Quality Issues with USMC Body Armor Force Recall
The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) bought 19,000 torso-protecting Interceptor Alpha “outer tactical vests” from Point Blank Body Armor Inc. of Pompano Beach, FL. The vests recently failed tests by military ballistics experts involving 9mm pistol rounds, but subsequent tests by a private firm gave passing grades to samples pulled from the challenged lots. While the Interceptor Alpha OTVs are vastly superior to the flak jacket they replaced, the Marines acknowledged providing the vests to troops after signing waivers acknowledging that the equipment did not meet certain minimum standards.
On May 4, 2005, the USMC issued a Corpswide message recalling 5,277 Interceptor vests from 11 lots that failed government ballistic performance tests – slightly more than half the total vests issued to Marines from questionable lots.
The Marines said they were recalling the vests because media coverage about safety questions would “sow seeds of doubt in the minds of Marines in active combat.” Marine spokesman Maj. Douglas Powell said “This is the best quality equipment we could field… I would wear this vest in combat… The vest is not designed to stop bullets. The vest is designed to stop shrapnel.” The vests have certainly been very popular in Iraq among the U.S. Army, Marines, and even foreign troops like the Poles.
Complicating the situation is the fact that the Corps will face serious challenges in even locating the vests it plans to pull back. Because lot numbers, serial numbers and other manufacturing data are handwritten on body armor labels, the writing is sometimes smeared, faded or otherwise illegible. It wasn’t mentioned in the news article, but it’s a safe bet that any Marine who would rather not give his body armor back, won’t.
Of the 14,000 vests not being recalled, 10,000 were from lots that were never accepted or fielded, the Marines said. Another 3,000 “passed all quality and testing standards,” and 992 more were sent into the field with what the Marines termed a “perfunctory waiver.”
The best and most complete coverage of this issue can be found in this excellent Marine Corps Times article, which summarizes the entire investigation to date.
Additional Readings and Sources
- MARADMIN 211/05: PRECAUTIONARY RECALL OF SELECTED OUTER TACTICAL VEST (OTV) LOTS
- Gannett’s Marine Corps Times, via Wayback Machine (May 8/05): The Marines’ flawed body armor
- Reuters (May 9/05) – US Marines recall body armor amid safety questions
- The Washington Post (Dec 4/03) – Body Armor Saves U.S. Lives in Iraq
- American Forces Press Service (Oct 31/03) – Army, Marines Rushing Body Armor to Troops in Combat Zones
- American Forces Information Service (Oct 31, 2003): Army, Marines Rushing Body Armor to Troops in Combat Zones