View Full Version : 'Ironhorse' installs first ballistic protection

09-17-04, 06:31 AM
'Ironhorse' installs first ballistic protection
Submitted by: MCAS New River
Story Identification #: 2004915174512
Story by Mr. Dave Jamieson

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C. (Sept. 13, 2004) -- Marines assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron-461 added another first to “Ironhorse” history Sept. 13 and 14 during vendor-supplied training when they installed the CH-53E Super Stallion’s new Ballistic Protection System on two of their aircraft destined to support Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

Designed to protect the aircraft from small arms fire and blast fragments, the system’s introduction illustrates the evolving mission of the Corps’ heavy lift helicopter, according to Naval Air System’s Mark Bailer, the H-53 in-service aircraft deputy program manager.

“Starting with the mission to rescue Scott O’Grady, we’ve recently seen the CH-53E change dramatically from an aircraft ‘in the rear with the gear,’ to one that’s up front, tactical, and because of it’s speed and range, unescorted in unfriendly territory,” Bailer explained.

The “Ironhorse” Leathernecks also recently deployed to HOA sporting the new ramp-mounted weapons system, featuring the GAU-21, a .50 caliber machine gun, that protects the aircraft’s rear hemisphere.

“These two additions show how the ‘53’s role has evolved throughout the 1990s to the point where it is an assault support platform, with requirements for safety systems to protect it in its new battlefield environment,” said Gunnery Sgt. Dan Hammer, NAVAIR’s RMWS deputy program manager.

Consisting of 37 armor plates installed in the aircraft’s cockpit, cabin and ramp, the system uses a unique matrix of steel and Kevlar to protect against 7.62 mm rounds and blast fragments and adds approximately 1,500 pounds to the aircraft.

Given the heavy-lift capability of the aircraft, the protection offered by the BPS is well worth the added weight, according to Col. Paul Croisetiere, NAVAIR CH-53E program manager.

The system, which costs approximately $91,500 per aircraft, comes in two parts, Bailer explained. Fittings installed permanently in each aircraft to hold the armor plates in place are referred to as the “A-Kit.” The armor plates themselves comprise the “P-Kits.”

To eliminate making costly, time consuming modifications to the ‘53E’s’ airframe, the BPS was designed from the start to mount to the existing airframe, enabling the system to be installed at the squadron maintenance level with a limited amount of training.

Marine Corps Headquarters provided $7.3 million to buy 149 A-Kits and 61 P-Kits from Protective Materials Company of Miami Lake, Fla., according to Bailer. To date, 22 of 24 aircraft in Operation Iraqi Freedom have been modified, while modification of all six aircraft in Operation Enduring Freedom is complete. All attachment kits are scheduled to be delivered by December 2004, followed by the last mission-kit deliveries in February 2005.

Pravin Borkar, PMC program manager for the CH-53E BPS, recently returned from trips to both Iraq and Afghanistan where he was part of the support team training crews to installing the BPS.

“Once a crew is familiar with the system, they can install the permanently mounted brackets that hold the armor in place in six to nine hours and the armor mission kit in an hour,” Borkar said. “In addition, the system is easily maintainable at the squadron level.”

Marines who will be deploying with the added protection seem to appreciate the system’s benefits as well as its ease of installation.

“Because of its capabilities, the ‘53’ is today being employed outside the normal MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) support structure - the ad hoc equipment which may have sufficed in the past will no longer, and we can not count on having our usual escort assets co-located with the squadron or detachments,” said Lt. Col. Frank B. Crisafulli, HMH-461 executive officer.

The BPS will add that extra measure of protection for the aircraft and its occupants so that the supported commander will be able to employ the airframe and realize its fullest potential. This sytem is unique in that it was designed specifically for this airframe. It is portable, light (relatively), easily installed and does not interfere with any of our mission essential tasks. We could not be more pleased with this system,” he added.

Protective Materials Company will be providing a range of services, from product concept and design, prototyping and training to field support in Iraq, concluded Bailer.


The thickness of the sheets of steel used in the Ballistic Protection System shown here with a penny. Photo by: Sgt. Andrew W. Miller


Cpl. James Row, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron-461 airframes mechanic and native of Hill City, S.D., tightens a bolt to a piece of the Ballistic Protection System on a CH-53E Super Stallion on September 13. The BPS was installed in two helicopters enroute to support operations with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Photo by: Sgt. Andrew W. Miller