The Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) is a program to replace the combat helmets of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines using thermoplastics instead of the ballistic fibers used on the current generation combat helmets. The ECH’s profile is very similar to the Advanced Combat Helmet but is thicker. The helmet’s shell is made of an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene material and has been shown nearly impenetrable to fragments fired by test guns – in fact, it has vastly exceeded the 35% ballistic improvement requirement. The helmet is of the “tactical cut” type and thus offers less coverage but does enable better mobility. The helmet’s design also allows for the addition of devices such as communications and night-vision equipment.
The U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army have authorized an initial production run of up to 8,600 Enhanced Combat Helmets. Ceradyne, Inc., the California-based manufacturer of the ECH, will soon begin production of the first phase of the order: 4,000 helmets to be divided equally between the Marine Corps and the Army. Depending on when the Full Rate Production (FRP)/Fielding decision is made, continual phase orders will be submitted until the quantity of 8,600 helmets is met. These helmets will not be fielded until after the FRP/Fielding decision is made.
For more than three years, the Marine Corps and Army have worked diligently to move this helmet from concept to development and now to production. 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.
Beginning production of the ECH in March will allow the manufacturer to ramp up to full-rate production capability by May, which is tentatively when the FRP/fielding decision will be made. Starting production now will cut at least three months off the time it would have taken the manufacturer to get production up to full speed and will expedite future production and fielding. Once the FRP decision is made, this helmet will be fielded to Marines deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, this helmet will be fielded to those Soldiers deployed and those units in the ready phase on orders to deploy.
The U.S. Navy is expected to field helmets in support of Navy expeditionary requirements in the Central Command area of operations. Over the life of the present contract, 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.