DragonSkin a victim of the Pentagon Wars?

I’m supposed to be asleep right now, but there’s a decent chance that MSNBC has just caught the Pentagon testing unit with its pants down over body armor testing.

I’d have blown right past it, except that this sort of thing has been seen before.  In fact, the parallels are downright eerie.

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13 Comments

  1. Alex

     /  June 14, 2007

    As someone who does scientific testing, works in a field where how a test is done generates controversy (flame retardant usage), and is working on new armor, the following sentence from the article says it all:
    “In our limited testing at a renowned ballistics lab in Germany, Dragon Skin was able to defeat more bullets than the Army’s Interceptor and did so with significantly less body trauma.”
    Depending upon who does the test, especially depending upon how that testing lab sets up the test, one can get different results from testing the same article. It ultimately boils down to standards. If MSNBC had been willing to identify the lab, identify the testing protocol, and how the tests were done I might be inclined to go along and say that something fishy is going on. However, unless you’re doing the following:
    1) Certifying ballistic load through calibration of muzzle velocity/powder strength
    2) Mounting the sample according to ASTM and National Institute of Justice standards. (not to mention the Military Standard)
    3) Measuring impact and force with sensors and post-mortim shot analysis before and after the test to validate the penetrating power of the tested rounds.

    The results can and always will be argued to their validity. Anyone can put something out in their backyard, shoot it, and say it did very well. I can take very flammable objects and get them to pass existing US building codes just by mounting them incorrectly.

    So the results could be real, but they could also be very very bogus. My suspicion is that this level of discussion from MSNBC is meant to generate controversy to generate better ad revenue.

    Yes I am a cynic and skeptic, but in this case with very good reason.

    Reply
  2. Superbiff

     /  June 14, 2007

    I’m no scientist but I have to second Alex.. This armor was featured on FutureWeapons on Discovery this past year and even the creators of it described it as being in the ‘test phase’. They demonstrated incredible results with it; one of the tests included detonating a live grenade directly under the Dragon Skin as if a soldier had jumped on it.. The armor absorbed enough of the damage that the soldier had a good chance of survival.

    But again, even the evangelists kept saying ‘in development’. At no point did they make any comparison to the Interceptor armor nor did they make any statements suggesting that Dragon Skin was ready to go..

    Given that Futureweapons was providing them a free spotlight to highlight their wares, that seems telling to me.

    Reply
  3. Fair ’nuff, gents. I certainly have no beef with any of the body armors. But the differences in “standards” struck me as redolent of “sheep specs.”

    Reply
  4. Alex

     /  June 15, 2007

    Sheep specs? Care to explain as I haven’t heard that before?

    And as someone who lives by scientific standards, upon which one cannot make any sort of reasonable comparisons, without standards all discussions of measurements and studies are useless. If I say I got a great result, but can’t provide all the details to make it reproducible, then my work is of no value to anyone but me, and even then, it could be very wrong because no one can peer-review my work.

    Reply
  5. Seriously, go to Amazon and purchase “The Pentagon Wars.” Cost you 8 bucks or the like. The book I’ve only seen a little of, but the movie’s based on it, and actually quite faithful to events, as reported by the author.

    Reply
  6. Alex

     /  June 15, 2007

    If by sheep specs you mean where the military changes the specifications of something to prefer a particular vendor which in turn leads to profiteering, then yes, I do know that is, and, I know exactly how it works and unfortunately it is alive and well today. I’m actually working with a company at the moment that is furious over a military requisition that was put out and they worked overtime to meet only to have the specifications changed at the last minute which eliminated them from providing the product and making the sale. They lost easily $500k in this. The last minute changes is why so many military programs go over budget.

    However standards and specifications are not the same thing. Standards are an exact way of measuring something in a meaningful way that is reproducible and allows an “apples to apples” comparison. Specifications is where the buyer says “whatever you sell me must be this”. So unless you test armor by a standardized methodology, the results can be interpreted any way you want making one’s product look good and another look bad. Only through peer review and use of standards can you really get to the truth, as I know from personal daily experience.

    That being said I’ll go to the local library and check out the book, but I’m betting that I’ll just see the system that I know already exists. Soldier in the field wants A – sends back to Bureaucrat B, who writes a specification that gets changed by Manager C to get kickback from company D.

    Reply
  7. Alex

     /  June 15, 2007

    And one more thing…
    I hope I’m not coming across too harsh in my comments and sounding too bombastic, but I suspect I am.
    I’m trying to explain why I’m skeptical about the validity of the test and why I’m cynical about MSNBC’s real motives for publishing this story. I think that MSNBC is trying to make a story again out of an old story – and to therefore show that the Pentagon is just as corrupt as it has been (a la Pentagon Wars Book). But – without the truth behind the measurement one will never know if this is simply opinion, a lie with an axe to grind, or the truth.
    I need more to believe that this armor is as good as they say it is.

    Reply
  8. And I’m happy to hear it. You’re the pro. Just… get the movie. You’ll enjoy it.

    Reply
  9. Alex

     /  June 15, 2007

    Very well – I’ll go see it. Hopefully it won’t depress me the way “The Man in the White Suit” did.

    Reply
  10. Anna

     /  June 15, 2007

    I don’t think so. NO movie with sheepspecs in it should…:-)

    Reply
  11. Mike

     /  June 15, 2007

    Dragonskin from an Army guy.

    Okay, it was severely tested by the Army and USMC Battlelabs. After exposure to extreme heat over a period of time (like say IRAQ level temps for several days) the micro-plates (the scales) lost there adhesion ability and started sliding around and creating gaps. And not small ones either. SImply put, the armor failed the tests. THe army and military have fielded crap before, but in this category they have NOT. I worn the Interceptor, and it saved my life. Biased, yes. And with good reason I think.

    The other issue with this stuff is the slight fact that it weighs twice as much as the interceptor vest. That blows. I know guys who only wear the Interceptor because they are ordered to and would leave it on the base if they could. They prefer to be able to maneuver and be less weighted down. It is a pain moving around in that armor right now. Double it? No thanks, and that is just the armor, we are not talking about all the crap that hangs on it.

    MSNBC is just digging for another “the military isn’t taking care of the troops” angle story on this one. Dragonskin is a great idea but it has some serious flaws on it and they have to get that weight down. A 40 plus pound armored vest is just to damn heavy to fight in. ANd like Alex said, what hasn’t been put out (the name of the tester for one) is much more interesting than what was put out.

    Reply
  12. Mike

     /  June 15, 2007

    I will take the word of the Army Battlelabs and USMC Labs anyday. After some of the beatups they got over the Pentagon Wars stuff, they have seriously focused on doing accurate and honest tests.

    Reply
  13. convivialdingo

     /  June 19, 2007

    I read the ~20 page discussion between current and former armor guys over at military.com forums. It seems to basically boil down to this:

    1. DragonScale is great stuff – but not ready for prime-time due to construction issues. The concept and expiramental works good, the extreme testing has failed.

    2. The Army did test and found fault with the armor. They cut the test very short and did not provide public reasons for failure. It had the appearance of a shafting from public POV.

    3. Dragonskin will NEVER be lighter than joined-plate (interceptor) type armor. It will however take more hits before turning into bags of gravel and will provide more flex than interceptor.

    4. The interceptor is designed to handle 1-3 massive hits and it’s done. It has been modified over the past few years to handle the current battlefield conditions and faults that enemy snipers found with our armor.

    Reply

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