The US military’s iconic Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) that has seen combat for over a decade has been manufactured by an unlikely source: America’s prison inmates.
Though the origin of this life-saving equipment may not be reason for alarm, the processes and checks to ensure the integrity of each helmet should be — which is why a recent investigation from The Washington Post is cause for worry.
The Post’s investigation revealed that a settlement of $3 million for defective helmets was reached between the Department of Justice and ArmorSource, an Ohio-based corporation that develops and manufactures ballistic helmets for military and law enforcement personnel.
The official DoJ report that was released on Wednesday states that in 2006, the US Army approved a $30 million contract with ArmorSource to manufacture the ACH for soldiers. After winning the contract, Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a corporation that provides services and products made by federal inmates through a correctional program, was subcontracted from ArmorSource to begin production.
FPI, which also operates under the trade name UNICOR, then began production of these faulty helmets that were found to have degraded armour, which in turn failed ballistics testing standards. A total of 44,000 of these helmets, many which were already seeing use in Afghanistan, were recalled in 2010 by the Army.
It is estimated that a total of 126,052 helmets were eventually recalled — equating to a $19.1 million loss. In addition to these defective units, The Post reports that an initial shipment of 23,000 helmets bound for the US Marine Corps was also held.
The investigation revealed that the helmets were scrutinised after finding them to be constructed using unauthorised or degraded materials that attributed to the helmet’s deformities. Specifically, parts of the combat helmet were merely filled with dust and fragments of Kevlar, and many of the helmet’s serial numbers were altered or changed.
The inspector general also found that there was a lapse in operational procedures that were directly attributable to the Department of Defence. The Defence Contract Management Agency, a DoD-operated component that works with contractors to ensure that supplies and services are properly handled, was discovered to have lacked the proper training to conduct an inspection of the helmets. Despite this insufficiency, inspectors submitted false reports that purported to have conducted these reviews.
According to The Post, no charges against ArmorSource or FPI were filed by federal prosecutors — citing a matter of policy, the DoJ declined to provide an explanation.
Having recently won another contract with the US Marine Corps for an order of 10,000 units, ArmorSource still remains a manufacturer of the military’s helmets today. Stating that the case’s investigation was “old,” The Post reported that ArmorSource declined to make any additional comments.
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