs. I’m just trying to imagine someone with those “specs” conducting combat operations.

taznar on August 31, 2007 at 3:01 PM

Bryan, you do realize there were reports on this armor before NBC did one? I’d be willing to say NBC wouldn’t have covered it at all if there weren’t tests shows and articles about it already. To act as if this is all NBC’s fault that Dragonskin is being talked about really shows how much you want to stretch (I still chuckle every time I think of the words “emotional terrorism”).

Nonfactor on August 31, 2007 at 3:28 PM

We can settle this once and for all if we can just get a FIRM COMMITMENT from our adversaries on the number, type, angle and frequency of the rounds they will be firing at us…

landlines on August 31, 2007 at 3:35 PM

Nonfactor on August 31, 2007 at 3:28 PM

Stupid post of the day goes to Nonfactor. I linked not one but two stories about this controversy in this post, one a year old and one that’s two years old. You do the math, big guy. Was May 17, 2007 more or less than a year ago?

If it was more, what does that do to your attack on me as though I’m unaware of any story prior to NBC’s?

My beef with NBC is that they misidentified an expert and let Pinnacle control their test, and passed all that off as objective journalism while accusing the Army of bias, and caused a panic among military families in the process. You seem to have no problem with any of that.

Bryan on August 31, 2007 at 3:45 PM

We are man for man the best trained and best equipped military on the planet, and that’s good enough for us. Why isn’t it good enough for the nation we’re sworn to defend?

Spc Steve on August 31, 2007 at 1:50 PM

Because, sir, there is money to be made by panicking the parents and wives of heroes like you. Facts need not interfere. They simply get in the way of a fast buck squeezed from emotion.

Guardian on August 31, 2007 at 12:21 PM
Spc Steve on August 31, 2007 at 1:50 PM

Absolute moral authority: The real thing. Thanks for weighing in, guys, and thank you for serving.

Bryan on August 31, 2007 at 2:37 PM

I personally don’t think absolute moral authority exists for any human being; but on this particular topic, those who have to utilize the equipment come as close as one could ever get.

Thank you to all three of you, Guardian, Steve and Bryan for service past and present.

American_Jihadist on August 31, 2007 at 4:09 PM

Bryan on August 31, 2007 at 3:45 PM
American_Jihadist on August 31, 2007 at 4:09 PM

It’s an honor and a privilege to serve. Thanks guys.

Guardian on August 31, 2007 at 5:02 PM

Guardian on August 31, 2007 at 12:21 PM
Spc Steve on August 31, 2007 at 1:50 PM

Absolute moral authority: The real thing. Thanks for weighing in, guys, and thank you for serving.

Echoed.

Spirit of 1776 on August 31, 2007 at 5:05 PM

Saying that Danger Room is “a great defense tech and war on terror blog” is being overly generous. They are a great defense tech source, I’ll grant you.

But their coverage of the war on terror, Iraq, or anything related is replete with standard left-wing narrative. And if the people who reply in the threads are indicative of their general readership, they cater to a whole lot of 9/11 Truther types.

The only contributor on war related subjects who has anything insightful or interesting to say is David Axe, and he has his own blog anyway.

Nessuno on August 31, 2007 at 5:50 PM

Nonfactor on August 31, 2007 at 3:28 PM

What drugs are you taking, son? (Or not taking?)

Bryan, you do realize there were reports on this armor before NBC did one?

You act like this is the first post on HotAir covering this topic. Where the F have you been, sport?

I’d be willing to say NBC wouldn’t have covered it at all if there weren’t tests shows and articles about it already.

Climb down from that limb, son… wouldn’t want you to get hurt. There’s a good 1-inch drop to the ground at least and from what I can tell, you’ll still manage to fall and injure yourself.

To act as if this is all NBC’s fault that Dragonskin is being talked about

Do you have a general problem with reading comprehension that we should know about, or does it only show up here?

W/all due respect the “act” is somewhat the opposite: NBC is one of the last ones to talk about the story, so they have the least excuse of all – no excuse not to know Pinnacle’s testing program is biased, no excuse to be ignorant of the Dragonskin’s problems, and no excuse not to know that those problems – and not some red herring – are the reason things are the way they are.

…really shows how much you want to stretch (I still chuckle every time I think of the words “emotional terrorism”).

And I chuckle every time I hear the words “Nonfactor” and “reading comprehension” in the same sentence.

RD on September 1, 2007 at 11:22 AM