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UPDATED: Rifle-Stopping Helmet Facing FAT Test Failures

[EDITOR'S NOTE: We've received some additional information regarding the nature of the failures and why they happened. Be sure to see news headlines at tomorrow morning for a full story on the ECH test problems.]

The Ceradyne-made Enhanced Combat Helmet beat out its competitors in December to become the Army and Marine Corps' new rifle-round-stopping head protector.

But according to Brig. Gen. Frank Kelley, USMC SysCom commander, some of the first article test samples being shot at are failing their requirements. We're checking to see precisely which tests they're failing and how many, but Kelley told the House Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee this morning that FAT tests began in February and were scheduled to end April 1st.

During some of the tests "we were noticing a different performance than in developmental tests," he said. "But we quickly identified the root cause."

Kelley said Ceradyne was curing the helmets -- which are made primarily from thermoplastic ultra-high molecular weight polyethyline materials like Dyneema and Spectra -- too quickly (gas and water vapor are released) which resulted in changes to the helmet's chemical "matrix" causing test failures. Again, we're pinging sources to see if this is a ballistic strength issue, form and fit issue or what.

The problems have added an extra 45-60 days to the FAT test process, Kelley said, adding that the whole FAT series should be wrapped up by June and his office -- which runs the program for the Army and Marine Corps -- expects to begin fielding the 7.62-stopping helmet by the first quarter of fiscal 2012 (fall/winter 2011).

That schedule still tracks with service plans, but Kit Up! readers will remember that the ECH -- which delivers 70 percent more ballistic capability at a slightly lighter weight -- has been a touch technological nut to crack.

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