FORT BELVOIR, Va. – U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians are helping the Army improve state-of-the-art combat helmets to better protect them on high-stakes missions.
EOD technicians from the 55th Ordnance Company (EOD) are working with Program Executive Office Soldier and Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory to develop the Vertical Load Offset System (VLOS) for the newest combat helmet called the Integrated Head Protection System (IHPS).
The 55th EOD Company “VIPpers” are part of the 192nd EOD Battalion, 52nd EOD Group and 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. military’s premier all hazards formation.
From 19 bases in 16 states, Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from 20th CBRNE Command deploy to take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations. Working with Navy EOD techs, Army EOD Soldiers from the 20th CBRNE Command defeated hundreds of thousands of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Fort Belvoir, Virginia-based 55th EOD Company covers explosive response missions in most of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, half of Pennsylvania, part of Washington D.C., and part of West Virginia. The company also supports the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of State during Very Important Person Protection Support Activity missions to provide protection to the president, first lady, vice president and foreign heads of states.
Capt. Zachery S. Rowe, the commander of the 55th EOD Company, said the VLOS team observed his EOD Soldiers during a recent validation exercise.
A native of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, and graduate of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Rowe previously served as the 1st platoon leader in the 718th EOD Company “Dokkaebi” on Camp Humphreys, South Korea.
Rowe said the IHPS with VLOS would help EOD techs by relieving neck strain and improving their ability to safely operate around any explosive hazard.
Jakob A. Hopping, the chief systems engineer for PEO Soldier’s Product Manager Soldier Protective Equipment, said that through the addition of VLOS the IHPS is being adapted to better support numerous critical mission-enabling systems.
The VLOS is being designed to be worn with IHPS and other mission enablers such as the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), Binocular Enhanced Night Vision Google (ENVG B), Next Generation Advanced Bomb Suit (NGABS) Heads Up Display (HUD) and Modular Sensor Suite (MSS) and Third Generation Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (ENVG III).
Hopping said Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Defense’s University Affiliated Research Center with a long-standing strategic partnership on Personnel Protective Equipment and human performance.
This combat helmet enhancement effort is also supported by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory (ARL), DEVCOM Soldier Center, the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC) and Creative Engineering through innovation and design, human factors engineering and validation testing.
By removing the effect of mass from the head and neck to the shoulders or lower, the VLOS greatly reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injury and fatigue, increases sustained alertness and capability, and optimizes Solder potential, said Hopping.
“The IHPS is already lighter than any combat helmet issued to conventional Soldiers since at least 1979 and it provides better protection than any other helmet issued to any other combat force,” said Hopping. “The VLOS effort will provide Soldiers with the ability to retain that effective lightness, even improve it, when they attach their mission enablers to their helmet.”
The IHPS is not like your typical legacy combat helmet. It is designed to be used and connected with the full suite of other Soldier equipment. No other use highlights this better than the integration of the IHPS as the base helmet to be used with Next Generation Advanced Bomb Suit (NGABS), said Hopping.
“The NGABS is the biggest EOD project underway, and it is a massive capability improvement for EOD Soldiers,” said Hopping. “In the following years, building on the NGABS solution with continuous improvement we plan to continue to reduce mass, improve Soldier cooling, increase range of motion, improve situational awareness and improve overall equipment integration.”
Hopping said the IHPS as configured for use with the NGABS will be the most protective bomb suit helmet ever made and leverages lessons learned from recent combat operations.
“Insurgents understood that EOD Soldiers were key to our overall capability, so they began emplacing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that could more easily be found with the intent of targeting the responding EOD Soldier with secondary IEDs and ambushing direct fire or both,” said Hopping. “The NGABS use of the IHPS directly counters this tactic and helps to keep the EOD Soldier safer than they have ever been from IED fragments or small arms fire.”
PEO Soldier’s Product Manager Soldier Protective Equipment is sharing all results with the Marine Corps, Special Forces Program Office, Navy and Air Force through cross-service Warfighter Equipment Boards.
A retired U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Ground Intelligence Officer, Hopping has served at PEO Soldier since 2009.
He grew up on a small dairy farm outside of Westville, Oklahoma, and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he majored in mechanical engineering with a concentration in entrepreneurial management and a minor in political science.
“I have found PEO Soldier to be the perfect fit for me to serve my fellow warfighters in every capacity possible – with the full extent of my skillset every day,” said Hopping.
“The highlight of my job is when we succeed in delivering capability to the warfighter,” said Hopping. “The successes shine with enough brightness to give me and the entire team hope and drive for the next success. The IHPS is one such success. We know Soldier lives will be saved because of that helmet. We are striving to ensure that the VLOS and NGABS also make it across that finish line. The VLOS and NGABS will enable Soldiers to do what Soldiers do best - win.”