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SPEAR Modular/Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH)

It may not look much different from the current Personnel Armor System, Ground Troops helmet, but the new Marine Corps Lightweight Helmet is improved in almost every way. The LWH received Milestone C approval in May 2003. Initial operational capability was scheduled for the second quarter of FY 2004 and full operational capability for the first quarter of FY 2009. Production of more than 200,000 of the lightweight helmets to Marines started in the June 2003, replacing the old "Kevlar" as it's commonly called, which had been around since the early 1980s.

A project that began in 1999, the helmet is part of the redesign of all individual equipment for Marines, according to Jim Mackiewicz, Marine Corps customer team leader at the Soldier Systems Center. The team provides technical and contract support for Product Manager-Individual Combat Equipment at the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va. Helmet prototypes went through operational testing at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., in 2000 and 2002 during combined arms field exercises. In addition, the helmets were field-evaluated by Marines at Camp Lejeune, NC. It was one of the highest rated pieces of equipment in the (Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity). "To get an 85 to 90 percent approval rating is almost unheard of.

Marines can look forward to improved comfort with the new lightweight helmet, which features soft black leather for the X-shaped nape pad, headband and border around a new breathable nylon mesh suspension pad, and black suede-lined chinstrap. Two buckles on each side of the helmet provide tensioning and centering of the nylon retention webbing. Testing lasted an extra year to work out glitches and allow time to compare the Army's new Modular Integrated Communication Helmet, or MICH.

Both the lightweight helmet and the MICH were comfortable and higher rated than the (Marine's previous helmet), but the lightweight helmet was higher rated than the older version. As it boiled down, it was still the helmet of choice for the Marines. The helmet's shell is shaped like the older version, but new materials bring a 6 percent improvement in fragmentation protection, as well as the ability to stop a direct hit from a 9mm round. Lab testing showed a 40 percent improvement in impact protection, which also means better durability. The manufacturer, Gentex Corp. in Carbondale, Penn., warrants the helmet for 15 years.

As the helmet's name suggests, the extra capability was designed with a corresponding weight reduction of about one-half pound. For comparison, a medium-size older version helmet weighs 3.6 pounds versus a medium lightweight helmet's 3.05 pounds. It's the same weight as the MICH but doesn't lose the area of coverage. It could have made as light as 2.8 pounds with a MICH-style cut. The MICH feels good, but Marines said they didn't feel as protected wearing it.

Complaints have been voiced about the Kevlar interfering with the Interceptor Body Armor, but the solution was more a matter of improving stability, not just reducing size. By incorporating a four-point retention strap, similar to the MICH, the lightweight helmet is seven times more stable than the Kevlar, so it won't rock back and forth or fall off. Although most Marines won't be jumping out of airplanes, it's airborne-certified.

Comfort is improved with soft black leather for the X-shaped nape pad, headband and border around a new breathable nylon mesh suspension pad, and black suede-lined chinstrap. Two buckles on each side of the helmet provide tensioning and centering of the nylon retention webbing. The Kevlar helmet's five sizes remain, but Marines can easily adjust headband circumference and height by one-half inch with the lightweight helmet's hook and loop fabric fasteners for a better fit. One reason the Marines didn't go with a trimmed version is because it can sit too high.

Both adjustments help accommodate Marines when they're wearing masks or hoods, or when any helmet-mounted displays or optics are attached. Heat stress is similar to the Kevlar, and in anticipation of wear and tear, each helmet is delivered with a replacement kit containing an extra chinstrap and two headbands.




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