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.”

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