By Jane Benson, DEVCOM Soldier Center Public Affairs
NATICK, Mass. – Research performed in the Helmet Laboratory at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, Soldier Center has led to a revolutionary new combat helmet.
Due to the Soldier Center’s Helmet Lab technology, and subsequent efforts working with key industry partners, the new combat helmets will provide the warfighter protection against a higher level threat – protection that previously could only be accomplished with a much heavier applique/helmet combination.
Researchers in the DEVCOM Soldier Center Helmet Laboratory have spent the past decade working to optimize combat helmet performance by developing new modeling, design and processing techniques. Combat helmets are comprised of flat sheets of ballistic material pre-formed into a helmet shape and then processed at a high temperature and pressure.
“Wrinkling and folds occur as the flat fabric conforms to the three-dimensional shape” said Jason Parker, a DEVCOM Soldier Center mechanical engineer. “These seams, wrinkles, and folds seriously degrade the ballistic performance, requiring more material and more mass to protect against a given threat. Through our research, we determined how these defects are introduced, how they affect ballistic performance, and how to eliminate them. The culmination of this research is a novel machine and process which produces a seamless, uniform helmet, free from defects such as folds and wrinkles.”
In 2015, the Helmet Laboratory developed a novel pre-form apparatus, process, and optimized helmet ply layup design. The Soldier Center used this technology to develop prototype helmets demonstrating breakthrough performance, providing a higher level threat protection that could previously only be achieved with the addition of a ballistic applique.
"In 2017, we tested prototype helmets targeting a higher level threat that were fabricated using our novel helmet preforming apparatus,” said Robert DiLalla, team lead of the Ballistic and Blast Protection Team in DEVCOM Soldier Center’s Soldier Protection Directorate. “The results far exceeded our expectation as we were getting stops well above the requirement and at 40 percent less weight than the current capability. The results were replicated with another batch of prototype helmets confirming that we had developed a new capability to significantly increase Soldier protection.”
Since 2017, the Helmet Laboratory, at the request of senior Army leadership, continued to mature and transition the technology to industry partners by establishing several Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, or CRADAs, and Research & Development contracts.
“After the Helmet Lab first demonstrated this breakthrough performance, the team worked diligently with our industry partners to rapidly transition this technology and contribute to the advancement from laboratory prototype to production ready helmets,” said David Colanto, PhD, who is the program manager for DEVCOM Soldier Center’s Integrated Multi-Threat Headborne System. “The collaborative effort with industry represents a successful technology transition and highlights the fact that Soldier Center applied research and technology demonstration efforts are critical to providing significant improvements to warfighter protection.”
In February 2021, Gentex Corporation announced that one of their Ops-Core® FAST Helmet Systems passed U.S. Government First Article Testing (FAT), a first for a helmet providing a higher level threat protection. This new helmet leverages helmet design and processing innovations transitioned through a CRADA with the DEVCOM Soldier Center's Helmet Lab.
“This new FAST helmet is the culmination of a multi-year commitment to innovate the novel production processes necessary to manufacture helmets with next-generation ballistic materials,” said Des Walsh, vice president of Advanced Research and Development for Gentex Corporation. “It serves as an excellent example of successful, outcome-oriented government-industry collaborative development, resulting in the most advanced ballistically protective helmet shell ever qualified for production by Gentex and available to the warfighter.”
“It’s been a long road that started with an Army investment in science and technology which led to an invention,” said DiLalla. “That invention, when combined with industry knowledge, led to a finished product that offers a leap ahead level of protection. Today, the warfighter will benefit from that technological advancement. As a result of our efforts, we are currently undergoing a major renovation to our Helmet Lab having added new processing equipment to expand capabilities to help drive future research initiatives.”
The DEVCOM Soldier Center is committed to discovering, developing, and advancing science and technology solutions that ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. DEVCOM Soldier Center supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the DEVCOM Soldier Center’s chief areas of focus. The center’s science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. DEVCOM Soldier Center is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers’ performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach and mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers is also an important part of the mission of DEVCOM Soldier Center. The mentoring of students by Army scientists and engineers benefits the students and their communities. It also increases young people's awareness of potential Army job opportunities and helps provide the Army with potential new talent, helping to fuel innovative ideas that benefit the nation's warfighters and the nation as a whole.
DEVCOM Soldier Center is part of DEVCOM. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.