- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most
U.S. military gas masks have ''critical'' defects that might curb their
effectiveness against gas or germ attacks, a Pentagon study to be made
public on Wednesday found.
- In testing completed last year, such flaws were uncovered
in 10,322 of 19,322 examined masks drawn from the Army, Navy, Air Force
and Marines, congressional sources quoted the study as showing.
- A ``critical'' defect was defined by the survey as one
with the potential ``to result in mask leakage and may impact on protection
of the wearer.''
- The study was first reported on Tuesday in a special
edition of Defense Week, a trade publication. Details were confirmed by
staff of the House Government Reform Committee's national security panel,
which is to hold a hearing on Wednesday on flaws in gear used to protect
U.S. forces against chemical and biological agents.
- Panel Chairman Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican,
said in a statement that government audits raised serious questions about
the combat readiness of protective masks and other equipment since a U.S.-led
coalition drove Iraq from Kuwait in 1991.
- ``Despite heightened awareness of the chemical and biological
weapons threat, those questions remain for the most part unanswered, as
the buck is passed through the labyrinthian Pentagon bureaucracy from one
desk to the next,'' Shays said.
- Among the mask defects cited by the Pentagon survey were
dirty or leaking valves, disconnected drink tubes and missing gaskets in
voice emitters. The survey was completed in November 1999 by a Pentagon
panel called the Joint Service Integration Group.
- At issue are Army and Marine Corps M40 masks, the newest
model, which replaced the M17 mask used in the Gulf War; and the Air Force
MCU-2/AP and the Navy MCU-2/P, also new masks, Defense Week reported.
- An Army spokeswoman, Nancy Ray, confirmed the Army had
taken part in a study of masks and voiced confidence in the integrity of
the service's masks overall.
- ``It protects soldiers as it is designed to do,'' she
said of the government-issue mask. ``And it will protect them in a field
environment against chemical and biological agents.''
- But she said the Army was looking at ``training about
mask maintenance'' to make sure it was adequate.
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