If you work for the country’s military forces, you need the finest body armor. Why is that? The reason is that the risk you’ll face is unlike what other people experience. For example, a security guard at the mall could be shot once or twice in life by robbers. This threat, however, is grave and persistent for members of the Air Force, Navy, and Army.
That is why the government provides the best possible defense to these brave men and women. That includes the distribution of bulletproof vests. Before the year 2000, the armed forces used the IBA or Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor. That’s because it had the most reliable protection against bullets. However, in 2006, a rookie, Dragon Skin, took up the IBA. Unfortunately, the new body armor company faced several challenges in the process, so they couldn’t become the country’s official bullet-resistant vest. So let’s see how the Dragon Skin fared against the IBA.
What Is the Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor?
The IBA, known as the Interceptor Body Armor, is also a bulletproof vest. The US Armed Forces issued this protective armor to their members in the early 2000s. However, the IBA is more than just a vest; it’s a whole system. One of its core elements is the Outer Tactical Vest (OTV). You can wear this vest with the biceps, groin, and throat protectors.
The IBA comes in various color schemes, along with some camouflage designs. A majority of the military branches and some units of the National Guard used the IBA.
In 2007, the government phased out the IBA and replaced it with the Improved OTV. The US Marine Corps also replaced their IBA inventory with the Modular Tactical Vest.
As of now, the body armor system is only available for sale to overseas customers.
What Is Pinnacle’s Dragon Skin?
According to its maker, Dragon Skin armor is a bulletproof vest for the military and law enforcement personnel. Pinnacle Armor manufactured this bulletproof vest, although the company doesn’t exist anymore.
The vest’s protection comes from a scale-like armor made up of overlapping circular discs. Each disc has a diameter of two inches. The manufacturer used silicon carbide ceramic lattices and matrices to produce these discs. This is the same material that manufacturers use to make the plates that line other bulletproof vests.
The overlapping discs create a flexible shield. This design allows for a greater range of motion for the wearer. It also absorbs more high-impact hits than any other body armor.
This bulletproof vest has a protection level called Dragon Skin Extreme. This is the same as their old SOV-2000 rating. In addition, the rating meets the Level III 2005 Interim criteria of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
Several civilian contractors wore the Dragon Skin during their time in Iraq. Most special operation forces in Afghanistan and Iraq also chose this bulletproof vest over others. In addition, certain generals, SWAT members, and even some CIA agents selected the Dragon Skin armor for defense. However, the armor failed to maintain its NIJ certification when they evaluated it in 2006. Up to this day, there are no more known users of the armor.
Why Did the Dragon Skin Body Armor Disappear?
Mid-November of 2006, Pinnacle Armor announced that it had partnered with the NIJ for five years. They developed the procedures and protocols so that their flexible bulletproof could be certified. A month later, the company revealed that the armor had passed the NIJ Level III tests. Pinnacle Armor claimed to have the official certification letter, which is now said to be false.
Pinnacle faced even more problems as the US Air Force opened an investigation against the company. The investigation was regarding them false-labeling their armor as NIJ-certified. The Air Force had already placed an order for the Dragon Skin vests, but they canceled it once the investigation started. However, Pinnacle still claimed that NIJ granted him verbal permission to label the vests as such.
Decertification Of Dragon Skin
The NIJ reviewed the evidence Pinnacle Armor has submitted and determined that it didn’t back up their warranty period. The agency did not clarify whether the armor failed the tests for ballistic performance. Following this, the NIJ labeled the Dragon Skin armor as non-compliant. In August of 2007, the Department of Justice announced its decision to remove Dragon Skin from NIJ’s list of certified body armor models.
Pinnacle argued that the decertification was unfair since Dragon Skin performed better than other body armors. However, the NIJ was firm with its ruling and refused to change its decision.
In the same month, the US Laboratory in Kansas tested nine Dragon Skins to validate the company’s six-year warranty period. The ages of the armors they tried were between 5.7 and 6.8 years. As a result, all nine vests passed the ballistic protection requirements.
Pinnacle Armor submitted this result to NIJ and hoped for the better. However, NIJ rejected the appeal based on incomplete documentation. Later that year, Pinnacle Armor sued NIJ to recertify its SOV-2000 vests. In 2013, the court dismissed the case due to the lack of merit.
Interceptor Body Armor vs Dragon Skin Body Armor
Mail Call, a military show on History Channel, did an independent test on the protective capacity of the Dragon Skin. The testing revealed that the armor could repel steel-core ammunition shot from a fully automatic AK-47. It could also stop 9x19mm rounds shot from a Heckler & Koch MP5A3.
On a different show, the tester shot the armor using a Type 56 rifle and a Heckler & Koch. Again, the armor successfully repelled all 120 rounds.
The Dragon Skin could prevent M67 grenade shrapnel from penetrating it. However, the explosion heavily damaged the vest.
Noticing Dragon Skin’s growing popularity, organizations decided to test it against the US Armed Forces’ armor of choice, the Interceptor.
NBC’s Testing of the Two Armor
In 2007, NBC News commissioned testing of Interceptor and Dragon Skin. They did this in a laboratory in Germany with Wayne Downing, a retired general, and Philip Coyle, a former chief tester of the Pentagon and NBC consultant. Although the trial was limited, the experts declared that the Dragon Skin armor performed better than the Interceptor. The show even interviewed James Magee, a retired USMC Colonel and one of the developers of Interceptor. He agreed that the Dragon Skin performed much better than he could imagine.
However, Coyle revealed that they had tested the Interceptor’s performance without its protective plates. As a result, he claimed that Pinnacle’s armor had an unfair advantage. Without its plates, the Interceptor had significant gaps in the front, back, and sides.
Army’s Defense of the Interceptor
On the other hand, in a test conducted by the army, they asserted that the Dragon Skin failed because it allowed 13 of 48 shots to go through. However, they declared the Interceptor as the best body armor because it passed live-fire testing and used in actual combat.
The Army also claimed that the Interceptor is lighter than Pinnacle’s armor by 19.5 pounds. This is a critical difference since anyone who goes into battle already carries heavy equipment. The added weight of their vest will undoubtedly affect their speed. To be slow means you increase your chances of being shot.
Lisa Myers, an NBC News reporter, asked Brigadier General Brown whether they will be conducting their side-by-side testing of the two body armors. However, Brown claimed that the US Army did not take part in such testing.
Controversy About the Testing
No one denies that the Interceptor is an excellent piece of body armor. However, multiple tests concluded that the Dragon Skin is superior, especially in reducing blunt force trauma. This is almost as fatal as a bullet penetrating the body.
Philip Coyle claimed that he observed certain advantages of the Dragon Skin. For once, Pinnacle’s Armor offered more flexibility and conformed better to the human body. Another advantage was that the bare Dragon Skin covered more area of the torso.
Dragon Skin fared better in multiple situations. First, it was able to withstand the impact even if the tests repeatedly hit it in the same place. That’s a common flaw of many commercially available body armors. Once a bullet hits an area, that part of the vest becomes vulnerable. This makes it more likely for the plate to crack if fired at that spot again.
As for minimizing trauma, the testers placed clay underneath the armors to see how well it dissipated the effect. According to Coyle, the bullets left shallower cavities on the clay protected by the Dragon Skin armor.
Finally, the Pinnacle Armor performed much better than the Interceptor against the deadly ammunitions that enemies from Afghanistan and Iraq use.
Coyle’s report caught the attention of the US Congress. It prompted various senators to request the Pentagon and the General Accountability Office to conduct their tests on the Dragon Skin. They wanted to see if it is indeed better than the Interceptor. Unfortunately, these inquiries did not progress because of the issues that Pinnacle Armor faced.
Different organizations tested both the Dragon Skin and the Interceptor, and both passed NIJ’s Level III testing. However, although Dragon Skin emerged as the winner in most tests, its rumors of unfair procedures ruined the potential gains.
Additionally, Dragon Skin received a lot of pushback as a result of alleged fraud and problematic documentation. The NIJ first decertified it, then it failed the US Army testing and eventually got banned. On the other hand, the Interceptor stayed as the body armor the government chose to issue to law enforcers and armed forces until the company discontinued it.