Infantry: Dragon Skin Deconstructed

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May 28, 2007: The recent controversy over Dragon Skin body armor has raised far more questions than answers. In one sense, it shows that the Army is serious about getting its troops the best armor available. In another sense, it shows how the media can royally get things wrong - and in getting it wrong can get troops killed. How? Because they can create the impression that something is effective, when it really isn't.

The Dragon Skin armor was intended to provide better all-around protection against incoming fire. One problem with most protective vests is that there are places where the protective ceramic plates for the Interceptor armor currently in service don't extend. This has caused the deaths of policemen in the U.S. and military personnel overseas. Dragon Skin was intended to provide better protection through the use of many smaller ceramic, tiles that overlapped, providing a flexible armor.

One American TV network broadcast material that seemed to indicate that Dragon Skin performed better than the current Interceptor. However, the Army has now released the results of other tests, done by an independent lab in 2006, which showed that Dragon Skin armor failed in a number of areas, including those concerning high temperatures, often after one or two shots. This is not a good thing in combat. Furthermore, the ceramic tiles have proven to be fragile - far more so than the Interceptor's ceramic plates.

The other problem for Dragon Skin is weight: It is about 20 pounds heavier than the 28 pound Interceptor Armor. This is not a minor detail for the poor grunts - it's a major problem. The troops also have to carry a loaded M16 or M4 rifle, plus a number of spare clips for that weapon (usually six, but sometimes more). If their M16 or M4 has the M203 grenade launcher, they are carrying the grenades for that. They also tend to carry a loaded M9 pistol, and a couple of spare clips for that as well. Not to mention a first-aid kit, Camelbak or canteens full of water, knife, hand grenades (usually three or four), MRE, cans of silly string (to find trip wires), radio, and other gear (to include notebooks, pens, and a helmet). This could mean a soldier gets tired sooner when wearing Dragon Skin, and more prone to heat related injuries in hot climates. If a soldier wearing Dragon Skin is wounded, the Dragon Skin means that there is 20 pounds more for a medic to drag to cover.

The Army has prohibited the use of Dragon Skin by soldiers - largely due to these problems. The problem the Army now faces is the fact that Dragon Skin has a lot of Congressional support. The manufacturer of Dragon Skin has claimed that the Army is lying - in essence claiming the Army rigged the tests. In fact, the Army did the tests last year at the insistence of Congress - who wanted the armor to be given a chance. Now that the armor has failed, the manufacturer is going to the court of public opinion to overturn the verdict of the Army, based on its tests. Now, the Army is caught in a battle to not only save the lives of its troops, but the reputation of those who test equipment for the troops. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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