Jewish World Review August 25, 2005 / 20 Av, 5765
**Unspinning the NY Times’ military mendacity **
By Jack Kelly
Colonel Thomas Spoehr is annoyed with New York Times reporter Michael Moss, for what I think is a good reason.
Spoehr is the director of materiel for the Army staff. He had a good news story to tell Moss, which Moss converted into a bad news story.
Here is the story as Spoehr tells it:
Last year, senior leaders of the Army became aware of technological developments which make it possible to improve the “Interceptor” body armor worn by our troops.`
The “Interceptor” consists of a vest, two SAPI (small arms protective insert) plates worn in the front and the back, and “backing” material around the plates. The plates are made of boronic carbide, the second hardest substance known to man (only diamonds are harder) but fairly light weight.
The plates will shatter a standard rifle bullet, and the backing catches the bullet fragments to prevent injuries from shrapnel.
The “Interceptor” is the best body armor manufactured in the world today, and represents a remarkable improvement over the protective vests worn by our troops in the first Gulf War, and Somalia in 1993. Those vests could protect against shrapnel, but a rifle bullet would cut right through them.
Those vests weighed 24 lbs each. The interceptor ensemble — which can stop an AK-47 bullet fired from just 10 feet away — weighs just 16 lbs. But the best isn’t perfect. There are some special types of ammunition that can penetrate the boronic carbide plates. Last year Army leaders became aware of improvements that could be made to the SAPI plates that would protect against most (though not all) of these special types of ammunition.
There is little evidence insurgents in Iraq are using the special types of ammunition that can defeat the “Interceptor.” But the Army wanted to be proactive, to defeat a potential threat before it emerged.
“We’re taking what we think is a prudent step to guard against a step (the insurgents) could take, but that’s a step that really hasn’t developed yet,” Spoehr said.
Altering the formula by which the SAPI plates are manufactured is not a simple process, since these plates must be manufactured to extremely precise (1,000ths of an inch) dimensions.
“Making one of these plates is like making one of those tiles that protects the (space) shuttle from heat,” Spoehr said.
Yet though the specifications weren’t set until early in January, new plates were being manufactured — and delivery begun to U.S. troops — in March. Those familiar with the Pentagon’s procurement process recognize this as lightning speed.
The process was speeded up in part because in this instance the Army departed from the normal Pentagon practice of telling contractors not only what the Army needed, but how the contractors were to build what the Army wanted.
This time, Spoehr said, the Army told contractors what the Army needed, and let the contractors figure out how best to meet the need.
“It’s our belief that we put the specifications out there, and then we let good old American ingenuity go to work,” he said. “We have realized improvements in our own system from innovations contractors have come up with.”
The new plates are a little thicker, but they weigh just two lbs. more than the ones currently in use. The new SAPI plates cost $1,300 a set, up from $1,000 for the older set.
Here’s how the story was presented by Moss in the New York Times Aug. 14th: "For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is struggling to replace body armor that is failing to protect American troops from the most lethal attacks of insurgents.
“The ceramic plates in vests worn by most personnel cannot withstand certain munitions the insurgents use. But more than a year after military officials initiated an effort to replace the armor with thicker, more resistant plates, tens of thousands of soldiers are still without the stronger protection because of a string of delays in the Pentagon’s procurement system.”
Spoehr told Moss all the things he told me, but there is not a single positive quote in his story.