The U.S Army and Marine Corps is set to receive a new combat helmet featuring the same general profile as the ACH (advanced combat helmet), but providing significantly better protection. In fact, it will possess the ability to defeat rifle rounds, long the bane of helmet manufacturers.
Named the Enhanced Combat Helmet, or ECH, the helmets salient feature is the material with which its made. Not the typical Kevlar or Twaron aramid fibers in use since the 1980s, but Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene, a form of advanced thermoplastic offering superior properties to aramids and used in everything from hip replacements to body armor.
Congress allocated $10.6 million for the program which states that a new helmet must be capable of providing at least 35 percent more protection against small arms and explosions. Increases such as these will prevent penetration by some rifle rounds, as confirmed by Army officials. Testing begins next month on prototypes submitted by four companies, Ceradyne, BAE Systems Aerospace and Defense Group Inc., Mine Safety Appliances Co. and Gentex Corp. Ceradyne stated if their product is chosen they can provide up to 246,840 helmets over the next two years.
The Marine Corps initiated the ECH program in 2007, when industries presented new kinds of ballistic materials. Marine commanders then sped up the program urging the need for better protection for his Marines as soon as possible.
Army officials indicated they want 200,000 units for combat brigades, but eventually plan to issue the helmet service wide. They intend to keep the same suspension system and padding of the current ACH, while the Marine Corps plans to study the issue further and issue new suspensions and padding for current helmets before the first new ECH shells are completed. -- Mike Perry