Army Recalls 44,000 Combat Helmets from Field

An advanced combat helmet made by ArmorSource. The Army has recalled 44,000 of the helmets from the field over safety issues and a Department of Justice investigation of ArmorSource.

The Advanced Combat Helmet is one more example of why the American soldier is the best equipped soldier in the world. In addition to state of the art protection against small arms fire, it is fitted with sensors which measure the impact of a blow to the head, providing data that can be used to combat one of the invisible wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: brain injury.

But there's a problem with the ACH - at least with some of them. Last week, the Army recalled 44,000 of them from the field. That's only a fraction (4 percent) of the number of advanced helmets out there, and it's not clear how many of those 44,000 were worn by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those 44,000 were made by one particular company, ArmorSource, and the Army issued the recall order because the company is under investigation by the Department of Justice.

The Army bought 102,000 of the advanced helmets from ArmorSource - out of a total of 1.6 million it has bought since 2002. The Army tests every lot before it accepts the helmets and had received 99,000 of them when it noticed that the paint was peeling. The paint was only a cosmetic issue, but when you pay $250 per helmet, you have bought the right to demand perfection. The Army cancelled the order for the remaining 3,000 helmets, and that would have been the end of the story, except the Justice Department stepped in with an investigation of its own.

It's not clear exactly what information the Justice Department has, but it was enough to convince the Army to conduct a new battery of tests on the helmets made by ArmorSource. The helmets were x-rayed and shot at - and they failed. Army officers insist there were no "lethal" defects - in other words, no soldier wearing an ArmorSource helmet will be killed by a bullet it should have stopped. Nevertheless, the helmet failed to meet specifications, and so the Army recalled the 44,000 helmets which had already been issued to the troops. It will also destroy another 55,000 it has in storage.

David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.