The Marine Corps nearly spent $24 million on improperly tested fire extinguishing systems for tactical vehicles that could have left Marines injured or even permanently disabled, the Defense Department Inspector General found.

According to a classified IG report published last September and recently obtained by Marine Corps Times, problematic testing was to blame for the near-purchase a procurement close call that would have proved costly and possibly hazardous. Marine officials, however, say the program manager for the service's medium and heavy tactical vehicles conducted rigorous testing with the resources available and did nothing do anything wrong.

A need for an automated fire suppression system on the Marines' Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement, or 7-tTon truck, was first identified in 2009. Marine Corps Forces Central Command approved an urgent need statement for the systems as the trucks deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where the threat of roadside bombs was rampant and insurgents were developing new improvised explosive devices designed to start vehicle fires.

The next few years were spent on development of an automated fire suppression system, or AFES, that would extinguish compartment fires, cool the area and prevent re-ignition, and do so without subjecting vehicle occupants to dangerous sound and pressure levels or toxic gases.

A contract that would provide fire suppression systems to 926 7-Ttons was finally issued in June 2011. But the systems were sent straight to Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia, and never deployed downrange.

According to the report, there were substantially fewer 7-Ttons in Afghanistan by the time the systems were procured, and MARCENT opted to delay installation of the systems until the trucks cycled through the depot for routine maintenance.

Later, the report said, the Marine Corps Medium and Heavy Tactical Vehicle program office began the process of procuring a second round of 3,500 fire suppression systems at a cost of $24 million — enough to equip the entire Marine Corps 7-Tton fleet — without correcting key problems in the original testing process that left health and safety risks unchecked.

The first round of live fire tests, conducted from April to August 2011, turned up several red flags. IG officials identified eight different areas in which testing was either conducted improperly or failed to correctly define the risk to Marines in vehicles with the systems installed:

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    During tests with Molotov cocktails, the AFES was able to extinguish one fire, but was not able to put out a secondary fire caused by ongoing fuel leaks.

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    In an Army Public Health Command review of toxic gas data during the testing, officials found "excessive concentrations of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, hydrogen cyanide and the acid gases experiences during the Molotov cocktail live fire tests could cause death or permanent total disability," according to a memo cited in the report.

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    The noise level limit for the testing was also at fault, the IG report found. The threshold level was set at 165 decibels rather than the 140-decibel safe level specified in Navy and Army guidance.

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    The fuel mixture for the Molotov cocktails used in live fire testing was not representative of the mixture that insurgents were using against coalition forces in Afghanistan. The IG reported that Bryan Prosser, the MHTV program manager, said the one gallon of fuel used in the testing mixture was a greater amount than was used in improvised fire bombs in Afghanistan, but officials could find no documentation to support that assertion.

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    Not enough data was given to classify the some of the risks associated with a Molotov cocktail attack. The report shows three of the risks — burns, toxic gas exposure and oxygen depletion — were classified as "serious," indicating that Molotov cocktail attacks would only occur occasionally, but this classification was not based on historical information from previous attacks.

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    In testing for fireball attacks, the fire suppression system did not meet safe oxygen level criteria for three out of eight tests, and failed the toxic gas criteria for seven out of eight tests because of the presence of large amounts of carbon dioxide, the report found.

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    Prosser also used Army toxic gas standards instead of Navy standards to assess the carbon monoxide toxic gas risk, the report found. Since the Army has different thresholds and does not assess carbon monoxide by itself, using an alternative system allowed the program to conclude that no risk existed, according to the IG.

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    Finally, while a safety assessment report found that oxygen concentrations fell below minimum safety requirements during fireball attack tests, this risk was not assigned probability or severity ratings and was not included in a health hazard log for tracking.

A spokesman and congressional liaison for Marine Corps Land Systems, Manny Pacheco, said Prosser did due diligence by conducting rigorous testing rather than fielding the fire suppression systems off the shelf.

"Through his efforts and coordination of the various test and safety folks he assessed the potential risks and the Marine Corps made what we believe was the correct call at that time — do we risk Marines burning to death or do we live with something that may cause an unintended injury?" Pacheco said.

The planned order for 3,500 AFES systems has been delayed, Pacheco said, as it is no longer identified as an urgent need. The procurement will not occur, he said, until funding is identified and prioritized through the budget process. Prosser has also agreed not to issue a contract for new systems until additional testing takes place as recommended by the report.

The IG also recommended that a review of Prosser's actions regarding the testing be conducted to determine whether any administrative action should be taken against him.

Pacheco said an independent review assessed all the actions taken with regard to the systems to ensure complete transparency.

"There was no wrong-doing by the [program manager], therefore no further action is necessary," Pacheco said.

The original 926 fire suppression systems remain at Albany for now, Pacheco said. Beginning next month, he said, installation of the systems into armored 7-tons will begin at the three Marine expeditionary forces. The systems also be installed on Maritime Prepositioning Force trucks at Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island, Florida.

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