Dragon Skin: Slayed Again

Though it’s been tough to really know what’s going on with the Dragon Skin body armor issue, at this point it appears that either it’s not up to requirements or everybody in the whole freakin’ world is in on the conspiracy to keep our troops wearing substandard armor.

Friday: DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES FINDINGS ON DRAGON SKIN BODY ARMOR

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP) announced today that it has determined that the Pinnacle Armor, Inc. bulletproof vest model SOV 2000.1/MIL3AF01, is not in compliance with the requirements of OJP’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) voluntary compliance testing program for bullet-resistant body armor. Effective immediately, this body armor model will be removed from the NIJ list of bullet-resistant body armor models that satisfy its requirements. Pinnacle Armor, Inc. is the maker of “dragon skin” body armor.

NIJ, OJP’s research, development, and evaluation component, has reviewed evidence provided by the body armor manufacturer and has determined that the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate that the body armor model will maintain its ballistic performance over its six-year declared warranty period.

In late 2005 and January 2006, the USAF Office of Special Investigations (OSI) purchased Dragon Skin armor marked as NIJ Level III compliant, but the Level III certification didn’t come until December 2006. See Air Force considers ban on body armor maker. And now it’s been revoked.

I wonder if breathless news reports covering the lost Level III rating will be on NBC and other outlets which were so quick to trumpet the Dragon Skin story as one of the government letting down the troops.

I think it’s clear that body armor technology is progressing rapidly, (necessity being the mutha of invention, and all) and that Dragon Skin shows some promise. But it doesn’t appear to be quite ready for primetime and these latest developments certainly don’t help Pinnacle’s cause. Meanwhile, the military has been issuing Side-SAPI and Enhanced SAPI (E-SAPI) plates for the Interceptor Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) in response to lessons learned. A new version of the Interceptor, the Improved OTV will be available soon.

Being as this sort of release isn’t nearly as exciting as ‘killing the troops for money’-type headlines, I wouldn’t expect nearly so much media coverage of this now that it appears that the military made the right call by banning the armor. I wonder if we’ll see all sorts of “gee whiz” spots on FutureWeapons about this…

Summary of body armor protection levels below:

2.1 Type I (22 LR; 380 ACP)
This armor protects against .22 caliber Long Rifle Lead Round Nose (LR LRN) bullets, with nominal masses of 2.6 g (40 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 320 m/s (1050 ft/s) or less, and 380 ACP Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 6.2 g (95 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 312 m/s (1025 ft/s) or less.

2.2 Type IIA (9 mm; 40 S&W)
This armor protects against 9 mm Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 332 m/s (1090 ft/s) or less, and 40 S&W caliber Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) bullets, with nominal masses of 11.7 g (180 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 312 m/s (1025 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against the threats mentioned in section 2.1.

2.3 Type II (9 mm; 357 Magnum)
This armor protects against 9 mm Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 358 m/s (1175 ft/s) or less, and 357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point (JSP) bullets, with nominal masses of 10.2 g (158 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against the threats mentioned in sections 2.1 and 2.2.

2.4 Type IIIA (High Velocity 9 mm; 44 Magnum)
This armor protects against 9 mm Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less, and 44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point (SJHP) bullets, with nominal masses of 15.6 g (240 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against most handgun threats, as well as the threats mentioned in sections 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3.

2.5 Type III (Rifles)
This armor protects against 7.62 mm Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) bullets (U.S. Military designation M80), with nominal masses of 9.6 g (148 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 838 m/s (2750 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against the threats mentioned in sections 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4.

2.6 Type IV (Armor Piercing Rifle)
This armor protects against .30 caliber armor piercing (AP) bullets (U.S. Military designation M2 AP), with nominal masses of 10.8 g (166 gr) impacting at a minimum velocity of 869 m/s (2850 ft/s) or less. It also provides at least single hit protection against the threats mentioned in sections 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5.

From the National Institute of Justice (.pdf).

Comments

  1. Didn’t they just recently get NIJ certification? How did they suddenly get it pulled? Didn’t they also just pass the Level IV ESAPI cert (Check Defensetech.com)with flying colors (Yes, I know that was their SOV 3000, not the SOV 2000).

  2. and has determined that the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate that the body armor model will maintain its ballistic performance over its six-year declared warranty period.’ So, from what i could understand, the armor didnt failed any specific test, but some people fear that it will tear apart with time?! Thats very odd.

  3. Well, I can understand after the reports of the ‘glue’ failing in the Army run SOV 2000 tests (where the scales seemed to turn loose inside the vest). My question is, what is different between those vests and the SOV 3000 that just passed?

  4. Vitor: My guess is that the longetivity is the major problem, and that would explain good test results (new/newer vests) looking good. Coolhand77: I don’t know the difference. My guess would be that if it’s a fundamental problem like that, it might apply across the board. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem.

  5. Too much politics involved for anything to make sense with this body armor. It’s too bad, because this looks to me like a really good design. It has got to allow more flexibility than those big hard plates do. Once the politicians get involved it’s duck and cover time for normal people.

  6. One of the ‘rumors’ was that it didn’t pass the Army ‘Bake test’ initially, and the scales turned loose due to glue failure. According to the new Aberdeen test, the new SOV 3000 test DID pass the bake test, and the glue held. You are right though…politics messes everything up.

  7. Too much politics indeed. It is really frustrating that we cant be sure about anything for better or worse

  8. Shipmates, The problem is always one of trade-offs. The three main areas when judging efficiency of a soldier are protection, maneuverability, and firepower. In a mathematical model, a soldier has a theoretical 100 units which the army can assign to any area it wants. These areas are firepower, protection, endurance, communication, and maeuverability. You can add as much of any one item to the mix that you would like, but the total for ALL areas can never exceed 100. What it means is that you can give excellent body armour to the soldier, giving him a high degree of survivability. However, as that weight goes up, he has to offset that by reducing weight in other areas. Water, rations, ammunition, etc. The more weight he humps, the harder it is to maneuver either wuickly, or for long periods of sustained movement. If you protect him to that high degree, he also cannot carry sufficient firepower, so more soldiers need to be added to the assignment, thus increasing costs in other areas. Dragon Skin is a neat concept. The devil, as always, is in the details. As previous tests showed, it neither had the stopping power nor the environmental survival rate that the army wanted. However, the question turns again to ‘how much is enough?’ Are we cirrently over-burdening our soldiers with TOO MUCH armour, thus slowing them down? As an aviator, I know that speed=life. The ability to get out of trouble, to dodge incoming may often outweigh the usefulness of the armour itself. How many stories of guys surviving bullet impacts into their vest might not have happened had the soldiers been able to move more quickly? I can’t answer that, just posing a question. Again, how much weight do we have to force onto our soldiers before it impacts their ability to accomplish their missions? Heat? Food? Water? Ammunition? Armour? MOP gear? Etc. To my mind the amazement I have is not at how well our soldiers perform, but that they can perform at all, given the loads they are assigned for the environment in which they work. Respects,

  9. So, it sounds like the SOV2000 has been de-certified, but the SOV3000 has just been certified. Is that correct? If so, it makes sense. The SOV2000 failed after extreme heat, but by the sounds of it, the SOV3000 doesn’t. That’s good, isn’t it? It means that a problem was identified and they fixed it.

  10. IMO Pinnacle screwed the pooch by going nuclear on the army. Now, short of a act of god(and even its still a maybe), the Army will never buy their armor. What Pinnacle should of done, is approach SOCOM, to see if they would would try it out. SOCOM is bit more open minded, and any orders SOCOM would generate would be within Pinnacles capacity to deliver. Is Dragonscale is better or worse then interceptor armor? the question is moot. Ultimately interceptor armor has four advantages over dragonscale that would result in the interceptor armor winning virtually any competion – 1) its cheaper, 2)Upgrading the armor is very easy, 3) its good enough. 4) The armor is not a proprietary design.

  11. I have it on good athority that DS is being used by members of SOCOM (anticdotal evidence only) and they love it because though it is heavier, it is more flexable and allows them to MOVE more naturally. This, in addition to better coverage (instead of just the sheet of paper sized plate over your vitals you have almost full to full coverage, only a little stiffer than soft armor) has actually saved a few lives. This was related to me by a former operator, one who I do not have contact with anymore. Unfortunately I think they were ‘one unit’ type purchaces, unlike the SCAR or some of the other ‘lets try out a bunch of these’ SOCOM purchaces.

  12. Can’t address the effectiveness of Dragonskin as I’ve had no first hand experience with it, nor any second hand testimonials. I can say it received a substantial verbal buzz from a significant number of my fellow contractors (as well as military personnel we were colocated with) in the Stan during the last year. No one bought it though. Our company issued body armor (touted as state of the art on the company recruiting website) was level III with level four plates (probably 1-2 hits). Unfortunately it was CNN armor (dark blue in a desert environment with only TWO double mag pockets, and NO load bearing capability!). As a result, about 80-90% of our personnel (including me) opted for their own body armor. As accurately noted by a previous poster, there are a lot of trade offs in protection. Get enough of it, and you can’t move (for long). Too little of it (and here’s the art form and Will of God at play) and/or in the wrong places, and your survivabilty goes in the toilet. What do you do……………it ALWAYS boils down to personal preference, personal finances, and tradeoffs! More protection = less mobility and endurance and vice versa!

  13. I have heard on a good authority that SOCOM conducted their own test in March of 2007, at Fort Leonard Wood, in Fort Leonard Wood, MO. They shot four vests, the Dragon Skin, Interceptor, the new Marine Vest, and one other vest. When it was all said and done the Dragon Skin vest took a dozen or more rounds before it had a penetration and was the clear winner in the shoot. I have heard about this test from more than a dozen sources, even searched the AKO site, but couldn’t find any report or verfication. As for the Dragon Skin SOV 2000….If I read this right and the information on the SFTT website, the SOV 2000 is the LEVEL III rifle defeating body armor that received NIJ Certification in December 2006. The SOV 2000 was certified but questions about the length of their 6 year warranty have surfaced and NIJ wants clarification. To me this sounds petty….I mean why didn’t NIJ just request some of the first generation SOV 2000 vests originally? I think the first Dragon Skin vest was made in 1999. Personally I think the Army has something to do with this. The SOV 3000 is the LEVEL IV rifle defeating body armor that is still attempting to get NIJ Certification and the same armor that ‘Allegedly’ failed the test with the ARMY in 2006. I have two questions that maybe somebody can answer… 1: If the Army put out the safety of use message in March of 2006, saying the Dragon Skin was unsafe, but didn’t test it until May of 2006, how can they be so clarvoyiant? 2: How can Colonel John Norwood who was in charge of the Body Armor Procurement, get away with awarding a 365 million dollar contract to Armor Holdings (The maker of the Interceptor Vest) after the ‘Alleged’ failed Dragon Skin vest, then quit the Army to go work for Armor Holdings 4 months later, and not be in a world of trouble over ethics charges? That just doesn’t make sense…..Does it? Be safe and keep your powder dry… Out!

  14. I don’t know what to think. The links suggest the Pinacle guys might have made false claims about their armor. It is clear the military does not like them. However SFTT, which seems like a legit group of former military, have had a thing for Dragon Skin for a while. They have a story about a recent test Dragon Skin went through in July 2007 at Aberdeen which seems impressive. http://www.sftt.org/ They have had a series of stories promoting Dragon Skin. I don’t know if they have a financial or other interest in promoting this, or if they are seriously convinced the troops are getting short changed.

  15. Dragon Skin is SOV 3000 is not NIJ certified, certification for this model is ‘pending’ at this point. The main difference between these two models is that the SOV 2000 is a level 3+ vest, while the SOV 3000 is a level 4 vest. The recent ‘ESAPI’ test people are referring to was allegedly a ‘high temp’ test conducted at ATC. (this has nothing to do with NIJ certification) But this test is significant because it directly contradicts the Army’s claims that Dragon Skin cannot handle high temps. There is a lot of money tied up in these contracts and unfortunately there is not enought oversight and accountability on issues like these.