The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Indefensible

Military buys bulletproof helmets without proper quality tests to use up its budget

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 11, 2023 - 05:30

    • Link copied

South Korean military authorities were found to have purchased bulletproof helmets without going through proper performance testing and issued them to soldiers.

A military official even made bogus reports on the performance test results for the helmets.

The military was also found to have issued poorly performing bulletproof vests to service members.

According to the recently disclosed results of an investigation by the Board of Audit and Inspection into military projects to acquire body armor, the Army Headquarters sought in December 2021 to acquire lightweight bulletproof helmets for special operations troops

The problem was they simply bought the equipment first and checked their performance later. Nevertheless, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration approved the Army's request to purchase them.

Under related regulations, buy first, test later purchases can be approved only in unavoidable or urgent situations such as a national disaster or serious security threat. The purchase of bulletproof helmets in question did not meet such conditions.

The investigation finding that the performance test results were fake defies description.

The testing was outsourced to National Technical Systems, a US company that tests ballistic-resistant materials. NTS reportedly replied that the measurement of dent depth, a part of the impact absorption test, was impossible due to the Velcro on the outside of the helmet.

The BAI found that the official in charge of quality testing at the Army Logistics Command had requested the tests with the Velcro attached and did not request re-testing with the material detached. The official had falsely reported the test results as if the bulletproof helmets had passed the quality testing.

The BAI asked NTS to test the helmets again after fulfilling test requirements, including the removal of the Velcro. Tests found some of the helmets to be substandard.

Inspection by the board also found that bulletproof vests issued to Navy sailors and Marines perform poorly in their sea water resistance.

The functions of general bulletproof vests deteriorate when exposed to salt water for long. According to a study cited by the BAI, the probability of a bullet piercing a bulletproof vest increases more than 70 percent after being exposed to sea water for over three hours. This means strong resistance to sea water is a must of body armor for naval battles or maritime infiltration.

Soldiers in service on naval vessels or carrying out maritime infiltration operations should be issued bulletproof vests that are buoyant as well as resistant to salt water. But military authorities have just continued to buy general bulletproof vests. It is questionable if they made efforts to know in detail about the performance of body armor. Bulletproof gear is directly connected to the lives and safety of soldiers. They are irresponsible and complacent.

A BAI inspection in May found that most of the approximately 49,000 bulletproof vests that the Defense Acquisition Program Administration purchased in 2021 fell short of performance standards. The military infuriated people again about two months later with similar inspection results.

The reason to buy bullet-resistant helmets first and check their quality later is shocking. The military wanted to use up its budget. To do so, they reversed procedures. Furthermore, it made false reports to justify the purchase. To make matters worse, the helmets were substandard.

Irregularities and lax management involving the acquisition of military supplies die hard. They have been detected many times by the board and investigation agencies. And yet the military has continued to implement such quick and dirty fixes.

They must not act like that any more. The board demanded the suspension of the Logistics Command official in question and gave disciplinary warnings to the Army Headquarters and Defense Acquisition Program Administration. Military authorities should take extraordinary measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.

If they are careless about protecting soldiers, few parents will feel at ease over their children joining the military. Body armor that protects the lives of service members defending the country must be of the highest quality.