Two years after the Marine Corps started issuing a lighter, improved Enhanced Combat Helmet to deploying troops, the service is beginning a process to get the helmet into the hands of every Marine.
The service published a pre-solicitation notice this summer for up to 84,376 helmets. The service has already fielded 77,000 of the helmets, beginning in 2014.
There’s just one catch.
“We don’t have any funding right now,” Charles Bell, product manager for infantry combat equipment at Marine Corps Systems Command, told Military.com in an interview.
Bell said the Marine Corps submitted a request to Congress for $22 million in Fiscal 2017 to purchase the helmets. The request appears as a line item on the service’s $2.7 billion unfunded priorities list, a wish list of projects, programs and equipment beyond what appears in the president’s budget request.
The National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 has yet to pass Congress, and will require significant reconciliation between the House and Senate versions before it can. Currently, the House version of the bill, which cuts into war spending to buy more equipment and maintenance, contains funding to field the helmet, while the Senate version does not.
The Enhanced Combat Helmet was developed in collaboration with the Army and Navy as protective equipment that leveraged cutting-edge technology to protect Marines against the most common war-zone threats.
It is designed with the same cut as the modular communications helmet, used primarily by reconnaissance and signals intelligence Marines. It replaces the lightweight helmet, which is currently fielded to Marines as standard.
Originally made by 3M-Ceradyne, the helmet was hailed as a breakthrough at its 2013 unveiling, featuring on that year’s “100 Best Innovations” list in Popular Science for its 35 percent improvement in ballistic protection.
“The Marine Corps is now moving toward a single-helmet solution that will provide superior protection to all Marines across the force,” SYSCOM spokeswoman Barb Hamby said in an email. “Manufactured with the latest lightweight material technology, the ECH provides improved ballistic protection against specific small arms and fragmentation.”
Bell said fielding the Enhanced Combat Helmet to all 182,000 Marines — the service’s ultimate goal — would allow the Corps to reduce the variety of helmets in circulation, increasing efficiency and minimizing logistical challenges.
The Marine Corps is expected to release a request for proposals for the helmet in coming days, as it hopes funding to field the gear will materialize.
“What the Marine Corps is doing is giving a higher protection helmet to everybody,” Bell said.