You'll remember that I mentioned the Enhanced Combat Helmet program a couple weeks ago and said I'd look into what the latest was on that.
Well, at that wide-ranging interview the other day with PEO Soldier I was able to get some gouge from Col. Bill Cole, the head of armor programs at PEO Soldier, which has partnered with the Marine Corps on the ECH development (the Corps is leading the program but the Army is kicking in a lot of green).
He told me that four vendors had submitted five different designs but "the initial ballistic testing took place before Christmas and none of the five designs met all the requirements. So we met with the vendors and let them go back to the drawing board. … We expect to start getting new samples from the vendors in May and we'll test those through December of this year."
Cole said the challenge was that the design is intended to provide some rifle protection (Marine CMC Conway wants 7.62 protection) capability in the current weight of the ACH. A VERY tough hill to climb.
When pressed, Cole said the designs they tested in December fell short on ballistic protect and impact mitigation.
"They were working on a new technology that we know has a lot of promise — it's the ballistic polyethylene — and we've dealt with it in square panels. … But going from a flat square panel to a shaped helmet and integrating that with all the other capabilities the helmet needs to provide in terms of impact resistance is a little bit more of a challenge than we initially anticipated," Cole said.
Basically he's talking about Dyneema or Spectrashield which has been used in both soft and hard body armor to reduce weight without sacrificing ballistic protection. But it is a so-called "unidirectional" fiber that might not conform to curves as well as Kevlar. Unidirectional technologies in armor have great promise, as Cole says, but it seems that there are some forming hurdles that need to be overcome for anything other than flat plates or soft panels.