Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) Case Study
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This Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) case study encourages critical analysis of a U.S. Defense Department project at two key decision points: project start and production. The case centers on the development, testing, and procurement (also referred to as acquisition) of the ECH for U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Marines. Two things make this case study particularly interesting. First is that key project stakeholders are passionate about helmets because they save lives in combat and all Soldiers and Marines consider themselves subject matter experts on helmets, resulting in wide applicability. Second is the fact that the key decisions involved with the ECH effort involved ambiguous data within a complex acquisition environmentﾗrequiring decision making under uncertainty. The ECH case study reinforces critical thinking in uncertain environments, documents lessons learned for sound project management for future application, and provides wide private sector exposure to the complexities of public sector acquisition and helmet manufacture in particular. The following are the learning objectives for this case study: ﾕ Develop the ability to critically analyze a project at key decision pointsﾗcritical thinking. ﾕ Identify key stakeholders and outline their contribution to the pending decisionﾗstakeholder management. ﾕ Develop alternative recommended strategies or courses of action for the decision makerﾗdecision making with uncertainly or ambiguous data. ﾕ Compare alternative strategies and identify decision criteria used for the comparisonﾗdecision making with uncertainly or ambiguous data. ﾕ Identify second-order considerations or consequences of the recommended strategiesﾗstrategic management/leadership. The efforts to modernize helmets face the same defense acquisition challenges that all programs within the Department of Defense (DOD) face: a complex, bureaucratic defense acquisition institution, accelerated pace of technology innovation, technology immaturity, rapidly evolving threats, unstable requirements, and declining defense budgets leading to unstable funding. However, the protection of Soldiers and Marines in combat remains a top priority for senior leaders in the Services, DOD, and Congress. The DOD has committed considerable resources and funding over the years in research and development, resulting in advanced materials and manufacturing processes. The American Soldier and Marine going into battle today has technologically advanced, rigorously tested combat equipment. This case study centers on combat helmets, which provide Soldiers skull and brain protection against both ballistic threats (i.e., bullets) and blunt impact forces, and prevent mild traumatic brain injury and concussions. The combat helmets that Soldiers and Marines wear into battle show a constant improvement in performance over time. This improvement in performance has been the result of advances in material research and manufacturing techniques. Advances in material research provided the opportunity to increase ballistic protection at a reduced weight. The ballistic aramid technology allowed helmets to provide not only fragmentation protection from explosions but also small caliber hand gun protection at a reasonable weight. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. Army Research Lab, the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command, and commercial industry teamed to mature the next generation of ballistics materials, resulting in the development of high molecular weight polyethylene (HMWPE) ballistics fibers that could be weaved into fabrics with application to combat helmetsﾗresulting in reduced weight and greater ballistic capability. The application of HMWPE to helmets allowed the Army to consider the following basic options for the new helmet requirements: (1) maintain the protection levels of the current helmets with a reduced weight of up to 20% or (2) increase the protection levels but maintain (or increase) the weight of the helmet. Part 1 of the case focuses on the decision to initiate the ECH program. Guidance from the warfighting community and senior leaders was clear: the top priorities were maximum protection and weight reduction. Specifically, the ECH had to address the rifle threat, be fielded as quickly as possible, and reduce the weight on Soldiers and Marines in combat. In this part of the case, program management professionals can compare the various courses of actions developed for the initiation of an ECH effort with the actual ECH program. Valuable insights can be gleaned as lessons learned. It may be possible to avoid strategy pitfalls, and project management teams may be better able to manage cost, schedule and performance trade-offsﾗand ultimately deliver capability more successfully. Questions to consider include the following: ﾕ Who are the key stakeholders in the ECH program initiation decision and how should their expectations be managed? ﾕ Would the ECH program be considered a ﾓtechnology pushﾔ or ﾓcapability pullﾔ program, and what are the implications? ﾕ How should the ECH requirements be set? Should increased protection or weight reduction be emphasized? What is the right balance between reductions of Soldier load (combat weight) versus greater Soldier protection? ﾕ How does the Army set testing protocols for the ECH prior to development and manufacturing of a helmet based on a new technology? ﾕ What are the advantages and disadvantages of various acquisition approaches for the development, testing, procurement, and fielding of the ECH? What are the criteria used to compare the alternative approaches? Part 1 of the case offers key fundamental defense acquisition and program management lessons, which include the following: ﾕ All programs are held to the constraints of cost, schedule, and performance. However, programs that involve the application of a new technology inherently include high levels of integration, manufacturability, producibility, and quality risk. These programs should guard against being primarily schedule-driven. Time is required to optimize the requirements and testing protocols and allow the widest possible participation in the program by interested and innovative manufacturers. In this case, an effort that originally planned to field helmets within a year was seeking a production decision almost fours year later. The industrial base suffered as the program settled on a sole-source contracting strategy without the benefits of competition to keep costs and schedules in check. A program that is knowledge-driven from a research and development effort that includes many competitors from the industrial base may have proven more beneficial, and may have had a similar actual schedule timeline. ﾕ Project managers (PMs), decision makers, and senior leaders should be realistic about the risks associated with development efforts that are primarily schedule-driven rather than knowledge-driven. Part 2 of the ECH case study focuses on the decision to actually procure and field the helmets to Soldiers and Marines despite the objections of the testing and medical communities. The ECH program began in early 2009. The Army and the Marine Corps approved urgent requirements based on combat operations and the need for increased protection against enemy rifle threats. The Army and USMC set broad requirements to include a 35 percent increase in fragmentation protection, increased 9mm pistol protection, and rifle threat protectionﾗall at the same weight of the current helmet. After passing testing and four years after program initiation, in the summer of 2013, the ECH was ready for a full rate production decision. The decision would involve significant procurement money to buy and field the ECH. Despite passing testing against the requirements, senior leaders faced a difficult decision because not all key stakeholders interpreted the test results similarly, raising significant safety concerns. Specifically, the testing and medical communities believed that the ECH was not operationally effective or operationally suitable for fielding and that the risk of injury to Soldiers and Marines was unacceptableﾗSoldiers and Marines wearing the ECH could suffer life-threatening skull fractures. Questions to consider include the following: ﾕ Who were the key stakeholders and how should their expectations be managed? ﾕ How does the Army balance the importance of development test data versus field data from helmets that were battle damaged? Should developmental test results or field data carry more weight in decision-making? How can the same development test data be interpreted differently by stakeholders? ﾕ Are the concerns of the testing and medical communities warranted? ﾕ How does the Army address these concerns with Congress, the media, and the American public? ﾕ What are the advantages, disadvantages, and second order implications of various courses of actions for the path forward? What are the decision criteria? ﾕ How do you quantify benefits, such as saving a Soldierﾒs life, and compare these benefits with long-term, potential health problems like concussions or muscular-skeletal neck injuries from the weight of helmets? Part 2 of the case offers key fundamental defense acquisition and program management lessons, which include the following: ﾕ Test data can be interpreted differently by key stakeholdersﾗleading to ambiguity in the decision making process. The PM is in a position to understand not only the business side of the project (cost and schedule) but also the engineering side of the project (technology, testing, and risks). With this knowledge, the PM needs to try to reduce the uncertainty associated with the test data and present an interpretation in an unbiased, rational manner. ﾕ The extension of test data obtained in controlled test environment to relevance in an operational setting needs to be viewed with caution as to its applicability and viewed from the proper perspectiveﾗfrom the perspective of the ultimate customer, in this case the warfighter. ﾕ The cost constraints of projects should not be minimalized, which is particularly hard to do in schedule-driven projects with urgent requirements. ﾕ The recommendation is easier for the decision maker if all the stakeholders are engaged early and often in the process, if their concerns are addressed, and if they have some ownership and buy-in in the path forward; the PM is key to making this happen successfully through effective leadership and communication. The intent of the ECH case study is to encourage project management professionals to analyze a DOD program. Readers become familiar with the evolution of combat helmets, the basics of combat helmet technologies, and helmet testing. Readers then can develop alternative strategies in two areas: (1) project initiation decision and (2) procurement and fielding decision. In both areas, the objective is to enhance critical thinking skills by focusing on the development of recommendations that senior leaders and program decision makers can use. Understanding the environment and key stakeholder management are critical considerations. Leaders can analyze alternative strategies or courses of action against decision criteria. With respect to the project initiation decision, the setting of requirements in the absence of quantitative analysis to underpin realistic values often leads to failed defense acquisition efforts, especially important in the current environment with limited funding, an emphasis on cost consciousness, intense scrutiny on program cost and schedule overruns, and pressures to field new capabilities to the warfighters quickly. Complicating the procurement and fielding decision is considerable ambiguity in the interpretation of test results and the need for balance between acceptable risk, safety, and protection.
NPS Report NumberNPS-AM-17-211
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Mortlock, Robert F. (Monterey, California. Naval Postgraduate School, 2017-07-26); NPS-AM-17-211This Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) case study encourages critical analysis of a U.S. Defense Department project at two key decision points: project start and production. The case centers on the development, testing, and ...
Mortlock, Robert F. (Monterey, California. Naval Postgraduate School, 2018-04-30); SYM-AM-18-084The development, testing, and fielding of combat helmets for United States (U.S.) Soldiers offers project management (PM) professionals an opportunity to analyze how programs begin, how they progress through development ...
Mortlock, Robert F. (Monterey, California. Naval Postgraduate School, 2018-04-30); SYM-AM-18-167The development, testing, and fielding of combat helmets for United States (U.S.) Soldiers offers project management (PM) professionals an opportunity to analyze how programs begin, how they progress through development ...