The Fabric Of Life

The Justice Department is investigating whether a North Dakota properly manufactured Kevlar cloth that served as the key component in 2 million helmets sold to the military.

I first heard about the investigation this summer. Several publications ran stories this summer. Though this has been sitting on my desk for a while, each time I take note it seems worthy of more attention. So.

The gist of the investigation is whether Sioux Manufacturing Corp., of Fort Totten, N.D. wove the cloth -- the defense against bullets -- densely enough. The Justice Department suggested that the company may never have. A whistle-blower brought the allegations to the government's attention.

The Marine Corps Times quoted a Justice report:

"It appears until April 2006, SMC may not have ever complied with the 35 x 35 standard weave density in its construction of complete PASGT helmets or its manufacture of Kevlar helmet cloth," according to the Justice Department's Investigative Summary, which was sent to the Pentagon on April 9. "This practice potentially impacts an estimated 2,000,000 PASGT helmets."

The military has been in the process of phasing out the helmets since 2003. News accounts said it remains unclear what kind of threat this posed to warfighters. The company said no helmet has failed ballistic tests.

Whatever the case, the idea that so important a product could be potentially deficient for so long is unsettling.

By Robert O'Harrow |  September 7, 2007; 9:35 AM ET defense
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