Did A.J. Hughes Screw the Troops?

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In a solid piece of investigative reporting, WHEC of Rochester, New York reports that local firm A.J. Hughes Screw Products may have supplied defective screws for combat helmets.

I-Team 10 Investigative Reporter,  Brett Davidsen, reports that the now defunct A.J. Hughes Screw Products was sub-contracted by Gentex Corporation to make parts for Army and Air Force helmets.   According to court filings unearthed by WHEC investigative reporters,  A.J. Hughes was subcontracted to supply screws that attach the chin strap of the Advanced Combat Helmet.   Apparently, the screws didn’t meet specifications and the US Army found that ” in extreme environmental conditions, the non-conforming screws corroded pre-maturely.”

As a result,  the Army recalled about 37,000 of the helmets that were issued to soldiers and airmen. U.S. Army Project Manager of Soldier Protection Colonel William Cole said, “Instead of protecting the soldiers the way it should, there’s a potential you could have a ballistic failure where either there would be a penetration, or more likely, a part of the bolt that would break off and impact the soldier’s skull.”

Retired Army General John Batiste was commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq. “Our troops in harms way deserve the very best…the best equipment that money can buy that we can provide them to protect their lives.”

As SFTT is quoted in the article, this is not the first time defective equipment has been furnished to our frontline troops.   In fact, defective  helmets were recalled when irregularities were found in the manufacture of combat helmets subcontracted to the Federal Prison Industries.    Even more egregious, are DoD efforts to hide the efficacy of body armor issued to US troops.  In fact, SFTT has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to obtain access to autopsy records which may prove that defective body armor and cracked ceramic plates may have been a factor in their deaths.

While “the Army says no one was ever injured as a result of the faulty screw,” how can one be sure?  Those in charge with the procurement process insist that our troops have the best equipment.  Furthermore, they claim that there has never been a failure which contributed to injury or death caused by a defective “screw” or “ceramic plate.”   If true, why do military officials stonewall every public effort to get the facts?  If DoD and military leaders would be more straight-forward with the public and the troops they lead, we would be in a far better position to truly provide our troops with the” best equipment money can provide.”

I-Team 10 investigation: Screwed up Army helmets

Posted at: 11/24/2010 4:53 PM | Updated at: 11/24/2010 7:17 PM

By: Brett Davidsen | WHEC.com

Did a local company put U.S. soldiers at risk?

A.J. Hughes Screw Products was sub-contracted to make parts for Army and Air Force helmets but I-Team 10 has learned that one of the executives from the company is now the target of a federal criminal investigation.

In a war zone, specially designed helmets can be the difference between life and death. But a local company that provided parts for the Army’s advanced combat helmets is under investigation for using lesser quality parts.

Retired Army General John Batiste was commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq. “Our troops in harms way deserve the very best…the best equipment that money can buy that we can provide them to protect their lives.”

A Pennsylvania company called Gentex Corporation was contracted by the U.S. Army to make the helmets. Gentex sub-contracted with A.J. Hughes Screw Products of Rochester to manufacture the screws that attach the chin straps and other parts.

Now, A.J. Hughes is facing allegations it cut corners by using screws that did not meet government requirements.

U.S. Army Project Manager of Soldier Protection Colonel William Cole said, “The fact of the matter is we put out a very specific specifications on what the material has to be and they didn’t follow it.”

As a result, last year the Army recalled about 37,000 of the helmets that were issued to soldiers and airmen. The Army found that in extreme environmental conditions, the non-conforming screws corroded pre-maturely.

While the risk may have been minimal, the Army says the helmets were not as safe as they should have been. Col. Cole said, “Instead of protecting the soldiers the way it should, there’s a potential you could have a ballistic failure where either there would be a penetration, or more likely, a part of the bolt that would break off and impact the soldier’s skull.”

A.J. Hughes is no longer in business. But I-Team 10 has discovered the federal government is preparing criminal charges against the former vice-president of the company, Gregory Tremaine of Spencerport.

Felony information was filed in U.S. district court last week. It accuses Tremaine of making false claims causing the U.S. government to be over-billed by $130,000. The court documents say Tremaine signed certificates of compliance attesting to the fact that the screws met Army specifications.

I-Team 10 went to Tremaine’s home twice to speak with him about the allegations, but no one was there. And his attorney declined to comment.

Gentex has already taken civil action, accusing the screw maker of malicious conduct. It won a default judgement of more than $672,000 when no one from A.J. Hughes responded to the lawsuit.

General Batiste said, “Rochester is a lot of great things and one of them should be the center of ethics and integrity. And this is an example, maybe, where we don’t measure up.”

I-Team 10 also contacted an organization called Soldiers for the Truth whose stated objective is to get the best equipment for the troops the government can provide.

A spokesperson for the group echoed General Batiste’s sentiment but added that unfortunately, this is not the first case of defense contractors not living up to their promises.

As for how the sub-standard screw discovered, the problem was actually discovered by the helmet company, Gentex, when they noticed the screw appeared different. They notified the Army and ultimately provided replacement helmets for the troops at no cost.

The Army says no one was ever injured as a result of the faulty screw.

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MIT study suggests face shields could reduce blast-induced TBI

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A researcher from MIT claims that computer models suggest that face shields added to combat helmets could help reduce blast-induced traumatic brain injury or “TBI” for US military troops serving in combat zones.

Found below is the news release from MIT

QUOTE

MONDAY, NOV. 22, 2010, 3:00 P.M. ET

MIT Study: Adding face shields to helmets could help avoid blast-induced brain injuries

– Researcher releases computer models that show effect of simulated explosions

Simulated Blast Shield

Simulated blast shield (left) and cut-away

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — More than half of all combat-related injuries sustained by U.S. troops are the result of explosions, and many of those involve injuries to the head. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, about 130,000 U.S. service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained traumatic brain injuries — ranging from concussion to long-term brain damage and death — as a result of an explosion. A recent analysis by a team of researchers led by MIT reveals one possible way to prevent those injuries — adding a face shield to the helmet worn by military personnel.

In a paper to be published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Raul Radovitzky, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and his colleagues report that adding a face shield to the standard-issue helmet worn by the vast majority of U.S. ground troops could significantly reduce traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The extra protection offered by such a shield is critical, the researchers say, because the face is the main pathway through which pressure waves from an explosion are transmitted to the brain.

In assessing the problem, Radovitzky, who is also the associate director of MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, and his research team members recognized that very little was known about how blast waves interact with brain tissue or how protective gear affects the brain’s response to such blasts. So they created computer models to simulate explosions and their effects on brain tissue. The models integrate with unprecedented detail the physical aspects of an explosion, such as the propagation of the blast wave, and the anatomical features of the brain, including the skull, sinuses, cerebrospinal fluid, and layers of gray and white matter.

“There is a community studying this problem that is in dire need of this technology,” says Radovitzky, who is releasing the computer code for the creation of the models to the public this week (for the code, please email: tbi-modeling@mit.edu). In doing so, he hopes the models will be used to identify ways to mitigate TBI, which has become prominent because advances in protective gear and medicine have meant that more service members are surviving blasts that previously would have been fatal.

To create the models, Radovitzky collaborated with David Moore, a neurologist at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, who used magnetic resonance imaging to model features of the head. The researchers then added data collected from colleagues’ studies of how the brain tissue of pigs responds to mechanical events, such as shocks. They also included details about what happens to the chemical energy that is released upon detonation (outside the brain) that instantly converts into thermal, electromagnetic and kinetic energy that interacts with nearby material, such as a soldier’s helmet.

The researchers recently used the models to explore one possibility for enhancing the helmet currently worn by most ground troops, which is known as the Advanced Combat Helmet, or ACH: a face shield made of polycarbonate, a type of transparent armor material. They compared how the brain would respond to the same blast wave simulated in three scenarios: a head with no helmet, a head wearing the ACH, and a head wearing the ACH with a face shield. In all three simulations, the blast wave struck the person from the front.

The analysis revealed that although the ACH — as currently designed and deployed — slightly delayed the arrival of the blast wave, it didn’t significantly mitigate the wave’s effects on brain tissue. After the researchers added a conceptual face shield in the third simulation, the models showed a significant reduction in the magnitude of stresses on the brain because the shield impeded direct transmission of blast waves to the face.

Radovitzky hopes that the models will play a major role in developing protective gear not only for the military, but also for researchers studying the effects of TBI in the civilian population as a result of car crashes and sports injuries. While the study was limited to a single set of blast characteristics, future simulations will study different kinds of blast conditions, such as angle and intensity, as well as the impact of blast waves on the neck and torso, which have been suggested as a possible indirect pathway for brain injury.

Source: “In silico investigation of intracranial blast mitigation with relevance to military traumatic brain injury,” by Nyein, M., Jason, A., Yu. L., Pita, C., Joannopoulos, J., Moore, D., Radovitzky, R. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 22 November, 2010.

Funding: The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization through the Army Research Office

Contact: Jen Hirsch, MIT News Office

E: jfhirsch@mit.edu, T: 617-253-1682

# # #

Written by Morgan Bettex, MIT News Office

UNQUOTE

SFTT Analysis

Clearly, this is very exciting information and we have to applaud Raul Radovitzky, his fellow researchers and MIT for sharing the computer modeling simulations with the general public.   Brain injuries are receiving considerable attention by the US Army and the Department of Defense and any improvements in combat helmet designs to reduce brain-related combat injuries  is of the utmost importance to troops serving in harm’s way.

SFTT and its supporters have labored long and hard to make sure our troops have the finest protective gear and combat equipment available.  The fact that better protective gear is available or that the technology exists to dramatically upgrade our existing “kit” doesn’t mean that this state-of-the-art equipment will ever be fielded by our troops.   As we have seen time and time again,  the “best” equipment options are often rejected by a military procurement process that operates with stealth-like secrecy and stonewalls Congress and the public on the efficacy of current combat equipment.

The questions we should all be asking ourselves and, most importantly, our military leaders are these:

  • How fast can current manufacturers of combat helmets produce a face shield based on the  “free” computer simulation information provided by MIT?
  • How fast and easily can a “face shield” be added to the Advanced Combat Helmet (“ACH”)?
  • How long would it take for the US Army and DoD to test combat helmet prototypes using  face shields?
  • Assuming the conclusions of the MIT research are confirmed, how soon can we expect US troops to be equipped with helmets using face shields?

This is a real opportunity for the Department of Defense to take the initiative to provide our troops with a state-of-the-art helmet to avoid the increasing incidence of combat-induced brain injuries that now affect well over 100,000 returning veterans.   The time to act is now!

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Equipping the Soldier of the Future

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The Army Times had an interesting article on Equipping the soldier of the future.  Found below are key highlights of the article and SFTT’s analysis.

Key Highlights and SFTT Analysis:

  • The Army has been pushing to identify gear soldiers need or want, find the best solutions and field them quickly. The result is state-of-the-art gear going from idea to inventory in less than a year. Some of these projects have made their way into the ranks; others are just around the corner. 
  • SFTT is encouraged that progress is being made to develop and field new and improved equipment to front line troops.  More encouraging is that feedback from the deployed force was used to bring about change.  In many respects, SFTT has maintained the leading edge in keeping specific items of equipment on the front burner (i.e. Body Armor, the Advanced Combat Helmet, the M-4 Carbine, the 9mm Beretta, and Combat Boots) and credit is due for applying pressure on policymakers while informing the public on the critical need to improve and/or replace them.
  • SFTT supports the following common-sense improvements:
    •  Tactical Assault Panel – This panel is another key piece of the new combat load. It enables soldiers to carry more magazines with wider distribution – and mobility equals survivability. Eight single pouches can be configured to carry either 10 M4 magazines or six magazines with other gear such as the Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio, or MBITR; the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver, or DAGR; or M14 magazines. The design also reduces the soldier’s profile.
    • Medium ruck – Countless troops gave the same report: The assault packs are too small for longer missions and the 72-hour ruck is too big. The new ruck provides a midsize solution – with added benefits. Its detachable harness allows paratroopers to access the pack after they are rigged for jumping without compromising pre-jump inspections. The ruck is one of more than a dozen pieces of gear that comprise a new combat load issued to troops in, and headed to, the ‘Stan.
    •  New boots – Soldiers headed into theater also get two pairs of Danner boots. But Army officials are expected to select a new boot any day. Three lighter, stronger boots are being evaluated, and the Army is expected to take delivery early in 2011. The modular boot will be optimal for Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, and will have a sock device that can be pulled over it to keep the soldiers’ feet warm without causing them to sweat.
    • ‘Green ammo’ – A 2006 survey of combat vets found enemy soldiers were shot multiple times but were still able to keep fighting. One in five U.S. soldiers polled recommended a more lethal round. The answer is the M855A1 enhanced performance round, also known as “green ammo.” It provides more stopping power at shorter distances. The older round had to get into a yaw dependency for maximum effect. If it hit the enemy straight, it would punch right through them. The new ammo is not yaw dependent. If it hits the enemy, he is going down. The Army plans to produce more than 200 million rounds in the coming year.
    • SFTT will continue to highlight concerns with the current strategy to improve and replace Body Armor and the M4 Carbine – specifically, the need to replace the “plate carrier” which the Services currently aren’t planning to do, and for the services to issue a “better carbine altogether” versus continued modification to the current M4 Carbine platform.
  • The Army Times’ updates on these two programs include:
    • 2nd-Generation Improved Outer Tactical Vest – The 2nd GEN IOTV uses a plate carrier to allow soldiers to shed up to 15 pounds while keeping vital organs protected from 7.62 caliber, armor-piercing rounds. The IOTV still provides protection from flame and shrapnel. The side plate carrier is adjustable to provide better comfort and protection. The soldier’s quick-release cable is covered to prevent it from being caught during egress. The medic cable is contained in a canal to keep it in a comfortable position. This cable enables a medic access to a wounded area without completely removing a soldier’s body armor.
    • New carbine — Soldiers will soon get either an improved M4 or a new, better carbine altogether. The first part of the Army’s dual strategy is to radically overhaul the M4 to give grunts an improved version of the special operations M4A1. This offers a heavier barrel, automatic fire and ambidextrous controls. The next 12,000 M4s will be A1s. Another 25,000, as well as roughly 65,000 conversion kits, will be purchased. The second path challenges industry to come up with a better carbine. No caliber restriction has been placed on a new design. The Army simply wants the most reliable, accurate, durable, easy-to-use weapon. It will be at least a 500-meter weapon and have a higher incapacitation percentage. This weapon also will be modular and able to carry all the existing attachments soldiers use. The winner will selected by the end of 2011, depending on funding.
    • In regards to improvements being made to the Advanced Combat Helmet, which the Army Times did not mention, SFTT is following the industry as it continues to develop prototypes, and will provide updates as they become available.  For the tech-science reader this article from “Composite World” describes a recent effort to develop a prototype that could meet the survivability standards SFTT advocates for.  One caveat is that this prototype is specifically for the shell and does not address padding and the helmet harness, areas that must be improved to mitigate the concussive effects resulting from blast injuries. 
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