China’s robust arms industry has been able to duplicate U.S.-made, armor-piercing rounds, and the bullets are being found with the enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Two government sources tell HUMAN EVENTS the sniper ammunition is sending alarm bells through the Pentagon as it hurries to keep pace by producing improved body armor for soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors.
The sources said the Chinese munitions are not thought capable of defeating the super-hard ceramic plates that now protect service members against smalls-arms fire, including armor-piercing bullets.
But there are intelligence reports that China is using the copycat bullets to spring board to an even better armor-defeating rifle round that would be able to kill protected personnel.
That is why the Army this year has been on an accelerated testing and developing schedule to field the next-generation ceramic plate in 2009.
Personnel are currently protected by the Interceptor system, which includes a tactical vest and the ceramic plates called the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, or ESAPI.
The Army has declined to publicly identify the future threats it sees so as not to tip its hand to al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorists bent on killing Americans.
But two senior U.S. officials with access to military intelligence tell HUMAN EVENTS that the Army is alarmed at the U.S.-style bullets showing up in the war theater and at the prospect that even better ones are on the way.
“Anytime that our rounds are reproduced and turn up in the war zone and used against us is a problem,” said one of the officials. “It’s something the military has been looking at for some time.”
Some military officials assume the rounds find their way to Afghanistan and Iraq through the international black market, a ready source for a wide variety of Chinese-made weapons and ammunition.
One source told HUMAN EVENTS that Chinese munitions entered the war zones via “multiple paths, to include the black market and there are,unfortunately, a number of willing buyers.”
One known route is Iran, which is buying Chinese weapons and smuggling them to insurgents in Iraq. The Baghdad government is signing arms contracts with China — another possible way for bullets to fall into the hands of terrorists inside Iraq.
The possibility of new threats against American personnel come as the General Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ auditor, is due to issue an extensive report this month or next on Interceptor’s war performance.
The investigation will likely either put to rest suspicions by some watchdog groups that the ceramics are failing in battle, or tell the Army it has produced a defective system.
The Army contends that ESAPI has not failed even one time to stop the munitions for which it is designed.
The Army this summer completed testing of new ceramics and awarded production contracts for what is called XSAPI.
Development is overseen by the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va. Its web site includes testimonials from soldiers who say ESAPI saved their lives.
Staff Sgt. Jeremie Oliver, of B Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, said he was standing in the hatch of his Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
“At first I didn’t know what had really happened, but then I felt the pain,” he said. “I sat down, realized what happened, and opened my vest. The bullet had not penetrated the vest, so we continued the mission and went after the enemy.”
The military is now worried the Chinese may produce a bullet that could kill soldiers like Sgt. Oliver — vest or no vest.