A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.
The ceramic plates in vests currently worn by the majority of military personnel in Iraq cover only some of the chest and back. In at least 74 of the 93 fatal wounds that were analyzed in the Pentagon study of marines from March 2003 through June 2005, bullets and shrapnel struck the marines' shoulders, sides or areas of the torso where the plates do not reach.
For the first time, the study by the military's medical examiner shows the cost in lost lives from inadequate armor, even as the Pentagon continues to publicly defend its protection of the troops. Officials have said they are shipping the best armor to Iraq as quickly as possible. At the same time, they have maintained that it is impossible to shield forces from the increasingly powerful improvised explosive devices used by insurgents. Yet the Pentagon's own study reveals the equally lethal threat of bullets.
The Pentagon has been collecting the data on wounds since the beginning of the war in part to determine the effectiveness of body armor. The military's medical examiner, Craig T. Mallak, told a military panel in 2003 that the information "screams to be published." But it would take nearly two years.
The shortfalls in bulletproof vests are just one of the armor problems the Pentagon continues to struggle with as the war in Iraq approaches the three-year mark, The Times has found in an ongoing examination of the military procurement system.
The production of a new armored truck called the Cougar, which military officials said has thus far withstood every insurgent attack, has fallen three months behind schedule. The small company making the truck has been beset by a host of production and legal problems.
You really need to read the whole thing. It's a compendium of cover-ups, inter-service infighting, procurement SNAFUs and fraud, and underestimates of the strength and duration of the insurgency in Iraq.
The "secret report" on body armor deficiencies was brought to light by Soldiers for the Truth, the advocacy group founded by the late Colonel David Hackworth.
Sadly, the Pentagon will likely spend more time and energy finding out who leaked the report than it did on fixing the armor problems.