The First Significant Advancement in ACH Technology in 15 Years: Revision’s Batlskin Viper® P4 Advanced Combat Helmet System
1983 - 2017: FROM PASGT TO THE GEN II ADVANCED COMBAT HELMET
In the late 1990s, para-Aramid and Kevlar materials were on the cutting-edge. Taking advantage of this technology, USSOCOM embarked on the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH) program. This produced the MICH TC-2000 head system, from which the first generation Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) was derived, developed and incorporated on-the-heels of the MICH initiative. Heralded as the future of head protection solutions, the ACH was quickly adopted by the U.S. Army and played a big role in the long-running Middle East campaigns[i]. With a streamlined shell, this helmet lowered the weight as compared to the long-standing, bulky Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT) helmets, which dated back to the early-1980s[ii]. The first generation ACH was first fielded in 2003 and has been the U.S. Army helmet standard until this year, with little change to the late-’90s-era design.
Needless to say, a lot has changed in the decade-and-a-half since the first ACH procurement. Kevlar and Twaron helmets are now being phased out, and are seen as outmoded and cumbersome compared to innovations pushing the envelope of attainable weight reduction. New hybridized material applications are now at the vanguard of manufacturing, R&D, and head systems design. Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPH) helmets, in particular, reduce weight dramatically while maintaining, and even elevating, ballistic, blunt force, impact, and fragmentation protection[iii]. This radical new playing field paved the way for the U.S. Army’s 2017 ACH Gen II solicitation[iv].
Above: In March 2017, the U.S. Army selected Revision's advanced combat helmet solution for the ACH Gen II contract; this is the first large-scale ACH upgrade for the Army in 15 years.
REVISION SELECTED FOR U.S. ARMY NEXT-GENERATION ACH CONTRACT
Revision Military is at the forefront of this head systems revolution. Revision’s standing as the standard-bearer of the industry was recently cemented with the announcement of the U.S. Army’s selection for the ACH Gen II contract: This five-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) helmet contract (W91CRB-17-D-0008), awarded on a full and open competition basis to Revision, has a maximum value of $98,111,803 and estimated completion date of March 6, 2022[v]. Down the line, the Integrated Head Protection System will include an enhanced helmet, a visor, a mandible that protects the lower jaw, and ballistic appliques that can be attached over the base helmet. The complete ensemble is scheduled to be fielded in 2020.
The stated goal of the upgrade program was to offer weight reduction with equal protection compared to the legacy helmet[vi]. Revision has more than accomplished that mission, and, in the process, has reinvigorated the traditional Advanced Combat Helmet, bringing this essential equipment in line with the realities of modern combat. Utilizing composite, hybridized UHMWPE material applications, Revision has manufactured a truly advanced infantry helmet that is up to 24% lighter than the legacy ACH system. The next-generation ACH solution submitted to and selected by the army is the basis for Revision’s Batlskin Viper P4 Head Protection System, which uses the same shell architecture, advanced material applications, and cutting-edge manufacturing processes as the new U.S. Army ACH solution. In total, Revision’s ACH innovation, and the Viper P4 helmet system, represent the first large-scale, significant advancement in ACH technology in 15 years.
A FOCUS ON ADVANCED MATERIALS AND LEADING-EDGE U.S. MANUFACTURING
In a hearing after the ACH Gen II contract announcement, Brig. Gen. Robert L. Marion, Deputy of Acquisition and Systems Management for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, told Senators that the helmet and other lightweight body armor items now being developed are among the Army’s most promising new technologies[vii]. Revision is dedicated to re-envisioning military head systems with integrated technologies that feature pioneering raw materials, in a variety of designs and configurations, to exceed all customer requirements. With extensive knowledge of ballistics, electronics, optics, power, and other innovative technologies, Revision is a creative solutions provider, capable of designing and developing custom head protection solutions to meet the changing needs of global militaries.
Above: Through advanced material applications and cutting-edge manufacturing, Revision’s ACH Gen II helmet solution offers up to 24% weight reduction as compared to the legacy ACH helmets currently fielded by the U.S. Army.
Since last contracted by the U.S. Army in 2012—when Revision delivered a total of 180,000 ACH helmets—Revision has invested millions of dollars in new manufacturing equipment and processes, research into the characterization and optimization of advanced ballistic materials, and in the building of a world-class team of scientists and engineers to evolve the Company’s capabilities. Revision’s core team of armor product development engineers for the ACH Gen II project averages 18 years of industry experience, with a scope of experience that includes a variety of perspectives on, and approaches to, helmet and armor technology, cost and value optimization, materials experimentation and testing, supplier relations, and in-field military human factors know-how. In addition to the core team, the ACH Gen II development initiative incorporated contributions from in-house subject matter experts in polymer chemistry, mechanical engineering, industrial design, composite component manufacturing, and lean manufacturing.
Additionally, since 2013, Revision’s Newport, Vermont facility—where helmets for the ACH Gen II contract will be manufactured—has expanded by 16,000 sq. ft., and the number of employees that work at this facility has more than doubled. Revision has made substantial investments in new molding presses, added preform presses, increased chilling capacity, new molds, and increased cutting capacity. This supports an increase in overall PE manufacturing capacity by an additional 10,000 helmets per month. Since incorporating these new materials UHMWPE within the Company’s armor and helmet production portfolio, Revision has worked extensively with suppliers to master the manufacturing nuances of this advanced material, and has successfully delivered on several significant contracts for tape-based UHMWPE products with both U.S. Military and international customers. The tape-based polyethylene solution selected for the Viper P4 head system provides excellent high velocity fragmentation protection, as well as superior 9mm RTP, compression, and impact resistance, with minimal to no change in ballistic performance at extreme temperatures—whether soldiers are wearing this helmet in the Arctic or at the equator, the performance and protection will be consistent.
“This was an intense competition that draws on the reliability and skill of Revision Military’s workforce in Vermont,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “The quality of these helmets will protect soldiers from ballistic impacts, while also making them more comfortable with their up to 24% lighter build. Like all Vermonters, I am incredibly proud of the men and women at Revision Military Newport for their hard work and dedication. In past visits to the facility, I have seen firsthand the commitment these employees have to their trade, a commitment depended on by the men and women of our Armed Forces.”
REVISION’S EXPANDING CAPABILITIES & ELEVATED STANDING IN THE GLOBAL SOLDIER SYSTEMS INDUSTRY
Over Revision’s history, the Company has delivered 1.1 million helmets to the U.S. military, with an additional 300,000 helmets internationally. Across all of these program deliveries, Revision has never received a single warranty claim for product malfunction or defect, has never had to recall a single faulty product—particularly relevant in the ACH Gen II solicitation, considering the recalls that plagued previous suppliers in recent years—and has never failed a single Lot Acceptance or First Article test.
Leading up to the ACH Gen II contract win, a number of important contracts have solidified Revision as a major player in the worldwide helmet industry, particularly in the European protective equipment market. In early 2016, Revision (UK) began operations in Bristol, England, the newest office in the Revision portfolio and a hub for European operations. This new facility will further Revision’s ongoing contract with the British Army to deliver their next generation head system—the head-subsystem (HSS) portion of the VIRTUS Program. With this win in the autumn of 2015, Revision unseated the decades-long supplier for the British Army. Revision’s HSS solution incorporates a bespoke Batlskin Cobra® Plus helmet, ballistic visor and mandible, and Sawfly® and Wolfspider® eyewear. In two years’ time, over 54,000 Cobra Plus helmets will have been issued. This high-performance helmet now in use by the British Army is also constructed from hybridized layers and UHMWPE materials. The result is a helmet that provides up to a 10% increase in fragmentation protection over previous Kevlar shells, with up to 20% weight reduction.
Revision has also been a major contributor to USSOCOM’s next-generation Special Operations Forces (SOF) helmet program—the Family of Tactical Headborne Systems (FTHS) development project—which kicked-off at the beginning 2016, extending through a development and several testing periods, and culminating with the official solicitation in 2017. Revision was awarded a development contract in July 2016, helping shape the official industry solicitation in 2017. For this program, Revision upended the traditional methods of head systems development, working directly and collaboratively with SOF operators and incorporating feedback from a spectrum of special forces experience into a ground up solution—Revision’s skeletonized, scalable Batlskin Caiman™ Head Systems suite.
Beyond head systems and eyewear, Revision’s scope of capabilities has also expanded to include a thriving Power & Integrated Systems business unit dedicated to generating cutting-edge lithium-ion solo and shared soldier-worn energy management solutions—lightweight and durable Nerv Centr SoloPack™ and Nerv Centr SharePack® systems that treat energy like water or ammunition, as a conservable resource that can be harvested, stored, shared, and used flexibly, thus reducing cabling and the overall weight burden on soldiers in the field—and large-scale vehicular power platforms--integrated Silent Watch Battery Packs that deliver 200 amps to power-hungry armored vehicles for 8 hours in the harshest environmental conditions, ensuring that thermal and acoustic signatures are managed.
Revision's Viper P4 Helmet System represents the future of hybridized UHMWPE technology, and utilizes the same lightweight shell architecture as the solution selected by the U.S. Army for the ACH Gen II contract.
“With the ACH Gen II solicitation, PEO Soldier challenged the helmet industry, raising the technology bar substantially. Revision answered in a big way, dedicating significant resources to set a new standard for lightweight helmet design and performance,” concluded Jonathan Blanshay, CEO, Revision Military. “Revision has been a proud U.S. Army supplier since 2005, and our investment in this program epitomizes Revision’s unwavering dedication to forward-thinking head systems technology and manufacturing. In the years since Revision was last contracted by the U.S. Army, we’ve become a much stronger company and head systems technology innovator, securing helmet contracts around the world and emerging as the vanguard of the U.S. helmet industry. We’re excited to provide this cutting-edge technology to troops in the field who will benefit greatly from the improved performance and significantly lower weight of this next-generation head system. In short, Revision has fully modernized the traditional ACH helmet, bringing this crucial equipment up to speed with the aggressive pace of modern warfare.”
The Batlskin Viper P4 Head System will be available in November 2017.