Morale: Good News For Snipers

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September 24, 2016: Since 2005 the American military personnel have had access to a new helmet design (ACH) that offered unprecedented protection. For the first time troops had a helmet that stopped most sniper bullets and nearly everything else. This was a tremendous boost to morale. But now that morale has been shaken by revelations of defective materials and poor construction of some of these helmets and all of the problems took place in a government run factory. These new helmets were more complex to build and quality control checks were exacting and numerous. Now many troops are less confident because of some recent court decisions regarding defective helmets. The worst case was when thousands of these new helmets were deliberately manufactured incorrectly. This happened at FPI, a company that is owned and run by the U.S. government. The main purpose of the FPI plant is to provide practical training for federal prisoners so they are more employable when they are released. Thus there is a mixed workforce that is mainly prisoners learning skills and then applying them. The work of these prisoners is supposed to be closely monitored for quality but since the 1930s, when FPI was created, the firm has acquired a reputation for cutting corners. So FPI products are more closely monitored. But in 2008 FPI didn’t get paid for a $23 million contract to build 23,000 of these new type helmets because the helmets were defective. The helmets looked OK but on closer examination it was clear that they were not properly assembled and often used substandard components. What was missed in all this was the fact that FPI also was a subcontractor (to supply components) for another firm (ArmorSource) that produced over 120,000 of the new helmets using some FPI made components. If took several years for complaints from the troops to trigger an investigation of the ArmorSource helmets and withdraw about 150,000 helmets from service. FPI was shut down and ArmorSource, being a commercial operation, was fined $3 million. There were no criminal prosecutions, apparently because it has become U.S. government policy to avoid adverse publicity any way possible. No user deaths or injuries could be traced to the improperly made helmets, at least not yet.

Meanwhile new versions of these helmets are still being turned out. In early 2016 American troops began receiving latest version of the standard combat helmet. The new LW-ACH (Lightweight Advanced Combat Helmet) is 10 percent lighter than the current 1.5 kg (3.3 pound) ACH and has improved protection and comfort. The army will be receiving 105,000 LW-ACH helmets by late 2017.

After the ACH first appeared in 2005 there were more and more incidents of soldiers shot in the head and surviving because of ACH which made improved ACH versions even more welcome. At first troops were wary of reports of ACH stopping high powered 7.62mm sniper rifle bullets. But the army distributed pictures of the helmets that stopped sniper bullets as well as statements by the soldiers who were wearing them when hit. While the media ate this up, releasing all this data was mainly for the troops.

All this is part of an ongoing trend because since 2000 combat helmet design has made enormous advances. The new helmets have increased protection (often against rifle bullets as employed by snipers) while becoming more comfortable to wear, more accommodating of accessories (especially personal radios and night vision gear) without becoming heavier. Combat helmets were long considered low-tech but that has changed since the 1980s. The appearance of new materials plus advances in the design and construction of helmets have been accelerating, especially since 2001. What is amazing about this is that modern combat helmets first appeared in 2015 during World War I (1914-18). Initially there were several types. The U.S. adopted the flat British design steel model and using it for 25 years. This was replaced by the M1 helmet in the early 1940s. This was the “steel pot” and liner system that lasted over four decades. The PASGT (Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops) replaced the M1 in the early 1980s and lasted twenty years. The ACH replaced PASGT by 2007 but by 2012 the ECH (Enhanced Combat Helmet) began appearing as a replacement for some ACH models. ECH, like ACH is built to take lots of accessories and is the version bought by police and emergency service organizations.

The Kevlar PASGT design was a third generation combat helmet, nicknamed the "Fritz" after its resemblance to the German helmets used in both World Wars. That German World War I design, which was based on an analysis of where troops were being hit by fragments and bullets in combat, was the most successful combat helmet in both world wars. This basic design was finally adopted by most other nations after the American PASGT helmet appeared in the 1980s. Most of the second generation helmets, which appeared largely during World War II, were similar to the old American M1 design. The fourth generation helmets, currently in service, use better synthetic materials and more comfortable design.

 


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