Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered the following opening statement at today’s Full Committee hearing on Department of Defense Body Armor Programs:
"The committee will come to order. This morning the committee meets to receive testimony on Department of Defense body armor programs. We have with us today two panels of distinguished witnesses representing the military services, private industry, and independent agencies. I want to thank all of our witnesses in attendance today.
"The jurisdiction of this committee is such that we cover a very wide range of issues. But the significance of other issues pales relative to the importance of providing the best protection possible to our men and women serving in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
"This committee has been at the forefront in providing necessary non-partisan oversight on the full spectrum of force protection matters. Since 2001 this committee has authorized over $5.1 billion to help the services procure body armor and expand the industrial base.
"Effective body armor is the baseline component to force protection and it is critical to promoting the survivability of military personnel serving in extreme combat environments. It has to work and it has to be the best available bar none.
"Recent media reports have suggested that we may not be providing the best body armor available. NBC News commissioned an independent round of limited ballistic tests that compared current body armor to another system called Dragon Skin. NBC indicates the results from these limited tests favor Dragon Skin over the current military interceptor body armor system or IBA.
"NBC tests contradict the information provided to this committee by military and Department of Defense officials in numerous hearings and briefings. Most recently the Army indicated to this committee in a closed briefing on May 24 that they conducted first article live fire ballistic tests on the Dragon Skin system in May of 2006. These tests also included environmental constraints such as subjecting the vests to extreme temperatures and fluids to ensure the vests would hold up to conditions troops might face in the field. The Army tests indicated Dragon Skin failed to meet military body armor specifications.
"We’re here today to gain a better understanding of the facts and to reassure our constituents that our goal remains ensuring that their sons and daughters are being provided the best body armor available. We owe them that. This committee takes its oversight role very seriously. If it is determined we aren’t providing our troops the best body armor available, then this committee will fix that problem.
"Today’s hearing should help Members understand the rigorous standardized test and evaluation procedures that are required for procuring effective body armor systems for the military and understand why these rigorous protocols are necessary. We need to understand what the military requirements are—whether the ability to stop incoming rounds, or the weight they put on a soldier or Marine, or the heat and cold they must be able to withstand in theaters like Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Understanding the requirements and the process should make it clear that this is more than a competition between two makers of body armor. A fair, open, and objective process would allow any manufacturer to bring a product to the Department for consideration. That is the best way to ensure that our troops will have access to the best products.
"Troops and their families must have confidence in the product they are wearing. I hope today’s hearing will help shed some light on where we should go from here. But either way, I would urge the Army to conduct comprehensive first article tests of the current body armor system and the Pinnacle Dragon Skin system using an independent third party as control. This would ensure to everyone that we are providing the most capable, tactically suitable system available. We must continue to seek better, lighter, more effective body armor systems.
"Now let me say a couple practical words about the hearing today. Our goal is to present all sides of this issue. As such there are two panels and this is a big committee. I would urge members to keep their questions concise and to remember that we have a second panel. We should give the same courtesy to both panels.
"Also, it should be noted the committee did extend an official invitation to NBC News, retired General Wayne Downing, and retired Colonel (USMC) James Magee to provide their analysis of their ballistic side-by-side comparison tests. NBC declined to appear as did General Downing. Mr. Magee could not attend due to an unbreakable prior engagement but did submit a formal statement for the record.
"Before we introduce the first panel of witnesses for their opening remarks, I would like to recognize my good friend from California, the ranking Member Duncan Hunter for any remarks."