Thursday, February 7, 2008

U.S. helmet maker settles suit over helmets' quality

U.S. helmet maker settles suit over helmets' quality
By Bruce Lambert Published: February 6, 2008
A North Dakota manufacturer has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a suit alleging that it had repeatedly shortchanged the armor in up to 2.2 million helmets for the military, including helmets for the first troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Twelve days before the settlement with the Justice Department was announced, the company, Sioux Manufacturing of Fort Totten, was given a new contract of up to $74 million to make more armor for helmets to replace the old ones, which were made from the late 1980s to last year.

Sioux upgraded its looms in 2006, company executives say, and the government says it has started inspections at the plant.

The U.S. attorney for North Dakota, Drew Wrigley, called the accord "an appropriate resolution" because the Defense Department had said that 200 sample helmets passed ballistic tests and that it "has no information of injuries or deaths due to inadequate PASGT helmet protection."

PASGT stands for the Personal Armor System for Ground Troops, which includes the helmet model being replaced.

At the core of the investigation was the contention by two former plant managers that Kevlar woven at Sioux failed to meet the government's "critical" minimum standard of 35 by 35 threads a square inch, or 6.5 square centimeters.

When properly woven, Kevlar, a polymer thread made by DuPont, is stronger than steel, able to deflect shrapnel and some bullets.

Government regulations call for rejecting Kevlar below the 35-by-35 standard.

The company "was underweaving," Wrigley said. "That is undebatable."

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How many head wounds could have been prevented if they were made right?

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