TAMPA - Tampa-based DSE Incorporated is one of the largest suppliers of 40mm grenades to the U.S. military.
But in an exclusive interview with ABC Action News, the former manager of quality assurance for the company's fuze division described his battle with the company over defective parts.
"The first and most dangerous aspect of a defective fuze is what's called a short fuze, which means it prematurely arms itself, or worse, it's armed from the factory," said John King.
ABC Action News obtained documents from the Army showing five Marines were injured during a 2009 training exercise where a 40mm exploded prematurely. Although the military couldn't say definitively which supplier manufactured the defective grenade, half the lots used that day came from DSE.
King has filed a "Whistle Blower" lawsuit and has met with representatives of the Army, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department.
"I laid it all out. I did a technical analysis of what they should have been doing, what they were not doing. I laid out the key problem of processes within the facility," King said.
But the Army continues to buy grenades from DSE, and awarded the company a new four-year, $22 million contract last February.
Brigadier General Gustave Perna, the Commander of the Joint Munitions Command, was in Tampa this week for a conference sponsored by DSE and other defense contractors.
"Obviously, people are watching this story and are going to be curious why the Army keeps giving this company contracts,” we suggested to Perna.
“Well you know the appropriate place to go for that. So I'm not going to do that right now. Thanks for your time,” Perna said.
We asked, “Is there anything you can say to the public?”
“I appreciate it. I appreciate your support for us," he said before walking away.
General Perna may not have to answer our questions, but he will have answer questions from Florida Senator Bill Nelson.
In a statement, Nelson's office told us: “Anytime something like this comes to light Senator Nelson wants to make sure quality assurance is in place and that government oversight and testing are being done to make sure all equipment meets military standards. He's asking the Army today to brief his military advisor on this contractor.”
There are even stronger words from Congressman Bill Young, Chairman of the subcommittee that funds military equipment.
"The safety of our troops is our paramount concern and I have directed my committee staff to look into this matter right away to find out if defective equipment has made its way into the field," Young said.
At his request, Congressman Young's office said the U.S. Army Armament Research and Development Center at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey is looking further into this issue right now.
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