Infantry: The Dragon Skin Dilemma

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August 14, 2007: The Dragon Skin armor was recently decertified by the National Institute of Justice, adding more controversy to the debate over the value of this armor design for protective vests. This loss of certification will cause many police agencies to reject this armor as a result. This is a serious blow to the manufacturer, which is trying to get the armor adopted by the Department of Defense.

Dragon Skin 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 only cover a small portion of the body. Dragon Skin solved that problem, but weighed 20 pounds more than the Interceptor.

This is a big deal for the average grunt. How? Well, take a look at what a grunt usually carries: An M16 rifle or M4 carbine, loaded with a 30-round magazine. Then there are six or seven spare magazines. Then there's a M9 pistol, loaded with a 15-round clip, with two or three spares also carried. Four grenades are also carried, along with two canteens (although troops also tend to acquire Camelbak for drinking water as well), bayonet, gas mask, and a helmet. That load tends to come in at 35 pounds. And that is assuming they have a Stryker or Bradley to leave their packs in. If not, the troops have to carry their pack, with at least two MREs, a poncho and liner, another canteen, and other items (extra socks, towel, and entrenching tool). That runs another 22 pounds.

So, the extra 20 pounds of a Dragon Skin vest versus an Interceptor vest is a big deal for the infantry. Plus, there are concerns about how well Dragon Skin performs. NBC ran tests in Germany that seemed to favor the armor, but Army tests found flaws. The Army also had concerns about how well Dragon Skin could hold up in very hot temperatures (the inside of a Bradley or a Stryker can get much hotter than outside temperature, particularly in a desert environment).

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 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. The Department of Justice and National Institute of Justice appears to be backing the Army. The company that makes Dragon Skin, though, has friends in Congress - and Congress can overturn a decision to not buy gear. And so, the controversy will continue. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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