SOCOM Has Defective Body Armor

So there’s this site called GearScout, and it’s run by a real journalist named Rob Curtis.

Rob Curtis

Using his keen sense of journalistic smell, he discovered that SOCOM’s armor plates are defective. “They don’t stop bullets” defective, not “they might discolor in sunlight” defective.

The solution is…well there really is no solution. Bad plates are being identified through the highly scientific method of SOCOM dudes tapping their plates before every mission and listening for a “ting” instead of a “thud.” Yes, every mission. The problem is described as a “latent delamination defect.”

Which means that this defect just…happens. Randomly. Without warning, your body armor might come apart from the inside. While you’re asleep, or maybe ten seconds after you “test” it.

So while you’re emerging from a Thanksgiving food coma, men with amazing beards are going on DA hits with body armor that may or may not work.

Just something to think about.

34 thoughts on “SOCOM Has Defective Body Armor”

      1. Wellp, glad to know this is probably all of us then. Don’t think SOCOM’s plates are particularly different from everyone else.

          1. I’ve seen this happen a time or two before in the conventional army-remember having to turn in my plates on my second deployment. They didn’t tell us why :p

  1. So what can we do to help those amazing beard owners?
    Any funds being raised? Any OEMs being hit up for donations of known-good equip taking place?

  2. Andrew, while true not exactly new. There is a bi-yearly mandatory x-ray of every “issued” plate within the individual subordinate commands [NSW, USASOC, etc]. Used to be a yearly grab-ass exercise for guys, but then we found some were failing x-ray and physical inspection [crushed corners, gouges, delaminating]. And rough handling is part of the cause; i.e. taking off your vest and dropping/slinging etc it into your cubby or on the ground. Routinely, the plate worn in the back [we mark f & b] was taking more damage from normal daily wear and tear, sitting in a truck, rucksack flop, putting your vest into a bag etc…you get the idea. The plate can only take so much wear and tear, and c’mon tell me your marine infantrymen amigo’s babied their gear? The manufacturers do a really good job, they are very conscientious, and know guys are going into harms way every day wearing their kit. The manufacturers [I have seen this] hang a plate up on the factory floor, in a break room etc that has taken a hit and saved a kid’s life from the Ranger Regt, JSOC etc to let their folks know every plate vest etc they make saves a life. And we are fickle. We want it lighter, thinner, in hello kitty etc….and they try to make it lighter, thinner w/ GI Joe on it…and we bitch, cuz that’s how we roll. You get the idea.
    Nothing against Rob C [he is one I don’t know personally but I am aware of his website] but every one is looking for the next big story. So I would ask everyone to take a knee face out and drink water, there isn’t a deep backstory on this yet and the MACOM & subordinate commands will get the issue rectified as Units rotate or go to pre-mission high risk training where plates are required [not everything you do requires a plate]. And your last comment is spot on, every individual should check his plates in pre-mission and often.
    Wonder how much cops check theirs? Or do they wear plates? I don’t think my brother does.


    1. Cops checking their armor? Some do, some don’t. Most don’t wear plates, but kevlar soft panels will still degrade if abused. I’ve seen edges of the panels curl up, start to retain moisture, etc. There is no telling at what point soft armor will start failing, which is why the recommended replacement schedule is five years. I suspect that schedule may be aggressive for some armor but not for others. If you are in a very hot environment like Florida and the armor is continually being heat cycled and sweat upon, it’ll probably be in very bad shape at the end of those five years.

    2. Angry Mike, you are mostly correct yourself, and certainly have most of the facts. There are events that have occurred in the last year that make the current armor unacceptable, its why SOCOM has already begun procuring from an alternate source, the current manufacturer can’t fix the latent defect. If you read the message traffic and understood it, you would realize that the defect has a much greater impact on the force today. It’s not an annual inspection, or just prior to deployment, the guidance directs you to take your armor apart just prior to every mission and testing it. Not that you have anything else on your plate at that time. This is not the next ‘big story’.. this is the story as not only socom armor was produced in this way and the manufacturer themselves said they cannot guarantee zero defect making it thru QA.

  3. I know several Army SF guys very well. One is my brother. None of them ever had problems with their armor, and some of them have had them tested with incoming fire. That said, ceramic plates can degrade. We’ve known that for a long time. There are other options, steel etc, but they are heavier. And one thing EVERY soldier will agree on is that they will trade protection for weight. Obviously light, durable, body armor is a worthy goal. But we must remember, no body armor is a forcefield.

  4. Mike- This isn’t an issue with ceramic plate armor.

    It’s a manufacturing or material defect in tens of millions of dollars worth of personal protective equipment. This latent defect is not identifiable by x-ray examination, is not related to use, spontaneously renders ballistic plates ineffective without any visual indication and affects practically the entire deployed inventory of SOCOM forces –and may be present in E-SAPI plates that also use similar bonded crack arrestor technology.

    And as far as I can tell, they are replacing them with $17m worth of plates that don’t solve the problem.

    1. Hi Rob
      That is pretty staggering. $17M in unforecasted expense is something the REB doesn’t plan for in a POM.
      Hope they comes out with a better answer in the near future.

      Obviously this isn’t the previous normal wear-n-tear or rough handling damage we were seeing in the last decade.


  5. I have caught enough spelling, word usage, and grammar mistakes on GearScout along with blatantly wrong information that I take everything they say with a grain of salt. They need competent individuals writing their articles before they lose all their credibility.

    1. Wow, thats a pretty harsh statement Andrew…blatantly wrong… want to point out what’s ‘wrong’ with this article.

      1. I have spoken with an individual from GearScout, cannot recall his name, who informed me that articles are published before they are combed through by an editor. This allows simple mistakes caught by a proofread by another set of eyes to slip through into a published article. There is plenty of good gouge that comes out of GearScout, but I still take it all into account as an opinion or guided research of weapon components.

        1. That’d be me Andrew.

          Here is how I thanked you for calling out a typo in a Facebook post linking back to one of our stories in October:

          “Thanks for your comment, Andrew. In the interest of speed, we publish our articles then notify the copy desk to have a look. Often, an article will sit unedited for a little while ’till the desk gets to it. Sometimes, I will add to an article after the desk has edited it. It’s not an ideal system, but it generally works. The ultimate goal is for me to write perfectly clean copy. I’m working on it. Thanks for supporting GearScout- Rob”

          So, what is happening is that a copy editor reads a post for typos and style after the post has gone up. Sometimes its 10 minutes, other times its several hours until a copy editor has a look. Their job is to correct little errors after I have gone over the article as the Editor. They make no changes to the content of the story. If there are factual errors, that is on me.

          Typos aside, I encourage you to share any errors you find with me. I’m not infallible and would like the opportunity to learn from my mistakes.

          So, if you have examples of “blatantly wrong information” on GearScout, please share them with me. Post in the comments section below the post or reach me via email by using the “email us” link on the right side of the blogs homepage. Again, thanks for your feedback.

  6. And water is wet.

    Armor is heavy. Always has been. Until science and technology make some phenomenal break-through, it will remain that way. I ask you gentlemen to question why everyone is wearing body armor? Because we are not attacking a nation or army but we are fighting an insurgency. That means lots of exposure the populace and everyone can get shot.

    Knees are going out. Back problems are common. Lighter plates are not lasting as long. Switch back to heavy plates and there will be a compromise. Some equipment will be left behind or some soldiers will go down quicker.

    It is not “these plates”. It is a balance of risk vs reward. Do we want to use lighter plates that have to be replaced more often or do we want to use heavier plates while replacing soldiers more often?

    My first plate recall was 2009-2010. We had to check all of the plates for batch numbers.

      1. I’m going to have to disagree with the “tougher” part of your comment. I’ve just completed a test of a 10×13″ steel plate (results to be published shortly) and we hit it with hundreds of rifle rounds. I’d say that steel is more durable, especially, when you look at Vuurwapen’s 1/18/2010 post on a ceramic level IV plate. The ceramic fractures and allows other rounds to penetrate.

          1. True, certain AP threats. But for general durability, steel wins out. And the wearer doesn’t have to worry about the defect that is the subject of this article.
            I truly hope that nobody plans on taking hundreds, or even dozens of rounds to the armor plate. That said, general durability and reliability of a product is never a bad thing. I don’t think that I’ll ever have to put so many rounds through my AR-15 that I light the Magpul handguards on fire, but it’s nice to know that it’s that reliable, right?

          2. And the driver of a bulldozer is safer in evening rush hour traffic. Steel may take repeated shots. I don’t think that is the salient factor. There is a balance between weight, strength, and durability that must be achieved.

            Our service members are human beings. They have ankles, knees, backs, and shoulders that must carry the armor plates for extended periods of times. Hell, just having a helmet on your head causes issues with your neck. At some point, the equipment purchasing authority has to decide how much risk can be taken on durability vs weight vs strength. I think the laminate plates are probably the compromise and balance that best serves.

            But that is just my thinking.

          3. Weight is absolutely a factor. Level IV plates can range from ~ 8.3-7.8lbs. Some Level III ceramic can be as light as 6lbs. There’s a 9.5″x12.5″ lightweight SAPI plate that’s only 5.3lbs.
            The steel Level III plates I wore in Iraq were 8lbs each. I hated their weight (though I didn’t carry them often). That said, I was confident that they were more durable (wouldn’t crack from being dropped, etc). I also appreciated the the thin steel plates. If you are ever thinking of a low-profile plate carrier, the thinness of steel is a real asset.

          4. How would you feel if they put a grid of rubber nubs as a bumper on the surface of a ceramic plate?

            made to allow air flow and circulation and protect from shock. Maybe small bumpers on the corners too. It would increase bulk without increasing weight too much, and provide more shock absorbing crush distance for wear and tear protection than the current elastomeric coverings that hold the plates together.

          5. “General durability” is less of a concern than “it won’t stop what a sniper has a good chance of having.” Your comparison with AR reliability does not hold water.

        1. Interesting. I’d be keen to see the results when they’re ready. does the steel deform? how much back face signature do you get after that many rounds?

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