Body armor is serious business for those who face combat. The right body protection can determine the difference between death, grave danger, or safety. If this is so, why did the U.S. Army ban the use of Dragon Skin body armor?
Dragon Skin is a type of ballistic vest or body armor designed by the now-defunct company Pinnacle Armor. It was manufactured by the North American Development Group LLC, based in Missoula, Montana. It was made for law enforcement and military officials as well as the public.
It was called “Dragon Skin” armor because of the two-inch-wide circular discs that overlap like dragon scales. This creates a flexible vest that allows a wide range of motion. Its design can absorb high numbers of hits compared to other armors used by the military.
Read on to learn more about the Dragon Skin body armor, its features and capabilities, and controversies leading to its banning by the military.
The Controversial Dragon Skin Body Armor
Dragon Skin body armor has two-inch overlapping discs made of silicon carbide ceramic matrices and laminates like other ballistic plates. Due to its failure to pass army testing in 2006, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) considers this armor as Level III body armor.
Its original maker claimed that this protective vest could stop multiple rounds of bullets, is flexible, and can provide a degree of protection that hadn’t been possible up to that time. However, its safety level, others have said, was uncertain then.
The Army officials banned this body armor.  The reason being is that some soldiers or their families buy untested or inadequate commercial body armor from private commercial firms.
The cost of the entry-level Dragon Skin armor for torso protection is $2,000. But that’s not enough if you want total protection for your body. The entire getup can run to about $5,000 per person.
It will consist of a protective collar, backpack plates, an optional weight-bearing rig, optional lightweight SAPI (Small Arms Protective Inserts) plates, and a protective blanket that you can carry anywhere.
The Claims of Dragon Skin Body Armor
The body armor produced by Pinnacle promised to be the highest form of body armor in modern times. They claimed that their product has the degree of flexibility that would be impossible with other vests made of armor plates. Initially, it showed that it could really take more hits from rifle rounds than a standard ceramic plate.
This vest appeared to be the winning solution to military units in combat. To men and women who were on a tour of duties for 6 months on and 6 months off in Iraq, this body armor had all the arguments in its favor. The military is always looking for armor that could take more beating and still provide adequate protection.
An observer who followed the Dragon Skin body armor’s controversial story said that the vest got solid and heavy marketing and promotion from its makers. They said that the media overhyped the product to make it attractive as the best bullet-proof vest available at that time.
Then suddenly, the officials remove it from the NIJ list of bullet-resistant body armor models. It appears that it failed to satisfy NIJ’s requirements.
This same observer said that it became evident that Pinnacle used an investigative journalist from NBC Nightly News to conduct a disinformation campaign. This disinformation campaign promoted the Dragon Skin vest and undermined the public’s confidence in the Army’s capacity and honesty to conduct fair and open laboratory tests.
The said promotional campaign included eliciting Dragon Skin’s favorable coverage on NBC and two other networks, namely the History Channel and the Military Network. Pro-military audiences watch these shows. Both shows tested this body armor, and both hyped its capabilities.
Dragon Skin Vest
The Dragon Skin protective vest made by Pinnacle Armor is quite heavy. It weighs around 47.5 pounds just for the vest alone. A soldier tires easily while wearing this vest in combat. Soldiers normally carry other things that they need to keep them battle-ready at all times. With a weapon and some tools, asking a soldier to wear heavy body armor will make them ineffective in battle.
This vest is also much bulkier than the Interceptor armor that soldiers used in 2006. The Dragon Skin vest’s thickness ranges from 1.7 inches to 1.9 inches, while the Interceptor armor is only 1.3 inches thick.
While that’s not a lot of difference, adding additional bulk considerably reduces the arms’ mobility. Also, this will affect your ability to shoulder the rifle. You can’t go lower to the ground in a prone position if you are wearing bulkier armor. And that will affect your performance in combat.
The panel size of the Dragon Skin body armor is 11.5 inches by 13.5 inches. However, the area of protection that this vest can provide is only 10 inches by 12 inches, which is the middle of the panel. That means a soldier is carrying extra weight that does not provide protection.
So, the military is looking for body armor that is thinner and will not hinder movement. They want to have body armor with smaller plates and without any soft armor so that their mobility will not be affected. Unfortunately, Pinnacle Armor is going in the other direction.
Dragon Skin Body Armor Applications
A lot of people have already used the Dragon Skin protective vest. They include the U.S. Secret Service staff, bodyguards whose jobs are to protect generals, nine generals assigned in Afghanistan, special operating forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, several SWAT teams, and many others. The CIA has also bought Dragon Skin body armor.
This protective vest is available in three protection levels. They are the following:
- SOV-2000 – previously certified to provide Level III protection.
- SOV-3000 – rated as Level IV by its maker but is not yet officially certified as such.
- ‘Level V’ variant – no specified rating yet and is not available to the public.
Why Did the U.S. Army Ban the Use of Dragon Skin Body Armor?
The U.S. Army banned all privately purchased commercial body armor on March 30, 2006. Meaning, body armor is being worn by private individuals. This is due to soldiers or families purchasing untested or inadequate commercial body armor from private firms.
This ban specifically refers to the body armor made by Pinnacle Armor which they call Dragon Skin. The order implies that the Pinnacle advertising claimed that their Dragon Skin armor has superior performance than the Interceptor Body Armor, which is the vest that is being issued by the military to their soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has not issued a similar order. The marines are encouraged to wear body armor that the Marine Corps issue since they have undergone tests to satisfy fleet standards.
It was only well after the U.S. Army banned that NBC News regarding select elite forces assigned as bodyguards of VIPs and generals in Afghanistan and Iraq who wore Dragon Skin body armors.
A statement attributed to General Peter W. Chiarelli indicated that he didn’t wear Dragon Skin. Still, some of his staff members did wear the lighter version of this armor on certain special occasions, despite being banned by the Army.
Tests Done on the Dragon Skin Armor
There were several tests done on the Dragon Skin vest by different groups and entities. And this is where the confusion lies. Some tests gave positive results, while some brought negative feedback. I will enumerate some of these tests, and I will let you judge the matter:
History Channel and Discovery Channel Tests
The military show of History Channel, Mail Call, performed some tests on the Dragon Skin vest. In their tests, the body armor repelled nine rounds of steel-core bullets from an AK-47 fully automatic rifle. It also repelled 35 rounds of 9×19 mm bullets from a Heckler & Koch MP5A3. These guns were fired on the 10 inches by 12 inches area of the vest.
Another test performed on History Channel, particularly on Test Lab, showed that the vest was able to thwart 120 rounds of 7.62 x 39 mm bullets fired from a Type 56 rifle and a Heckler & Koch MP5 with 9 x 19 mm bullets.
On a separate demonstration of the Dragon Skin vest done on the Discovery Channel, particularly on the Future Weapon series, it could withstand multiple rounds from an M4 carbine (5.56 x 45 mm), Heckler & Koch MP5 SD, and AK-47, plus a point-blank grenade detonation. Although the vest suffered heavy damage, there was no penetration on the body armor.
U.S. Military Tests
The controversy started when Dragon Skin claimed that it is better than the body armor that the U.S Army is issuing to its soldier, which is the Interceptor body armor. The Army claimed that the Dragon Skin vest did not prove to be effective.
In several tests run for the Air Force, multiple failures were seen that did not satisfy Pinnacle’s claim of the Dragon Skin’s protection level. This is aggravated by the poor quality control performed on the vests. Apparently, Pinnacle recalled 200 out of 380 vests because of improperly made armor disks.
There were also some accusations of fraudulent claims of NIJ official rating when Pinnacle had not actually obtained at the time of the USAF OSI purchase. This led to the termination of that contract.
Pinnacle tried to appeal the U.S. Army’s decision. However, the courts ruled in favor of the USAF. Whereby on Apr. 26, 2006, Pinnacle Armor issued a press release that addressed the claims and the product recall initiated by the US Navy.
Pinnacle also said that while the Army returned the vests because of manufacturing issues, the USAF OSI, in a test conducted at a U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland in February 2006, concluded that the Dragon Skin body armor did not fail any written contract specifications that the USAF set forth.
To make this statement clearer, Pinnacle added that these specifications require the body armors to have high ballistic performance because of the very hostile environment by which USAF OSI operates.
The Resulting Dragon Skin Confusion
The US Army hyped the Dragon Skin body armor and then dropped it, which confused many people. Some say that the hype resulted from the marketing campaign that Pinnacle did exaggerate its durability and strength.
It seems that the military’s immediate concern is the second-shot performance of the Dragon Skin. The NIJ said that Dragon Skin was not able to satisfy this requirement.
One astute observer has this to say about this Dragon Skin controversy. This person says that the military gear industry is very political. They added that it is very likely that Pinnacle has not lobbied its cause to politicians and the military as much as the company that makes the Interceptor body armor.
What do you think?
Conclusion: Dragon Skin Armor
Dragon Skin body armor was a type of ballistic vest or body armor designed by the now-defunct company Pinnacle Armor. It was made for law enforcement and military officials as well as the general public.
Army officials banned Dragon Skin armor in 2006 from military use because of the controversy that went into its testing and trials. This controversy cast a cloud on its effectiveness during combat.