ARLINGTON, Va. — An Army official on Monday rebutted claims that the commercially made Dragon Skin body armor provides more protection than the Interceptor Body Armor that soldiers are issued.

Pinnacle Armor makes Dragon Skin and claims it is the first “flexible body armor that defeats rifle rounds,” that it is lightweight and provides at least 44 percent more protection than standard ballistic plates, the company’s Web site says.

On Sunday, NBC News reported that independent tests showed Dragon Skin was able to stop more rounds than the body armor issued to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Following media reports on the matter, U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Jim Webb, D-Va., have asked the Government Accountability Office to look into whether U.S. troops have the best body armor available.

But Dragon Skin failed several ballistic tests last year, said Brig Gen. R. Mark Brown, of the Army’s center for advanced soldier equipment.

Dragon Skin vests are made so that there is a 50 percent chance that a bullet will hit only one of overlapping ceramic discs that provide ballistic protection, said Brown, of Program Executive Officer Soldier (PEO Soldier), based in Fort Belvoir, Va.

During the first tests on Dragon Skin, a bullet went through the vest after hitting just one of those discs, Brown said.

Furthermore, the system of overlapping discs fell apart when the vests were exposed to extreme cold and heat to simulate moving the vests by air to a hot climate, he said.

To pass Army testing, body armor must stop all rounds fired at it, Brown said.

“One failure is sudden death and you lose the game,” he said.

The Army decided to continue testing Dragon Skin after the first time a vest failed to stop a bullet, “in the interest of fairness in giving the contractor a good shake,” Brown said.

But after the vests failed to stop 13 of 48 rounds, the Army halted the tests, he said.

Reached by phone Monday, Pinnacle Armor’s founder accused the Army of lying.

Murray Neal said eight of the rounds that penetrated the Dragon Skin vests were specifically aimed where there were no ballistic discs.

Of the remaining shots that went through the vests, five needed to be verified by a follow-up test, but the Army failed to do so, Neal said.

As for the Army’s contention that the mesh of ceramic discs falls apart after being exposed to extreme temperatures, Neal said, “That’s a bold-face lie.”

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said Neal has made similar accusations against the Army in the past, but, “the test results speak for themselves.”

The Army initially did not release this information due to operational security concerns, but it felt compelled to do so after the NBC report to make sure soldiers’ families have confidence in the body armor soldiers are issued, Brown said.

The Army does not plan to release the actual tests themselves to avoid giving the enemy information it can use, he said.

Brown also said Monday that the Army is close to awarding a contract for newer, lighter body armor for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan known as Improved Outer Tactical Vests.

Meanwhile, the Army also plans to start issuing the next generation of body armor in fiscal 2010 or 2012 as part of the Future Force Warrior System.

First researchers must prove that the shaped ballistic plates that are part of the new body armor provide as much protection as the Small Arms Protective Insert plates that soldiers wear now.

Sound off!What’s your take on commercially available body armor versus standard-issue body armor?

E-mail Jeff Schogol at:

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