AP: 1/4 of U.S. Troops Lack Body Armor
WASHINGTON (AP) - Nearly one-quarter of the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq still have not been issued a new type of ceramic body armor strong enough to stop bullets fired from assault rifles. Delays in funding, production and shipping mean it will be December before all troops in Iraq will have the vests, which were introduced four years ago, military officials say.
Congress approved $310 million in April to buy 300,000 more of the bulletproof vests, with 30,000 destined to complete outfitting of the troops in Iraq. Of that money, however, only about $75 million has reached the Army office responsible for overseeing the vestsâ manufacture and distribution, said David Nelson, an official in that office.
Angry members of Congress have denounced the Pentagon. They say up to 44,000 troops lack the best vests because of the sluggish supply chain, significantly more than the Pentagon figure. Relatives of some soldiers have resorted to buying body armor in the United States and shipping it to their troops, congressional critics say.
The House version of an $86.7 billion Iraq spending bill passed last week would include $251 million for body armor and for clearing unexploded munitions, although itâs unclear if additional money would speed up the process at this point. President Bushâs original request included no more money for body armor.
The militaryâs Interceptor vests, introduced in 1999, include removable ceramic plates in the front and back that can stop bullets such as the 7.62mm rounds fired by Kalashnikov rifles common in Iraq and Afghanistan. Older-model vests can protect against shrapnel and other low-speed projectiles but not high-velocity rifle rounds. Several soldiers serving in both countries have credited the Interceptor vests with saving their lives. Each vest and its plates weighs more than 16 pounds and cost more than $1,500.
Dang, must have some expensive dinnerware in there.
The shortfall in Iraq came because the militaryâs need for body armor outstripped its ability to make and deliver the Interceptor plates, said Nelson, the Armyâs deputy product manager for outfitting soldiers. The Army already had boosted production to supply soldiers fighting in Afghanistan when planning for the Iraq war began in earnest last year, Nelson said. Production of the plates surged a year ago from about 3,000 per month to 6,000 to 10,000 per month, Nelson said. Current production is about 25,000 plates per month, and the Army is working to double that to 50,000 per month, he said.
``Itâs not a question of money, itâs a question of capacity to manufacture these devices,ââ the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Richard Myers, told a Senate committee last month. ``Weâre making them as quickly as we can.ââ Nelson said the Army originally hired three companies to make the plates: Armor Works LLC of Tempe, Ariz.; Ceradyne Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif; and Simula Inc. of Phoenix.
The Army recently added three more companies to make the inserts, Nelson said: Point Blank Body Armor Inc., a division of DHB Industries, of Carle Place, N.Y.; ProTech Armored Products, a subsidiary of Armor Holdings Inc., of Jacksonville, Fla.; and ForceOne LLC, of Spruce Pine, N.C. To help meet the demand, all six companies also are making heavier versions of the bulletproof plates, which can be manufactured quicker and easier, Nelson said.
Posted by: Steve White 2003-10-14