Half US Military Gas
Masks Have 'Critical' Flaws
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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