In our conversation with the Marine Commandant the other day, the topic of the Enhanced Combat Helmet came up in answer to new gear initiatives working in the service.
It was Conway who pushed SysCom to work on the project, which calls for a new helmet of the same design as the lightweight helmet that moves beyond the shrapnel and 9mm stopping power to a full-on 7.62 capability.
Kit Up reported a few weeks ago that the effort -- co-sponsored by PEO Soldier -- is running into some technological roadblocks with both ballistic and impact specs not being met. The materials (using unidirectional polymers, aka Dyneema) are hard to shape in a curve and maintain their ballistic capability.
The Commandant said he was still pushing the effort because he'd seen some well-trained sniper kills and shots in the Marjah battle that solidified his drive for a better helmet.
People that build tanks and airplanes and vehicles that swim 35 miles per hour I've said that's all wonderful but can you build me a helmet that will stop 7.62. We thought we had one as recently as about eight or nine months ago but the helmets that we were given to test did not have the ballistic protection that we wanted to have.
Conway described the ballistic tests as pretty rigorous: shooting a 7.62 straight at the helmet at a 90 degree angle and the back face deformation was so severe as to be nearly fatal to the wearer.
We lost a number of Marines in Marjah to snipers. Some of these guys are pretty good and their signature is the head shot. So if we can defeat that in this counterinsurgency environment, that goes a long way toward saving lives and breeding confidence and just giving our Marines what they deserve...
Now, I also got some feedback from SysCom on the effort and they jibe with what PEO and Conway said. You can do it, of course, but it's going to weigh 30 pounds.
Here's the gouge from SysCom:
We hope to execute production order options on these contracts in time to begin fielding to Marines in Afghanistan in 2d Quarter, FY 2011. Developmental Testing (DT) began in Sept 2009, and unfortunately, all vendors failed the initial round of DT. The ECH program recently revised the program strategy in order to allow the vendors to modify their designs and submit new test articles for Developmental Testing 2 (DT2). It is anticipated that DT2 will begin in late May 2010.
Although, the ECH program is still in development, we anticipate the final cost to be approximately $800 to $1,000 per helmet. Five contracts were awarded in 2009 to four different manufacturers (BAE, Ceradyne, Gentex and MSA). Additionally, four testing contracts have been awarded to four testing facilities (HP White, NTS, ICS and Chesapeake). The final configuration and manufacturer are yet to be determined.