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SoldierMod Volume 19 | May 2017 LinkedIn | click for more
Volume 19 Articles

Country flagNew US Helmet
Lightens Soldier's Load

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The US Army expects the new version of its Army Combat Helmet to begin entering service in early 2018, providing soldiers with the same levels of protection as the current generation but at a reduced weight.

Revision Military was awarded a contract in late March to supply ACH Generation II helmets over the next five years. The Army expects to build a healthy inventory of the new helmets by early next year, said Lieutenant Colonel Kathy Brown, product manager for soldier protection and equipment at Program Executive Officer - Soldier, an Army organisation that oversees the development of new equipment.

“The ACH Gen II is really a product improvement to the ACH Gen I,” she said. “We already have ACHs in our current inventory, so what we’re doing is basically modernising that inventory with [the same] capability, but giving it to soldiers at a lighter weight.”

The major difference between Gen I and Gen II surrounds the weight-to-strength ratio, with the new helmet providing a weight reduction of up to 24% when compared with its predecessor. While the weight has been cut back, the helmet retains the same level of protection.

This has been achieved thanks to the use of Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE), a material that has become increasingly popular among militaries around the world thanks to the level of protection it provides without increasing weight. Other major new helmets - such as the Marine Corps’ Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH)- are also based on UHMWPE, rather than the traditional aramid materials.

“The difference between Gen I and Gen II is really the materials that were used,” said Lt. Col. Brown. “Gen I used Aramid fibers, whereas Gen II has moved towards a polyethylene, which is more of a composite type of material. That’s really the major difference. It has a very good weight-to-strength ratio, which helps us to get a lighter weight for the helmet itself.”

When enough helmets are available and the product has passed various stages of testing, ACH Generation II will begin entering service in two ways. First, the new helmets will replace any Generation I models that are damaged or lost.

“As they [Generation I helmets] tend to just kind of phase out through attrition or damage, the new ones will phase in,” said Lt. Col Brown. “At the end of the day, once all the Generation Is phase out then the Generation II will take its place.”

Second, a strategic plan will likely be developed to replace helmets on a wider scale, though it has not yet been decided whether this will be carried out on a per-unit or a regional basis.

“When there’s a healthy enough inventory then there would be a strategic plan to either replace helmets one unit at a time or one region at a time,” Lt. Col Brown explained. “That’s how you would get a larger quantity of helmets and replace a larger quantity of the legacy helmets with the Gen II.”

The current contract covers up to 230,000 helmets, said Major Brandon Motte, assistant product manager for head protection at PEO - Soldier. The Defence Logistics Agency would then develop follow-on contracts to procure additional quantities as they are needed, he said, “but that exact number is yet to be determined”.

The new helmet fits into a broader goal of PEO - Soldier: to reduce the weight burden on soldiers.

“The primary goal of PEO - Soldier is to lighten the soldier’s load,” said Lt. Col. Brown.

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