Although similar in shape of the Advanced Combat Helmet and its predecessor the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet, the ECH instead is constructed using thermoplastics instead of the ballistic fibers used on the current generation combat helmets. The term "Enhanced Combat Helmet" was originally coined by Army Lieutenant Colonel William R. Schaffer.
|Enhanced Combat Helmet|
|Place of origin||United States|
|Used by||See Users|
|Manufacturer||Ceradyne and Gentex|
|Produced||March 2012 – present|
The ECH's profile is very similar to the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) but is thicker;they can be differentiated from the ACH by the different chinstrap. The ECH helmet's shell is made of an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene material. The helmet provides 35% better protection against small-arms fire and fragmentation than the Advanced Combat Helmet, and it protects against certain rifle projectiles. The helmet is of the "tactical cut" type and thus offers less coverage but does enable better mobility. The helmet is compatible with camouflage fabric helmet covers. The helmet has been shown nearly impenetrable to fragments fired by test guns. In a v50 test, guns were unable to attain the velocity required to get 50% of the fragments through a helmet.The helmet's design allows for the addition of devices such as communications and night-vision equipment.
The ECH has a 4-point chinstrap/napestrap head retention system. The Marine/Navy and Army variants are differentiated in that the Marine/Navy version uses an X-Back retention system (called the Class I) and the Army uses the H-Back retention system (called the Class II).
In an effort led by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL),ECH development began in 2007 under the Army Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) Program. In July 2009, more than $8 million was awarded to four vendors for five helmet designs. Mine Safety Appliances was awarded $4.7 million, Gentex Corporation was awarded $1.8 million, BAE Systems Aerospace & Defense Group was awarded $764,000, and 3M subsidiary Ceradyne was awarded $729,000. Testing in September revealed that each helmet failed in ballistic and/or blunt force tests. In February 2010, the Navy joined the program and issued their own requirements. Marine Corps officials suggested design improvements such as better materials to industry and testing resumed in June 2010. Three vendors were to be downselected, and the remaining two would be tested in November. If the program proceeded as planned the Army would acquire 200,000, the Marine Corps would acquire 38,500, and the Navy would acquire 6,700.
Ceradyne won the competition to produce the Enhanced Combat Helmet in March 2012. In July 2013, the U.S. Marine Corps ordered 3,850 helmets for deployed Marines, to be fielded before the end of 2013.The Marine Corps plans to buy 77,000 helmets, enough to outfit a large contingent of deployed U.S. Marines.When they return, they will be turned in. The Lightweight Helmet and Modular Integrated Communications Helmet will still be used for training and noncombat purposes. PEO Soldier also confirmed that the Army will field the helmet. Fielding was scheduled to begin in October 2013.The Marine Corps' ultimate goal is to issue the ECH to all 182,000 Marines.
Prior to enhancements under ManTech, every ballistic helmet in the U.S. military used a thermoset-based combination of aramid fiber with a PVB-phenolic resin. Although there have been improvements in the aramid fibers, the material and processing technology in the ACH had not changed in 30 years. The ManTech program focused on addressing technology barriers that inhibited a new class of improved ballistic materials, including new grades of Dyneema, Spectra, and thermoplastic coated aramids.
The Army helmet fabrication goal was to develop an entirely new methodology for mass-producing complex shapes and combining layers of different thermoplastic materials. During this time, ARL and partners created a new molding technology, which included a manufacturing process reducing labor by 40% and waste by 70%.
Other helmets from the ManTech program are used by the Green Berets, the Navy SEALS, and special operations forces. These include the Future Assault Shell Technology (FAST) and MARITIME helmet. The FAST helmet offers 25% weight reduction, while the MARITIME helmet offers a 35% weight reduction. The helmet technology includes new manufacturing processes developed at ARL, in collaboration with U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development And Engineering Center and Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier.ARL and its partners received the Department of Defense Manufacturing Technology Program Achievement Award in 2009 for work on ECH.