Eagle Eyed Air Force Master Sergeant Sheds Light on Body Armor Saga
Eagle Eyed Air Force Master Sergeant
Sheds Light on Body Armor Saga
DefenseWatch has received a clue in the ongoing saga to determine whether:
- anyone issued an order, directive, or guidance prohibiting the use of any body armor other than issued body armor to special operations soldiers being deployed to a combat theater. In the case of our January 14 article titled "Army Orders Soldiers to Shed Dragon Skin or Lose SGLI Death Benefits" we were referring to Interceptor OTV body armor generally issued to all Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen other than special operations members serving in combat theaters. Although the soldiers referenced in our report were special operations soldiers and would normally be provided BALCS they were not issued BALCS because none was available when they deployed. Note: Because DefenseWatch assured the servicemen anonymity we can not go into the matter further except to say that DW confirmed 11 of them purchased Dragon Skin body armor as an alternative;
- anyone issue an order, directive or guidance threatening any service member killed while wearing non-issue body armor with the loss of their $400,000 SGLI death benefit if they failed to comply with the first order?
In response we received a letter from a Master Sergeant at 21ST Space
Wing Public Affairs that said,
Your article stated:
"On Saturday morning a soldier affected by the order
reported to DefenseWatch that the directive specified
that "all" commercially available body armor was
prohibited. The soldier said the order came down Friday
morning from Headquarters, United States Special
Operations Command (HQ, USSOCOM), located at
MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. It arrived unexpectedly
while his unit was preparing to deploy on combat
operations. The soldier said the order was deeply
disturbing to many of the men who had used their own
money to purchase Dragon Skin because it will affect
both their mobility and ballistic protection. "
- Defense Watch
USSOCOM replied to queries about this:
"First, as you are probably aware, I cannot comment on
and do not know what the Army or Marine Corps policies
are on body armor. I can only provide you information
about Special Operations Forces.
I have talked to all of the appropriate people and no
one is aware of any directive that went out of USSOCOM
headquarters last week that addressed the subject of
body armor, much less prohibited the use of commercial
body armor. Neither is anyone familiar with any statement
made about service members losing their SGLI death
benefits if they are wearing commercial body armor at the
time of their death. There is no such USSOCOM policy about
Additionally, Special Operations Forces do not use the
Interceptor OTV body armor that you discussed in the
DefenseWatch piece. Special Operations Forces use the
Body Armor Load Carriage System (BALCS)."
To the best of my knowledge, no such directive has ever
been given. There was an article called "SOF-specific body
armor - Are you covered?" written back in January 2005 in
which Gen Brown (Commander, USSOCOM) stated "If you
have purchased anything off the market other than the
USSOCOM approved BALCS/SPEAR system, you may be
unprotected and wrong", but there were no orders given or
warnings about SGLI.
(See attached article "SOCOM.txt")
More than likely the message got garbled going down the
chain and some well meaning folks or barracks lawyer
types started this rumor. Further, the above incident was
supposedly USSOCOM specific, not Army wide or
To His letter the Master Sergeant attached the following story:
"SOF-specific body armor – Are you covered?
By Julius Denson, USSOCOM Special Programs
"If you have purchased anything off the market other than the USSOCOM approved BALCS/SPEAR system, you may be unprotected and wrong."
-- Gen. Doug Brown, Commander, USSOCOM
Body armor is essential life-saving equipment for Special Operations Forces. Many body armor systems commercially available were developed for law enforcement use and designed with small arms threat in mind. Military use demands additional protection from fragmentation. Technological advancements have resulted in the development of relatively light-weight military body armor that is effective against threats that range from armor piercing rifle rounds to fragmentation.
Commercial systems are typically rated in accordance with the National Institute of Justice Standard (0101.04) which establishes test parameters and methodology, and acceptance criteria for various levels of ballistic protection. While NIJ standards are similar to military requirements, they were developed to characterize specific threats encountered in law enforcement environments. However, the threats faced by the military are more violent and pervasive. Consequently, NIJ standards are not used to characterize the ballistic performance of military body armor systems. In order to properly compare the ballistic performance of commercial systems to the performance of military systems, additional testing and evaluation of the commercial systems' ballistic performance is usually required.
Body armor systems are typically made up of ballistic stopping components (hard "plates" or soft armor "layers") and the vests carry these components. Worm body armor stops a bullet or fragment from entering the body. However, this is not the only measure of ballistic performance. Ballistic impacts on body armor typically cause a deformation or dent of the ballistic stopping component or the "plates" of the body armor. This dent can cause blunt force trauma on the body part immediately behind the armor system. Consider the possibility for trauma when evaluating the performance of any ballistic protection system used by the military.
U.S. Special Operations Command has fully tested and approved one system of ballistic stopping components and a family of vest carriers for use by Special Operations Forces. The ballistic components currently approved for use by USSOCOM elements are the Body Armor Load Carriage System (BALCS) ballistic components (which can be referred to as "ballistic components," "plates," or soft "armor") fielded under the Special Operations Forces Personal Equipment Advanced Requirements (SPEAR) program.
The USSOCOM approved BALCS system consists of ballistic plates, soft armor ballistic component insert, releasable body armor vest, plate test carrier, low visibility soft armor vest carrier, and one each groin and neck protector containing soft armor ballistic components. Each ballistic component is fully compatible with its respective BALCS vest cover.
Soft armor is constructed of multiple layers of ballistic stopping cloth, such as Kevlar or Spectra. These materials are lightweight and flexible, with extremely high tensile strength. They are well suited for applications where flexibility is required (i.e. body armor) or can be used in hard armor applications, when combined with epoxy resins (i.e. helmets). Soft armor systems typically provide protection against handgun or fragmentation threats only. The addition of a ballistic plate is usually required to defeat a high speed round such as those fired by a rifle.
The BALCS ballistic plate is a boron carbide composite plate that provides multi-hit protection against specific armor piercing threats. All USSOCOM operators should now have the ballistic plate with a black label on the back side. The SPEAR BALCS ballistic plate (either version) has similar external dimensions of the Army's Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) and is fully compatible with the Army's Interceptor Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) system.
Ballistic plates defeat ballistic threats by breaking up or destroying the threat at impact with the plate. In order to do this, the plates are constructed of composite ceramic materials such as boron carbide or silicon carbide. Sometimes metal alloys are used. Additional layers of ballistic cloth combined with resins to make a rigid composite are also used to reinforce the ceramic material to minimize cracking associated with bullet impact and to catch the bullet fragments before complete penetration. The reduction of plate cracking improves multi-hit performance. The plates are usually placed against a soft armor system but can be also used in a stand-alone configuration when properly designed for this application.
Special Operations Forces Support Activity's (SOFSA) quality assurance provision ensures plates are free from defects, cracks and fissures occurring from normal use. The plates are dated with the quarter and year of manufacture, which is used to determine inspection requirements.
X-ray and/or ultrasound is used to inspect the plates and should be performed every 24 to 30 months. SOFSA coordinates the inspection of plates based on the date of manufacture/fielding. Plates with green labels have priority for inspection (green is used to identify older plates). Plates with black labels will be inspected at the unit's request when SOFSA arrives to conduct the evaluation or at the regular inspection interval, whichever occurs first. Plates found to be defective will be removed from service and replaced.
The SPEAR BALCS system utilizes a family of vest covers to provide multiple capabilities to the SOF operator. Each vest cover uses one or more BALCS ballistic components to provide a modular ballistic protection capability. This capability is mission tailorable to allow optimization of operator performance and protection.
The BALCS soft armor vest insert, neck collar and groin protectors are comprised of layers of Spectra material. They are rated to provide protection against 9 x 19 mm ball round and fragmentation threats. The BALCS soft armor insert provides backing to the ballistic upgrade plate and extends over the shoulders and wraps around the torso.
The original BALCS vest cover was fielded with a complete set of BALCS ballistic components. The BALCS vest provides coverage to the majority of the thorax and allows the user to add neck and groin protection, if required. The BALCS permits rapid jettison of the upgrade plate and maintains neutral buoyancy for three minutes, when no load carriage or plates are attached.
The Releasable Body Armor Vest (RBAV) was developed as a replacement for the original BALCS vest cover and provides the same area of coverage and level of protection. The RBAV provides a rapid jettison capability of the complete vest system, including attached load carriage. This allows the user to be rapidly extricated from a fully loaded vest system, which streamlines the wearer and removes excess weight, improving the likelihood for survival in an accidental submergence or emergency medical situation. The RBAV has two versions: Dual Pull – Provides two locations for the quick release lanyard, center low and either left or right; Single Pull – Provides a single location (center high) for the quick release lanyard.
The Modular Body Armor Vest (MBAV) complements the original BALCS vest or RBAV and uses the BALCS upgrade plate. The current MBAV eliminates the BALCS soft armor insert, reducing weight and bulk and improving the operator's freedom of motion. The original maritime variant of the MBAV requires the user to wear the Low Visibility Body Armor Vest (LVBAV) under the MBAV in order to maintain the area of coverage and level of protection of the BALCS system. The newer Ranger MBAV variant uses a plate sized soft armor insert sewn into the plate carrier. This version maintains the level of protection but allows the use of the MBAV in a stand-alone configuration, maximizing operator freedom of motion. The trade-off is a reduction in area of coverage for protection against 9 mm and fragmentation threats. The MBAV is not compatible with the neck collar or groin protectors.
The LVBAV is used to provide a level of concealable or low visibility ballistic protection against 9 mm and fragmentation threats. The LVBAV is intended to be worn under outer garments in situations where the user requires ballistic protection but does not wish to make this protection obvious, such as an external vest would do. The LVBAV is not compatible with the neck collar or groin protectors.
Body Armor Procurement
SPEAR body armor components are centrally managed and as such can only be procured through the Program Executive Officer Special Programs (PEO-SP). The Special Operations Acquisition and Logistics (SOAL) Center, PEO-SP is the command office of primary responsibility for procurement of body armor. For all questions/assistance on SOF Body Armor Equipment, please contact SOAL-SP, Julius Denson at (813) 828-9352.