The Corps is about to kick off a ballistics study between the currently fielded mid-cut enhanced combat helmet, or ECH, and a high cut version like the Ops-Core helmets worn by Marine special operators and recon, pushing the Corps a step closer to equipping its grunts with the iconic helmet.

On Monday, Marine Corps Systems Command, or SYSCOM, submitted its intention to award a sole source contract to Gentex Corp., the manufacturer of the Ops-Core and ECH helmets, for 97 mid-cut and 109 mid-cut and high-cut ECH helmets to conduct an evaluation.

“The Marine Corps is buying a small quantity of mid cut and high cut helmets to conduct ballistic testing and limited user evaluations to develop a better understanding of the trade-offs between ballistic protection, situational awareness, and hearing system integration,” Barbara Hamby, a spokeswoman for SYSCOM, told Marine Corps Times in an email Thursday. “For now, this is only a research and development effort.”

A Critical Skills Operator with 2d Marine Raider Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, secures a doorway and hallway during training at Atlantic Airfield, N.C., Dec. 16, 2015. (Sgt. Donovan Lee/Marine Corps)
A Critical Skills Operator with 2d Marine Raider Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, secures a doorway and hallway during training at Atlantic Airfield, N.C., Dec. 16, 2015. (Sgt. Donovan Lee/Marine Corps)

The Ops-Core high-cut helmets have been a favorite with elite Marine operators who hail from the Corps’ Raider and reconnaissance fields.

The helmets boast a small rail mount system for things like flashlights or strobes, and the high-cut style eases the use of large hearing protection and communication headsets like the Peltors commonly sported by Marine commandos.

“Technology for systems that both enhance and protect hearing is rapidly changing. As Program Manager, Infantry Combat Equipment conducts market research and focus groups on the latest hearing protection technology, it is critical to have helmets with various cuts to determine the best integrated solution,” Hamby said.

Right now, Marines are donning the ECH that has the same cut as the Army’s Advanced Combat Helmet.

“The cut is higher than the Marine Corps Lightweight Helmet and was found to provide the optimal balance between protection and situational awareness,” Hamby explained.

The lightweight helmet has been in production since 2003. But the Corps is in the process of fielding the ECH as its standard common helmet across the Corps.

Since 2014, ECH helmets have been supplied to Marines deploying overseas, but new deliveries set for June of 2018 will “enable the ECH to be the standard helmet for the Marine Corps,” Hamby said.

It has long been rumored the Corps would field an Ops-Core style helmet for its infantry Marines as the Corps has pushed various versions of the popular high-cut helmet through a plethora of experimental exercises, including one that just wrapped up at the tail end of March.