U.S. Army emphasizes new body armor

across a broader swath of the force, meaning the gear the soldiers wear will have to change to accommodate the extra sensors and communications tools that accompany it.

Rickey says soldiers using the system in theater report “they need a little extra stability on the helmet so their display is stable.” His office is looking at ways of making this improvement. As a result, he asked for a study to see how they can upgrade chin straps for more stability, and he says so far he has identified three technologies that “look promising.”

Given the increasing attention that has been given to the issue of traumatic brain injuries as a result of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, helmets are a big part of what the Army is working on. Rickey’s office is developing a helmet sensor that measures blast overpressure and head acceleration during explosions or other traumatic events. The Army has culled data from the first generation of helmet sensors —7,000 of which were deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom from March 2008 to March 2009 — which is being used to create a combat helmet that is lighter and equipped with sensors more capable of downloading real-time data.

The first-generation helmet sensors measured head acceleration in three degrees of freedom, while the newer version will be able to measure head acceleration in all six degrees, including rotation of the head. The improved sensors are expected to be ready by March 2010, and will feature a wireless capability, allowing information to be downloaded without plugging the sensor into a USB port. This capability will enable the retrieval of information on the sensor’s power consumption, memory and functionality. The Army plans to equip the equivalent of six brigade combat teams with the sensor.

Rickey also tells DTI that his office is working with the Marine Corps on a new Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) that will provide protection against rifle fire as well as the 9-mm. ballistic threat and others against which the current ACH protects.

BAE is working on the experimental Integrated Warfighter System, which Colyman says is “focused on the way we fight today,” by trying to design equipment that can act as “the platform for electronic communications and sensor systems” instead of just carrying them. “Our approach with the Integrated Warfighter System is to think of that soldier-protective equipment as the platform, much like a truck or armored personnel carrier, on which other mission-critical equipment can be placed,” Colyman says. Specifically, “our focus is to take equipment like Land Warrior and integrate it directly into the protective equipment. True weight savings and mobility improvement will come when that equipment is embedded directly into the protective equipment.” This includes optical systems, night-vision equipment, sensors, antenna and power systems.

The company is focusing on the helmet, working on a design that can “accept different components so they can change over time” without replacing the helmet. While Colyman maintains that the company is “years away” from fielding the kit, he notes that “power systems and power management are the farthest along, and we’re actually demonstrating systems to the user today.”