PEO Soldier held a press conference earlier today regarding the Advanced Combat Helmet Gen II fielding. Officiating the event was LTC Kathy Brown, PM Soldier Protective Equipment. She was assisted by APM, MAJ Brandon Motte.
From World War II until the 1980s, the US military relied on a stamped steel helmet with liner, commonly referred to as the “Steel Pot”.
It was replaced by the Personal Armor System, Ground Troops or PASGT. Its nickname was the ‘Kevlar’ after the material it was made from.
In the late 1990s, USSOCOM began to take advantage of new para-Aramid materials and embarked on a program called the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet. The helmet’s design was modified slightly to a more streamlined shell than the bulky PASGT and it was quickly adopted by the US Army as the Advanced Combat Helmet, in the early 2000s as active combat in the Middle East stepped up.
Right up front, LTC Brown told us that this is the greatest weight reduction we’ve ever seen in headborne protection. She went on to say , “I’m very proud of the work we’ve done here. Our soldiers and civilians are highly technically skilled.”
For both Large and XLarge the reduction is 24% over the legacy ACH, while for Medium and Small helmets, it is 21%. The average is 22%. For example, the XLarge legacy ACH is 3.88 lbs while the ACH Gen II in XL is 2.94 lbs, or a 24% weight reduction.
The goal of the upgrade program was to offer weight reduction with equal protection of the legacy helmet. They’ve definitely accomplished that mission.
Chief engineer Jacob Hopping said, “Reductions in weight mean more alert Soldiers.” The Legacy helmet is Kevlar, while the new ACH II is polyethylene which accounts for the weight reduction.
Along the way of fielding helmets, the US Army worked on a program with the US Marine Corps called Enhanced Combat Helmet which uses High Density Polyethylene to defeat rifle caliber threats. It’s currently used in high threat environments like Iraq, and is available via Rapid Fielding Initiative.
Additionally, the Army has access to ballistic appliqués which attach to the top of a helmet and offer full rifle caliber threat protection. Once again, these are only used in high threat environments.
The Advanced Combat Helmet Generation II looks almost identical to the ACH Soldiers have been wearing for 15 years, but it weighs 9 ounces to almost a pound less than the legacy helmet. The new helmet is made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, a lighter material than Kevlar, but reportedly just as strong. (Photo Credit: Ron Lee, PEO Soldier)
The ACH Gen II is going to look very similar to your legacy ACH, just lighter. While the helmet will be issued in Tan 499/Coyote 498, rather than the Grey looking Foliage Green, there will continue to be a helmet cover and, when used, the ballistic appliqué can be hydrodipped in colors or camouflage patterns as needed.
Since Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support is handling this contract, the other services will also be able to requisition this helmet for their use via NSN. While the Army still hasn’t worked out a strict timetable on fielding of the ACH Gen II, it will be a one-for-one replacement of the legacy helmet and offer a full refresh of the Army’s head protection for both combat and training.
Jacob Hopping mentioned that, “In a few years, working with material developers and manufacturers, we’ll be able to maximize weight reduction and increase threat protection to optimize protection for the head.” While much work is being done with HDPE, he mentioned that perhaps the next Gen Kevlar may show even better protection.
LTC Brown said that this new capability is at the current limits of materials, but engineer Andy Meloni added that they’re not only only looking at materials, but new manufacturing processes are also under development. Andy Meloni supports the ACH II as a matrixed engineer from the Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center.
Ultimately, the Army is looking for a revolutionary leap in the performance-to-weight ratio of ballistic material but they see that as still a decade away. Until then, they’ll look at ways to integrate increased capability to current equipment.
Below is an article by the Army News Service which describe some this capability as well as some other armor technologies.
WASHINGTON (Army News Service) — The Army awarded a contract Tuesday for a helmet that weighs an average of 22 percent less than the one currently in use but provides just as much protection, according to officials.
The Advanced Combat Helmet Generation II contract was awarded to Revision Military in Vermont to produce up to $98 million in helmets over the next five years. The contract was mentioned Wednesday at the Senate Armed Services Committee, subcommittee on airland, during a hearing about Army modernization.
Brig. Gen. Robert L. Marion, deputy of acquisition and systems management for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, told senators the helmet and other lightweight body armor items now being developed are among the Army’s most promising new technologies.
The new helmet is made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, a lighter material than Kevlar, but reportedly just as strong. It can stop 9 mm handgun rounds, officials said, along with various shell fragments.
Collaboration with industry, academia and government research laboratories enabled the weight reduction without compromising integrity, according to Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
“The partnership between the Army and industry is critical,” said Lt. Col. Kathy M. Brown, product manager for Soldier protective equipment. “With a renewed focus on research and development, our goal is a revolutionary leap in technology for personal protective equipment in the future.”
The weight difference between the new ACH Gen II and the current helmet depends on the size, explained another PEO Soldier official. In the most common size of the helmet, a large, the ACH Gen II will weigh just under 2.5 pounds, about 12 ounces less than the current large ACH.
The most weight reduction will be in the extra-large helmet, officials pointed out. That size will see a reduction of nearly a pound.
The helmet weight reduction will help Soldiers reduce mission fatigue and enhance their situational awareness, according to PEO Soldier officials. They believe the lighter helmet will increase Soldier effectiveness and overall survivability.
The new helmet will also be available to other military services through Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, just like the current ACH.
“The procurement of the ACH GEN II is the result of the Army’s modernization program to meet one of the Army’s top priorities — lightening the Soldier’s load,” Brown said.
LIGHTENING THE LOAD
Heavy, bulky body armor has been a problem for many years, said Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7, who also testified at the hearing.
“We went into Iraq back in 2003 and all this stuff started getting added to us like a Christmas tree: side plates, groin plates, neck plates,” Anderson said, adding that all the protective equipment weighed Soldiers down and caused them to move almost “like robots.”
The new integrated head, neck and face protection that is now being developed is promising, though, Anderson said.
The Integrated Head Protection System will include an enhanced helmet, a visor, a mandible that protects the lower jaw, and a “ballistic applique” that can be attached over the base helmet. The complete ensemble is scheduled to be fielded in 2020.
In the meantime, though, body armor is already being fielded to better fit women and smaller Soldiers, Marion told lawmakers. Body armor is now being customized to fit the smallest stature Soldier to the biggest, he said.
“What we’ve been able to find through testing recently is that we have the same level or greater protection for up to 26 percent less weight,” Marion said of body armor being engineered at the Army’s Natick Lab in Massachusetts.
“And that’s weight that we can’t off-board to a mule or something else,” Marion said, referring to the SMET mule — the squad mission equipment transport — which is a vehicle being designed to follow along with an infantry squad and carry up to 1,000 pounds of gear.
The SMET is basically a four-wheel cart that will roll autonomously without a driver, carrying food, water, batteries and equipment for a squad, in order to reduce the weight in Soldier rucksacks, explained Lt. Gen. John M. Murray, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-8.
He said the Army is working with industry and attempting to lower the estimated production cost of the SMET.
LIGHTENING ARMORED VEHICLES
Personal protective equipment is not the only armor that needs to be lightened, Murray said. The problem with upgrading armor on vehicles is that it increases their weight, he said.
“The next upgrade of the Abrams (tank) will once again increase the weight,” he said. “We’re just about reaching the limit of what we can do with the Abrams. So it is time for us to start looking for a next-generation tank.”
“For the very near term, the Abrams is still at the top of its class,” Murray said, but added there is parity out there, with other countries now fielding tanks that can compete on the battlefield.
Armored vehicles like the M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley are expensive to replace, so in the meantime, incremental upgrades must continue, Murray said. At the same time, new technologies must be explored for a next-generation vehicle. What he said must be found is a new technology that can significantly lighten armored vehicles, but provide the same level of protection.
“We must do both,” said Maj. Gen. Robert M. Dyess Jr. about upgrades and new development. Dyess is the acting director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center.
“There is an urgent need to modernize existing equipment,” he said, “and undertake developmental programs to replace the workhorses that have provided overmatch and have served our nation so well.”
(Follow Gary Sheftick on Twitter: @SheftickARNEWS)