Dragon Skin is a type of ballistic vest currently produced in Missoula, Montana by North American Development Group LLC available for public, law-enforcement and military customers. Its characteristic two-inch-wide circular discs overlap like scale armor, creating a flexible vest that allows a good range of motion and is intended to absorb a high number of hits compared with other military body armor. The discs are composed of silicon carbide ceramic matrices and laminates, much like the larger ceramic plates in other types of bullet resistant vests. The armor is currently available in one basic protection level: Dragon Skin Extreme, which is certified to comply with NIJ level III protection. Dragon Skin has been worn by some civilian contractors in Iraq, some special operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, some SWAT teams, nine generals in Afghanistan, bodyguards tasked with protecting generals, and U.S. Secret Service personnel. The Central Intelligence Agency has also purchased Dragon Skin.
Dragon Skin armor is made of an overlapping series of high tensile strength ceramic discs encased in a glass fiber textile. Different layout configurations with variations in coverage are available. Dragon Skin Extreme is made of overlapping approximately 0.25-inch × 2-inch ceramic discs encased in a fabric cover. In evaluating the Dragon Skin system, it is important to note that while the external measurements of the Dragon Skin panel are 11.5 inches × 13.5 inches, the area of level III coverage provided by the encased ceramic discs is 10 inches × 12 inches; the fabric edges are not intended to provide ballistic protection. Weight of the Dragon Skin Extreme armor providing 10 inches × 12 inches of level III protection was approximately 6.4 lb.
Dragon Skin became the subject of controversy with the U.S. Army over testing it against its Interceptor body armor. The Army claimed Pinnacle’s body armor was not proven to be effective. In test runs for the Air Force there were multiple failures to meet the claimed level of protection. This coupled with poor quality control and accusations of fraudulent claims of official NIJ rating which had not actually obtained at the time of purchase led to the termination of the USAF contract. Attempted to appeal this decision, but courts found in favor of the USAF. The company stated that although vests were returned due to a manufacturing issue, a test on the Dragon Skin Level III armor was conducted by the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations at a U.S Army Aberdeen Test Center in Aberdeen, Maryland in February 2006, which concluded that it “did not fail any written contract specifications” set forth by the Air Force, which was further stated to require high ballistic performance due to the hostile environments in which AFOSI operates. According to the Army, the vests failed because the extreme temperature tests caused the discs to dislodge, thus rendering the vest ineffective. Pinnacle Armor affirms that their products can withstand environmental tests in accordance with military standards, as does testing by the Aberdeen Test Center.
The Air Force, which ordered the Dragon Skin vests partially based on claims it was NIJ certified at a time when it was not, has opened a criminal investigation into the firm Pinnacle Armor over allegations that it had fraudulently placed a label on their Dragon Skin armor improperly stating that it had been certified to a ballistic level it had not yet been. Murray Neal, the Pinnacle Armor chief executive, claimed that he was given verbal authorization by the NIJ to label the vests although he did not have written authorization. the Department of Justice announced that the NIJ had reviewed evidence provided by the body armor manufacturer and has determined that the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate that the body armor model will maintain its ballistic performance over its six-year declared warranty period. Because of this, Dragon Skin has been found not in compliance with the NIJ’s testing program and has been removed from the NIJ’s list of bullet-resistant body armor models that satisfy its requirements.