Kit Up! had the opportunity to speak with the Marine Corps program manager for the Enhanced Combat Helmet program shortly after we ran the story March 18.
Lt. Col. Kevin Reilly detailed the problems that had cropped up during first article testing of the Ceradyne-made ECHs and the specifics generally jibed with the information provided to us by David Reed, Ceradyne's chief of North American operations.
While Reilly reiterated that the helmets have not officially failed the FAT tests and disputed our characterization that the anomalous backface deformations from 9mm shots were out of "spec," he did say if all the data proves the FAT test was a failure, then his office's "Plan B" is hold a re-FAT in June, shooting helmets that were made under the original formula of developmental test two, dubbed DT-2.
Kit Up! takes at face value the assertion that Ceradyne's acceleration of the paint curing process "changed the matrix" of the protective material in the helmet, causing these performance problems and that simply allowing the helmets to cure on their own for a week will solve the problem. There does not as of yet seem to be a fundamental problem with the helmet design or formula -- and this is confirmed in interviews with industry professionals who work at companies who lostthe competition...they're not bad-mouthing Ceradyne at all.
What Reilly did say to add to the narrative is that the ECH is not seen within the Marine Corps as the be-all-end-all of the ballistic helmet. While the Army seems to be jumping on the ECH badwagon pretty hard with a projected buy of 200,000 lids, the Marine Corps is only buying about 40,000 to field to its leathernecks in Afghanistan or deploying there, Reilly said.
He described the effort as an Urgent Need and that only. He admitted that the Corps will likely go in the direction of the ACH in terms of design geometry, but he's already looking at the future of helmets, exploring alternative padding structures, suspension systems, integrated hardware like NVG brackets and IR reflectors and strobes. He said the new design will be greatly informed by the data being collected by both the Army and Marine Corps with onboard sensors in many of today's combat helmets.
Reilly also tried to answer the debate over whether the ECH is overkill or could be better developed as a helmet with a downgraded spec at half the weight. He explained that there was medical evidence that protection against rifle bullets and shrapnel to the head at the ECH spec was needed. He also debunked the argument that even if the ECH stops an AK round, it's going to kill or brain damage the wearing from the blunt force trauma.
The other thing that pertains to this is range distance and obliquity of the round. as soon as you have a round that comes in at an angle, more of the energy is deflected, also the greater the range from the target your energy level drops significantly. So we've looked at that. We've got some data on that as far as the effects and whatnot, but what we see is in normal combat situations that we may encounter at ranges and angles and such, the performance is pretty good. ... The majority of the incidents you would actually see, it will perform better [than the LWH or ACH].And for all you naysayers out there (particularly the Military.com commenters who're acting a bit hysterical) there's no greater endorsement of the ECH than this:
Personally, if I had a son that was going into battle, and I was getting asked would you want him to wear the ECH or ACH or Lightweight Helmet, I'd say the ECH without a doubt. And the fact of the matter is, overall protection is far superior.