The Marine Corps and Army have tapped Ceradyne Inc., to make the first of the new Enhanced Combat Helmets, ending a five-year search for a brain bucket capable of stopping rifle rounds.

The Marines and Army have given the green light to Ceradyne to build 8,600 ECHs, which will be split between the services. Fielding won’t begin until after the services approve the ECH for full-rate production, a decision scheduled for May, according to a recent press release.

The ECH is a protective helmet consisting of a ballistic protective shell, pad suspension system and four-point chinstrap/nape strap retention system. This helmet fully exploits the latest lightweight material technology, Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene materials, to provide increased small arms protection above what is currently provided by the Marine Corps Lightweight Helmet (LWH) and the Army Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH). This material provides a higher degree of ballistic protection than Kevlar and Twaron, fibers used in both the LWH and ACH. It also provides enhanced protection against fragments.

In 2007, the Army and Marine Corps began looking into how to make current helmets stronger without increasing weight. Both could withstand a direct hit from a 9mm pistol round and some bomb fragments, but senior officials in both services wanted improved protection against rifle shots.

The contract award comes after the Ceradyne ECH suffered failures in the First Article Test process early last year. I guess we’ll have to trust that the problems were resolved. The Marines are expected to receive 38,500 helmets, while the Army will buy a total of 200,000 helmets. The Navy is expected to procure 6,700 helmets as well.

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