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entitled 'Warfighter Support: Information on Army and Marine Corps 
Ground Combat Helmet Pads' which was released on July 28, 2009. 

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GAO-09-768R: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

July 28, 2009: 

Congressional Committees: 

Subject: Warfighter Support: Information on Army and Marine Corps 
Ground Combat Helmet Pads: 

Combat soldiers operate in diverse environments and face injury threats 
that place demands on the protective equipment systems they use to 
provide consistent protection throughout a range of temperatures and 
threat magnitudes. Protective helmets are one of those systems. In 
addition to protecting against ballistic threats, Army and Marine Corps 
ground combat helmets are now designed to absorb energy in order to 
reduce head injury risk from blunt impacts; previous combat helmets, 
such as the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops helmet in use 
until 2002, were not designed to provide any tested levels of blunt 
impact protection.[Footnote 1] The currently used Army Advanced Combat 
Helmet and Marine Corps Light Weight Helmet are outfitted with a pad 
suspension system to protect against these threats. These pad 
suspension systems have been found to offer superior blunt impact 
protection over the older sling suspension systems. 

The Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Security, 
Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2009 directed 
GAO to review ground combat helmet pads. In response, this report 
focuses on two objectives: (1) Who currently provides the pads used in 
Army and Marine Corps ground combat helmets, and how were they chosen? 
and (2) What efforts and research have been undertaken by the Army and 
Marine Corps to improve helmet pad performance and helmet technology? 
In addition, we have included information on servicemembers' use of 
helmet pads that are not approved. A timeline of events regarding 
helmet technology is included in the attached enclosure. 

In April 2009, we provided congressional staff with a preliminary 
overview of our work, including our scope and methodology. This report 
summarizes that briefing and includes additional information 
subsequently obtained from Department of Defense officials. To conduct 
our review, we interviewed officials from the Army, Marines, and 
Defense Logistics Agency, as well as representatives from National 
Industries for the Blind, which packages and supplies helmet pads to 
the Army and Marines. We also met with representatives from two helmet 
pad manufacturers at their request. Further, we reviewed and analyzed 
test reports and other documentation related to helmet pad performance, 
although we did not evaluate the reliability or validity of the testing 
or test results. A detailed scope and methodology is included at the 
end of this report. We conducted this review from December 2008 through 
July 2009. 

Results in Brief: 

Both the Army and the Marine Corps currently use pads that are 
manufactured by Team Wendy, a company based in Cleveland, Ohio, and are 
supplied through National Industries for the Blind, an organization 
that packages and supplies helmet pads to the Army and Marines through 
the AbilityOne program. These pads were selected based on the results 
of prior Army testing, as well as value. Helmet systems, including 
helmet pads, have undergone a variety of tests, including tests to 
judge their relative protection in comparison with the sling suspension 
system and tests to judge comfort and ease of use. 

The Army and Marine Corps are actively seeking new options to improve 
helmet technology. In 2007, in an effort to spur industry to design a 
more effective pad system, the Army issued a request for information 
seeking an off-the-shelf technology solution that could increase blunt 
impact protection over the current performance standard. The current 
testing standard for blunt impact protection requires that a helmet 
dropped at a speed of 10 feet per second be able to diminish the force 
to which the wearer's head accelerates to under 150 g.[Footnote 2] 
According to Army officials, the request for information called for the 
same degree of protection at a drop speed of 14.1 feet per second, with 
the ultimate objective of increasing this drop speed to 17.3 feet per 
second. To date, no manufacturer has submitted a pad system that passes 
the testing at 14.1 feet per second, but the Army believes that this 
call for an improved technological solution will motivate industry to 
develop better performing pads. Additionally, the services are looking 
for new alternatives for protecting against blunt impact injury. This 
effort includes outreach to other countries and sports organizations, 
and research into the causes of traumatic brain injury. 

Background: 

Prior to 2002, both the Army and the Marine Corps used the Personnel 
Armor System for Ground Troops helmet that was equipped with a sling 
suspension system consisting of an adjustable leather band fastened 
around the head, as well as other supporting straps. Starting in 2002, 
however, the Army began evaluating new helmets and eventually fielded 
the Advanced Combat Helmet. The Advanced Combat Helmet uses a seven-pad 
suspension system affixed to the inside of the helmet using hook pile 
tape and was modeled after a similar helmet, the Modular Integrated 
Communications Helmet, then in use by Special Operations Command 
soldiers. Figure 1 shows the differences between the sling suspension 
and pad suspension systems. 

Figure 1: Sling and Pad Suspension Systems: 

[Refer to PDF for image: photograph] 

Photographs of: 
Sling suspension helmet; 
Pad suspension helmet. 

Source: U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory. 

[End of figure] 

Concurrently, the Marine Corps also adopted a new helmet--called the 
Light Weight Helmet--to replace its Personnel Armor System for Ground 
Troops helmets. Although the Light Weight Helmet has a shell shape 
similar to that of the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops helmet 
and provides the same coverage, it is constructed with lighter weight 
ballistic material that provides equivalent ballistic protection. When 
initially fielded, the Light Weight Helmet also used a sling suspension 
system, albeit somewhat modified. In 2006, however, the Marine Corps 
replaced this modified sling suspension system with the same pad 
suspension system used in the Army's Advanced Combat Helmet. 

The Army and the Marines Currently Use Team Wendy Pads Supplied by 
National Industries for the Blind on the Basis of Army Testing, 
Approval, and Value: 

Both the Army and the Marine Corps currently use pads that are 
manufactured by Team Wendy, a pad manufacturing company based in 
Cleveland, Ohio, and are supplied to them through National Industries 
for the Blind on the basis of Army testing, approval, and value. Helmet 
systems, including helmet pads, underwent a variety of tests, including 
tests to judge their relative protection in comparison with the sling 
suspension system. In 2005, the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research 
Laboratory reported on its evaluation of the blunt impact protection 
offered by pad suspension systems versus sling suspension systems. In 
that evaluation, the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory tested 
the Advanced Combat Helmet with its standard pad configuration against 
two types of Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops helmet sling 
suspension systems: that of the infantry and that of the paratrooper, 
of which the latter includes some padding in addition to the sling. The 
U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory found that the pad suspension 
system offered superior blunt impact protection to either of the sling 
suspension systems. Again in 2006, the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research 
Laboratory tested pad suspension systems against sling suspension 
systems, this time assessing six different pad systems from five 
different manufacturers against the sling suspension system then used 
in the Marine Corps Light Weight Helmet. The U.S. Army Aeromedical 
Research Laboratory found that while all but one of the pad systems 
passed the Army's blunt impact protection requirements, the Marine 
Corps Light Weight Helmet sling suspension system did not pass. 
Furthermore, while the test did not explicitly state which pad system 
performed the best, the data presented in the report indicate that Team 
Wendy pads were the all-around best performing pad system. 

In addition to the blunt impact protection performance of helmet pads, 
the services also consider the comfort and ease of use of helmets, and 
they conducted user evaluations to assess the form, fit, and function 
of helmets. In March 2009, the Department of Defense reported on the 
most recent user evaluation of helmets. This limited user evaluation 
tested four helmet pad sets from four different manufacturers in both 
the Army Advanced Combat Helmet and the Marine Corps Light Weight 
Helmet. The evaluation found there was no significant difference in the 
form, fit, or function of the helmet pads tested. 

To date, based on the results of the testing performed, the Army has 
approved pad systems made by two manufacturers--Team Wendy and Mine 
Safety Appliances--for use in its Advanced Combat Helmet, while the 
Marine Corps has chosen to limit its approval to one pad, and has 
approved only Team Wendy pads for use in its Light Weight Helmet. The 
approved pads used by the Army and the Marine Corps are consistent with 
the 2006 U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory testing results in 
that they showed the best performance relative to the other pads 
tested. 

Administrators of the AbilityOne Program have identified helmet pads as 
appropriate for production by blind or severely disabled individuals 
and placed them on the Procurement List.[Footnote 3] Pursuant to the 
Javits Wagner O'Day Act, ordering offices are required to purchase 
supplies on the Procurement List from participating nonprofit agencies 
if they are available within the period required.[Footnote 4] The 
AbilityOne Program negotiated a contract for the National Industries of 
the Blind to be the nonprofit agency to produce helmet pads. National 
Industries of the Blind chose Team Wendy as its subcontractor, on the 
basis of value and the potential added value that it could contribute, 
to produce the pad components from among the Army-approved pad 
manufacturers. 

Once National Industries for the Blind employees receive the pad 
components from Team Wendy, they cut and assemble pad sets, stamp 
required identification information on the individual pads, and 
assemble the pad systems in preparation for distribution. The completed 
pads sets are then sent to one of three places: Defense Logistics 
Agency depots, for Army and Marine sustainment stocks; the Army's 
Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering center, for 
further testing and evaluation; or the helmet shell manufacturers, for 
insertion into helmets before distribution. 

The Army and Marine Corps Are Actively Seeking More Effective Pad 
Systems: 

The Army and Marine Corps are actively working to improve helmet 
technology. In an effort to spur industry to design a more effective 
pad system, in November 2007 the Army issued a request for information 
seeking an off-the-shelf technology solution that would increase blunt 
impact protection over the current performance standard. The current 
testing standard for blunt impact protection requires that a helmet 
dropped at a speed of 10 feet per second be able to diminish the force 
to which the wearer's head accelerates to under 150 g. The request for 
information called for the same degree of protection at a drop speed of 
14.1 feet per second, with the ultimate objective of increasing this 
drop speed to 17.3 feet per second. To date, no manufacturer has 
developed a pad system passing the 14.1 feet per second test, but the 
Army believes that this call for an improved technological solution 
will motivate industry to develop better performing pads. 

In addition to improving helmet pads, the services are also looking 
into new alternatives for protecting against blunt impact injury, 
including a one-piece helmet liner currently used in some North 
Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, as well as a fluidic helmet 
liner. They have also reached out to sports and motor sports 
organizations that use protective helmets, although with the 
understanding that there are important differences between military 
helmets and sports helmets.[Footnote 5] Moreover, the services' efforts 
to develop new blunt impact protection mechanisms are performed in 
conjunction with research to better understand the causes of traumatic 
brain injury and how blast overpressure experienced during an explosion 
affects servicemembers. To this end, both the Army and Marine Corps 
recently deployed units to Iraq and Afghanistan with sensor-equipped 
helmets in order to gather useful data toward developing better 
protection against blunt impact. Additionally, the services are 
presently engaged in efforts to improve the ballistic protection of 
helmets, working to design helmets that can withstand impacts from 
higher-caliber weapon rounds. 

Army and Marine Corps Are Aware of Use of Unapproved Pads and Have 
Taken Steps to Rectify This Practice: 

During the course of our engagement we became aware of the use of 
unapproved pads by soldiers and Marines, although the extent and impact 
of unapproved pad use is unknown. According to our limited work, such 
unapproved use occurs primarily in two ways. The first is through the 
purchase of pads by military personnel from the General Services 
Administration catalogue, which lists an assortment of pads intended 
for use by a variety of federal agencies. The second is through the 
procurement of pads by individuals or their family members or friends 
from commercial sources. Both the Army and the Marine Corps are aware 
of this problem and have issued directives specifically precluding the 
use of unapproved pads or other personal protective equipment.[Footnote 
6] 

Scope and Methodology: 

During this engagement, we gathered information on which pads were 
currently used by the Army and the Marine Corps and how they were 
tested and selected by reviewing documents and speaking with officials 
from the U.S. Army, Program Executive Office--Soldier; the U.S. Army 
Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center; the U.S. 
Marine Corps, Program Manager Infantry Combat Equipment; the Defense 
Logistics Agency; National Industries for the Blind; and two helmet pad 
manufacturing companies, at their request. Additionally, we analyzed 
documents related to the selection and testing of helmet pads in use by 
the Army and the Marine Corps, including reports from the U.S. Army 
Aeromedical Research Laboratory. We gained an understanding of the 
testing and evaluation efforts by conducting extensive interviews with 
agency officials who either conducted or had expertise on the tests and 
evaluations. We did not, however, observe testing or evaluate test 
results, given the considerable lapse in time since such tests had 
occurred. We also did not evaluate the validity of the military 
specifications. 

To gain a greater understanding of blunt impact protection mechanisms 
for future use in ground combat helmets, we spoke with the U.S. Army, 
Program Executive Office--Soldier; U.S. Army Medical Research and 
Materiel Command; and the U.S. Marine Corps Program Manager Infantry 
Combat Equipment. We also analyzed documents related to future methods 
for blunt impact protection, including materials supplied by helmet pad 
manufacturers, as well as presentation slides prepared for GAO by the 
services. We conducted our work from December 2008 through July 2009 in 
accordance with all sections of GAO's Quality Assurance Framework that 
are relevant to our objectives. The framework requires that we plan and 
perform the engagement to obtain sufficient and appropriate evidence to 
meet our stated objectives and to discuss any limitations in our work. 
We believe that the information and data obtained, and the analysis 
conducted, provide a reasonable basis for any findings and conclusions. 

Agency Comments: 

DOD was given an opportunity to review and comment on a written draft 
of this report, and it provided only technical comments. We 
incorporated these into the body of the report as appropriate. 

We are sending copies of this report to other interested congressional 
committees; the Secretary of Defense; the Secretary of the Army; and 
the Commandant of the Marine Corps. In addition, this report will be 
available at no charge on GAO's Web site at [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov]. 

If you or your staffs have any questions regarding this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-8365 or solisw@gao.gov. GAO staff who made 
major contributions to this report include Cary Russell, Assistant 
Director; Guy LoFaro; Emily Norman; Maria Storts; Karen Thornton; 
Cheryl Weissman; and Gerald Winterlin. 

Signed by: 

William M. Solis:
Director, Defense Capabilities and Management: 

Enclosure: 

Congressional Committees: 

The Honorable Carl Levin:
Chairman:
The Honorable John McCain:
Ranking Member:
Committee on Armed Services:
United States Senate: 

The Honorable Daniel Inouye:
Chairman:
The Honorable Thad Cochran:
Ranking Member:
Subcommittee on Defense:
Committee on Appropriations:
United States Senate: 

The Honorable Ike Skelton:
Chairman:
The Honorable Howard McKeon:
Ranking Member:
Committee on Armed Services:
House of Representatives: 

The Honorable John P. Murtha:
Chairman:
The Honorable C.W. Bill Young:
Ranking Member:
Subcommittee on Defense:
Committee on Appropriations:
House of Representatives: 

[End of section] 

Enclosure: Timeline of Events Regarding Helmet Technology: 

2001: 

* U.S. Army Special Operations Command approves Modular Integrated 
Communications Helmet; Army study reports that soldiers notice 
benefits. 

2002: 

* Program Executive Office: Soldier surveys field and directs Advanced 
Combat Helmet testing. (March) 

* Program Executive Office: Soldier conducts a limited user test of the 
Advanced Combat Helmet with Oregon Aero pads. (December) 

2003: 

* Advanced Combat Helmet tested and approved to meet Army standards. 
(January) 

2004: 

* Neurosurgeon in theater estimates there could be more head wounds due 
to limited coverage provided by Advanced Combat Helmet as compared with 
Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops helmet. (January-September) 

* The Vice Chief Staff of the Army orders holistic review of Advanced 
Combat Helmet based on neurosurgeon's estimate. (October) 

2005: 

* Combat Helmet Study released demonstrating Advanced Combat Helmet 
with pads to be superior to Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops 
helmet with sling suspension. (May) 

* Army adopts Team Wendy pads. 

2006: 

* House Armed Services Subcommittees write to Kenneth Krieg, Under 
Secretary of Defense Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, about 
helmets, citing that pads are being supplied by non-military sources 
and request independent testing of helmets. (June) 

* Advanced Combat Helmet non-ballistic impact requirement raised from 
150g average and 300g maximum at 10 feet per second to 150g maximum. 
(November) 

* U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory technical memorandum issued 
showing that pads provide better protection than suspension system. 
(December) 

2007: 

* Undersecretary Krieg replies to House Armed Services subcommittees, 
and includes results of non-ballistic impact testing. (February): 

* Ballistic neck protection introduced for Advanced Combat Helmet. 
(March) 

* Testing of pads under new standard proposed in Army Request for 
Information for non-ballistic impact protection for Advanced Combat 
Helmet to maximum 150g at 17.3 feet per second (objective) and 14.1 
feet per second (threshold). (November): 

2008: 

* Army conducts a multi-organizational Criteria Review Board and 
subjects pad systems from five vendors to additional evaluation. 
(April) 
* Army conducts congressionally directed ACH pad assessment on several 
manufacturers' pads, as well as a Limited Soldier Evaluation. (July- 
August) 

2009: 

v Army continues to test for viability of a commercial pad system to 
provide increased non-ballistic protection to 150g maximum at an impact 
velocity of 17.3 feet per second (objective) or 14.1 feet per second 
(threshold). (February) 

* DOD's Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation compiles a 
Limited Field User Evaluation to assess the relative form, fit, and 
function of four helmet pad systems. (March) 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] Examples of blunt impacts include trips and falls while maneuvering 
by foot, airborne (parachutist) operations, and motor vehicle or 
aircraft accidents where body flail and vehicle structural deformation 
could produce a head impact. 

[2] The notation of g or G denotes an acceleration equal to the 
acceleration of gravity, 980 centimeter per second squared, or 
approximately 32.2 feet per second per second at sea level. It is used 
as a unit of stress measurement for bodies undergoing acceleration. 

[3] The Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely 
Disabled administers the AbilityOne Program and selects for the 
Procurement List goods that can be produced according to the customer's 
quality and quantity standards, with at least 75 percent of direct 
labor being performed by blind or severely disabled individuals. 

[4] 41 U.S.C. 46-48c (2008). According to officials with the National 
Industries for the Blind, within 30 days after a good is added to the 
Procurement List, a contract is negotiated with a nonprofit agency to 
manage production of the good. 

[5] Two important differences are that unlike sports helmets, combat 
helmets are designed to provide ballistic protection and may have to 
accommodate peripheral equipment such as night vision and communication 
devices. 

[6] The Army and Marines have each issued directives that preclude the 
use of unapproved pads or other personal protective equipment and/or 
provide guidance on obtaining approved pads, including a 2004 Army 
Maintenance Advisory, a 2005 Army Safety of Use Message, a 2007 Marine 
MARADMIN notice, and a 2009 Army memo warning against the use of 
unapproved protective equipment. 

[End of section] 

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