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Did the Army block Israeli anti-RPG system?

The U.S. Army has repeatedly told Congress that the Israeli–made anti-RPG system Trophy is too flawed to battle test in Iraq. But documents obtained by NBC News Senior Investigative Correspondent Lisa Myers  reveal that the Army's own engineers at one point gave the system high marks.

Since our first reports, the Army brass has repeatedly told Congress that the Israeli–made anti-RPG system Trophy is too flawed to battle test in Iraq.

But documents obtained by NBC News reveal that the Army's own engineers at one point gave the system high marks.

In the summer of 2005, Army engineers — working with a team from the Navy — analyzed six systems to defend against rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Their conclusion? Trophy was the "best candidate," the "most technically advanced" and the "most technically mature system." [.PDF link]

Phil Coyle, a widely respected former chief weapons tester for the Pentagon, reviewed a series of documents obtained by NBC News. 

"The Army's own engineers said that it was the system that was most ready to go," he says. "Often Army briefings are rather dry, but this briefing was quite, quite enthusiastic. They were all for it."

In late October 2005, the Army's No. 3 official, Ray DuBois, expressed support for the effort to battle test Trophy. According to minutes of a meeting he held on the topic [.PDF link], DuBois worried that the Army's resistance to additional testing of Trophy could "open the Army up to criticism from the Office of the Secretary of Defense that the Army is looking for the perfect solution instead of something that while not perfect might be 'good enough.'"

"The end result of that meeting was my recommendation that it appeared that Trophy was mature enough, that it needed to be looked at seriously, and not ignored," DuBois says. "It appeared from the information given to me that it was a good idea to have the Army further test it, in anticipation that we would test it in the field."

But Pentagon sources, Army documents and e-mails obtained by NBC News reveal that other Army officials went to great lengths to stop Trophy, even from further testing.

First, Pentagon sources say the Army refused to allow Trophy to be tested on an Army Stryker vehicle. So testers were forced to borrow a Stryker from Israel and fly it to Virginia. Cost to taxpayers? Around $300,000.

"What that says to me is that the Army doesn’t want to get the results that would show that Trophy was the best system," Coyle says, "and all that does is hurt the very soldiers that need these new types of protection."

Second, after Pentagon tests found Trophy 98 percent effective, an Army colonel called a Navy engineer overseeing the testing. According to a contemporaneous account of that conversation obtained by NBC News, the Army colonel vowed to "take down" Trophy's key Pentagon supporter and warned the Navy engineer to "be careful."

The engineer stood his ground, stating that such a system "will provide warfighters better protection than is currently available."

Pentagon sources and Army documents obtained by NBC News strongly suggest top Army officials consider Trophy a threat to a $160 billion program called the Future Combat System (FCS). Under FCS, the Army is paying Raytheon $70 million to build an anti-RPG system from scratch; a system that won’t be ready until 2011.

The Army denies that FCS and the Raytheon contract had anything to do with it. In a Sept. 6, 2006, "Information Paper" [.PDF link] to Congress disputing NBC News' reports, an Army official wrote:

  • Assertion 6.  Pentagon sources tell NBC News that the Army brass considers the Israeli system a threat to an Army program to develop an RPG defense system from scratch.
    A6 False. The Army does not consider the TROPHY system as a threat…

But an internal Army document obtained by NBC News reveals that Army officials actually cited FCS as a reason to block battle testing Trophy. The document is an April 18, 2006, briefing to the Pentagon’s Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell (JRAC) [.PDF link] asking JRAC to "validate Army decision" to strip Trophy off three Stryker fighting vehicles bound for battle testing in Iraq this year.

Coyle, the Pentagon’s highly regarded former chief weapons tester, says American troops need help now and that the Army’s effort to develop FCS will take years. He says he simply doesn’t understand why the Army is so determined to block Trophy even as an interim solution to the RPG threat.

"The whole idea is to get, you know, new equipment that can really make a difference to U.S. soldiers and to Marines in Iraq, so I just don't understand the reluctance," he says.

The Army declined to answer questions or to explain its own documents. It agreed to, then canceled an interview, instead providing a statement saying the Army always acts in the best interest of America's soldiers.