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Crye Precision AirFrame Helmet
Crye is no stranger to advanced helmet systems, with their involvement in the Objective Force Warrior/Future Force Warrior programs. Crye Precision has been working on their own ballistic helmet design for quite some time before the AirFrame's public debut in 2010. My memory is a bit hazy, but I recall a helmet project being mentioned back in 2005 when I visited the Crye facility in Brooklyn, NY. Crye started out from the ground up with the helmet design, which allowed them to change the geometry and work outside of the box, to come up with a unique, modular solution. Their goal was to reduce as much weight as they could while providing the same amount (or more) of fragmentation/ballistic protection and coverage as the current state of the art helmets.
While helmets have been getting lighter due to advances in material technology, that doesn't mean that the overall load on a soldier's head has also gotten lighter. Like Ops-Core's FAST Helmets, the Crye AirFrame is designed to meet the requirements of today's soldiers who now have to use and integrate a plethora of headgear on the battlefield. A combat helmet may be called upon to do dual duty: perform both as protective gear and also as a load-bearing system. In addition to protective equipment worn on the head, the soldier might have to use night vision, gas masks, communication headsets, illuminators or identification devices, all of which are made by different manufacturers and need to all work together on a soldier's head.
Besides the challenges of providing ballistic protection and comfortable load-bearing, another contributing factor to comfort is heat and ventilation. We all know that a lot of heat loss, or cooling takes place through a person's head. A helmet prevents heat loss to a certain extent from the head under hot conditions, which can contribute to heat-related issues. It was the challenge of making a helmet cooler without compromising ballistic protection that originated the idea behind the AirFrame. As it progressed, other benefits of the design were realized.
Overall Description - The AirFrame helmet is two-part, vented ballistic helmet available in a number of configurations, starting with the base model. The base model is essentially the helmet without the ARC rail or any other add-on accessories. The model shown here has the Ops-Core ARC rail system installed. The particular ARC rail is proprietary to the AirFrame helmet and cannot be used on any other helmet.
The AirFrame weighs 20% less than an ACH 2002 ("Gunfighter Cut") while offering more ballistic coverage, and exceeds ACH fragmentation threats while reducing head-borne weight. Various models are available with different performance characteristics. The AirFrame Helmet has a side-cut configuration that looks to be similar to the OPS-CORE FAST helmets, which are somewhat in-between the MSA MICH TC2001 and TC2002 'Gunfighter' helmets. The sides of the AirFrame do not cover the ears so there is no interference with communications headsets or hearing protection. The AirFrame is painted in a matte, non-glare, untextured finish which allows adhesive Velcro® to stick better than the rough textured surfaces. The edges of the shells are protected by an edge band.
The Airframe is currently available in MD and LG sizes. XL will be coming soon.
AirFrame Shell - The two-piece AirFrame shell is probably its most distinctive characteristic. Instead of the usual one-piece shell, the Airframe has separate front and rear shells. The two-piece design with an air vent was originally conceived to address the issue of ventilation/cooling on ballistic helmets. Putting holes or vents in the shell of a ballistic helmet obviously creates some risk, as it's always possible that very small fragments can enter through those openings and hit the wearer's head. Crye, however, came up with a solution that allows for passive cooling/ventilation without putting the wearer's head in line with the trajectory of any projectiles that might come through the openings.
The front shell has a larger diameter than the rear shell, and overlaps it just behind the top of the head. The area of overlap actually offers double protection. The front and rear shells are joined by four screws. The two shells are separated by a small vent gap at their juncture by small spacers at each screw location that create the gap. An obvious question would be: can fragments enter the helmet through that vent and cause injury? The gap is small enough (less than 0.2") and the shells overlap such that a projectile does not have direct passage through the gap to the wearer's head. While it's possible for a small fragment or projectile to enter that vent at the exact angle of the opening, it will typically strike the interior of the helmet and either be absorbed inside the shell or trace the interior until exiting the shell. At any other angle, the fragment will strike the exterior shell. Like anything that Crye does, this concept/design has been tested thoroughly before fielding.
Coverage - The 2-part shell design allows more coverage of the occipital region of wearer’s head compared to traditional helmets. Unlike the vent, this extra protection may not be obvious when looking at the helmet until one compares the profile to an ACH for instance. A projectile that would definitely impact the back of the head when wearing a traditional shell (of the same coverage area) will instead be caught by the 2-part AirFrame shell. A limited potential risk (of a projectile entering the vent) is traded for known benefits in ballistic coverage, cooling, and weight. The Large AirFrame has the same ballistic area as the TC2002 but the interesting part is that the AirFrame provides 107.4 sq inches of projected coverage on a wearer’s head, whereas Large 2002 cut only only provides 100.9 sq inches of projected coverage on a wearer’s head. The AirFrame actually provides over 7 more sq inches of ballistic protection just by wrapping the same amount of material closer to the head in the rear. For reference, a large full-ear ACH provides 110 sq inches of projected coverage. That’s only 2.6 sq inches of difference between the full ear ACH and the AirFrame with no EARS. The large AirFrame with EARS=117.4 sq inches of projected coverage. The large AirFrame with CHOPS=139.4 sq inches of projected coverage.
Manufacturing Advantages - Another advantage of the two piece construction is realized during the manufacturing process. By making the shell out of two separate pieces, each shape becomes much simpler to manufacture than a one piece shell. Imagine taking a sheet of wrapping paper and trying to wrap a basketball. In order to wrap a rounded/hemispherical shape with a flat sheet of non-elastic material, you either have to fold/crease it with darts or cut different shaped panels (like slicing an orange into equal pieces vertically) and join them together to minimize overlap, folding or wrinkling. Also note that helmets are not actually a perfect hemispherical shape; they're made of compound curves that can present challenges in material layup and forming/molding. By essentially slicing the helmet in half, the front and rear shells create simpler geometry that allows for ballistic solutions that eliminate the folds, excessive stretching, overlaps or darting in the ballistic fiber. This enables the solution to be optimized and redundant ballistic fiber eliminated. Fewer layers of material can be used and different combinations of materials, like aramid fibers or polyethylene can be customized to suit customer needs. The model shown here is a combination of UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) and carbon fiber. The inside and outside of the shell is carbon fiber material - much like what the OPS-CORE BUMP shell is made of.
As mentioned above, another advantage of the two-piece construction is that it allows greater wrap-around at rear of the head, providing better coverage at the back of the neck. You'll notice that most helmets don't curve inwards and follow the shape of the back of the head - instead they go straight down or even flare out. This is mainly because of the limitations of molding a one-piece helmet shell - the mold has to be able to release the shell, and any wrap-under may prevent it from doing so. This also keeps the CG (Center of Gravity) closer to the natural CG of the head, reducing fatigue and improving long-wearing comfort.
Ballistic protection - The current AirFrame Helmet was built to a specific threat and weight requirement requested by the original customer it was developed for. It was designed specifically to provide significantly improved frag protection with significantly reduced weight. Its frag performance is about 20% better than the ACH, with an average of 20% in weight reduction. An aramid-based AirFrame is also currently being produced; the AirFrame ATX. This was produced to offer a less-specialized option that meets all the typical helmet requirements. Meeting certain requirements that do not directly improve the ballistic performance, like crush & long term durability, generally add weight and can even reduce ballistic performance. For the original requirement, several of these concerns were intentionally sidelined to achieve the customer’s main goals. The AirFrame ATX meets the full traditional requirement set while still improving frag performance and reducing weight (compared to ACH). Though not available just yet (at the time of this writing), this model is slightly heavier than the polyethylene-based original and frag v50’s are not quite as high as the original, but it exceeds the traditional specs that most units are required to follow and does so in a lighter, more functional package.
As mentioned above, the amount of ballistic or impact protection can be tailored according to customers' needs, by using different material 'recipies' to manufacture different shells. Crye can make a rifle-rated shell for the front, and attach it to a standard rear shell, where a full rifle-rated helmet might be too heavy.
Ops-Core Head-Loc Retention
system - The Crye AirFrame helmet utilizes Ops-Core's
excellent Head-Loc Retention system
- specifically, the H-Nape system. It was designed from years of input
and testing from operators in the USSOCOM community, whose requirements
demanded NVG stability and multiple environment versatility.The H-Nape
system is three times more stable under rotational forces than the
standard issue system. The Head-Loc uses custom-woven, 0.6"-wide
webbing which is very supple for comfort against the skin. It has
custom plastic hardware designed for the lowest possible profile.
The Head-Loc adjustment tabs (triglides) have teeth which lock their
position along the webbing when the helmet is in use, and can be used
when wearing gloves. They slide easily along the webbing both ways
to loosen or tighten the adjustments, and then stay in the position
you want. By using these tabs for adjustment, the Head-Locs eliminate
loose ends of webbing, Velcro and elastic keepers.
Pad System - The inside of the AirFrame shell is dotted with hook Velcro® die-cut circles for the installation of any Velcro®-compatible removable/interchangeable pads. The AirfFrame is supplied with two Crye 'Hit Pads' and six Team Wendy 'Zorbium' helmet pads, all 3/4" thick. Any combination can be used for proper fitting. If a headset with headband is going to be used, the top pads are positioned with a gap between them for the headband. Most other pad brands can be used, including any of Ops-Core's pads, Skydex, Oregon Aero, Gentex etc.
Ops-Core ARC Rail System - An option on the Crye AirFrame is the ARC (Accessory Rail Connector) rail shown here, licensed from Ops-Core. It utilizes the ARC Rail Architecture and provides an attachment interface for an oxygen mask, NVG retention bungee cords, and cable management tie-downs. There is a channel on top of the rail where cables or wires can be routed and secured using small plastic tie-straps, as shown in the photo below.
It's similar to the rail on the Ops-Core FAST helmet and ACH-ARC kit, except that it doesn't have the lower rear rail. It is only compatible with the AirFrame helmet. The rails are made of glass-reinforced nylon, and are secured to the helmet at the front and rear chin strap mounting points. The rails are very low profile; adding only 0.25" to the max width on each side, and have no sharp corners or edges to minimize clearance and snag hazards. The rails have dovetail slots into which Ops-Core accessory rails are slid into. There are vertical locking slots and outer detents molded into the rail as well. The AirFrame ARC rail provides mounting space for rail-mounted accessories like low-profile lights, video camera etc. The corner just to the rear of the rail has a buckle receiver for gas and O2 mask strap kit attachments, eliminating the bulk and clutter of traditional bayonet style mounts. The ARC dovetails accept the Ops-Core locking and rotating adapters that utilize emergency break-away features for airborne operations. Some of them include a picatinny adapter and wing-loc adapter, circular single (22mm) and dual (21mm) camera and light adapters, and a SureFire X200/X300 adapter. Even if the rails aren't immediately needed or used often, they do offer some benefit by providing some impact protection for the sides of the helmet, and are light weight enough so that their added weight goes unnoticed by the wearer.
BISS-NVD Lanyard - The BISS-NVD lanyard bungees that extend from the bottom front of the ARC rail on each side are intended to work with a variety of NV products including monocular and binocular devices. The lanyard is a short length of elastic bungee cord with a small hook on the end. Earlier models had clips, but the hooks are easier to use. When attached to the NVD or mount, they put tension on the device, taking out most of the vibration and rattle that is resident in NV mounts. When not needed, the ends hook conveniently to the ARC corner buckle interface.
Ears - One of the criticisms of 'side cut' helmets is that they leave the area over the ears unprotected. Users have to choose between compatibility with comms headsets or hearing protection and ballistic protection over the ears. The AirFrame helmet offers a solution to that problem by offering scalable and modular protection. 'Scalable' means that the protection can be installed or removed as dictated by need. The solution involves two molded ballistic panels simply called 'Ears' that are easily attached and can be removed with one hand if need be. The Ears consist of the ballistic outer panel and the inner nylon attachment panel. The Ears provide the same ballistic protection as the helmet shell, and exceed the ACH fragmentation spec. The nylon panel has a tab that is inserted into a corresponding receptacle on the inside of the helmet. To remove it, the center locking tab is pressed and the Ears slid out of the receptacle. The rear of the nylon panel slides into a groove between the outside of the helmet shell and the ARC rail. The Ears are compatible with most low profile headsets like the Sordin Supreme Pros pictured below. One size fits all AirFrame helmets.
Chops - When the AirFrame was first shown at the SHOT Show in 2010, exclamations of 'Spartan!' were heard from many who saw it with the Chops installed. Aptly named, and evoking images of Greek helmets or Boba Fett, the Chops offer mission-tailorable maxillofacial ballistic protection that doesn't compromise communication, hydration or situational awareness. Also offering the same ballistic protection as the helmet, the Chops can flex on their mounting tab to fit various face shapes and provide fragmentation and blast/flame protection. As with the Ears, one size fits all AirFrame helmets. The Chops extend further forward than the Ears to the temples, and then drop down to provide coverage for the jaw. A gap was left in front, rather than closing it off because testing indicated that having it closed completely interfered with communication, breathing, eating, drinking etc. The eye opening is sized so that it does not limit peripheral vision. The Chops are visible at the very bottom of the field of view just in front of the mouth, but since they're close to the face, and don't stick out far, they are far from obtrusive and go mostly unnoticed under normal use. The Chops are compatible with most goggle systems as well.
The Chops attach in exactly the same manner as the Ears, and the nylon tab allows them to flex in and out a certain amount. Contrary to my initial assumption when I first saw them, you can shoot a rifle with the Chops installed and the cheek weld isn't half as bad as I imagined it'd be. The Chops have a subtle concave shape molded into them that help get a rifle stock closer to the cheek. Also note that you don't have to install both Chops at the same time. More on this later.
Mesh cover - Another accessory available for the AirFrame is the mesh cover. This has to be the best-fitting helmet cover I've ever seen, and it's quite a work of art. It's actually made up of nine separate panels, sewn together as necessary to follow the contours of the helmet. Offering a camo cover with a solid coloured helmet is a smart move as it allows the user a low cost option of changing the helmet's colour. It also provides a level of protection for the helmet shell from scrapes. The MultiCam Omega mesh fabric is also something I hadn't seen before, and seems very durable. The Omega mesh fabric is a 100% polyester mesh structural design, with 2mm hole diameter and with high tear resistance. The cover has small slits cut into it for attaching natural foliage and the slits don't seem to unravel even with unfinished edges. Four rows of 550 cord sheath on the top provide additional loops for foliage, as does a horizontal row in the back. The cover has two small Velcro® rectangles at the front, and two larger ones in the rear. The back of the mesh cover wraps around the bottom of the helmet and secures to Velcro® inside. The front has two tabs which wrap under and secure inside the helmet. Inside the mesh cover are sewn additional pieces of Velcro® with supplied Velcro® discs which can be stuck to the shell of the helmet to further secure and position the cover on the helmet. The cover is pretty secure as-is, and they're not really needed unless the cover is being used to stick foliage into, or an NVG counterweight is attached to the Velcro® in the rear. The front Cordura panel has a cutout for an NVG mount; in this case it fits the Ops-Core VAS Shroud. Different cutouts are available for different NVG mounts.
VAS Shroud - The AirFrame is available without holes for night vision mounts, or with the holes pre-drilled in the standard 3-hole WARCOM/SOCOM pattern. The Ops-Core VAS Shroud night vision mount shown here is sold separately from the AirFrame helmet. It is constructed of aluminum and weighs a scant 1.2 oz (34 grams). It comes in DG2 Urban Tan (shown here), 504 Foliage Green and Black powder coated finishes. It's in the shape of a pentagon, with a slot in the middle for the standard U.S. Army Mount Arm #A3256368, Norotos INVG or AKA2 mount arms, or the Wilcox L4 G24 mount shown here. The VAS Shroud attaches to the AirFrame helmet with stainless steel screws and ballistic T-nuts. It has no sharp edges or protrusions to snag, and is snag free for HALO, HAHO or static line use. It's shaped to conform to the curvature of the helmet shell, which ensures a stable platform. It is the lightest, lowest profile, least obtrusive and least expensive semi-permanent NVD mounting solution currently available. Also pictured is the new Princeton-Tec Remix Pro MPLS which clicks into the VAS.
General Observations and notes - With its vented, two-part shell, the AirFrame presents a unique profile unlike that of any other ballistic helmet on the market today. When I first saw it back at SHOT 2010, I wondered whether the extra width of the front shell would pose any bulk issues, since it's wider than the rear in order to overlap it. It's a bit wider than most side-cut helmets, but not by much (0.5" to 0.75"), and the width is on par with standard, non side cut helmets like the ACH/TC 2000 and TC 2002. It has a flatter front profile, and isn't as 'domed' as a standard helmet. Just out of curiosity, I measured the width, and it came in at 9" at the widest point; same as my Gentex TBH non-side cut helmet.
While most non side-cut helmets flare out over the ears to accommodate headsets, the Airframe's wider front shell does it without flaring out at the sides. If you look at the pics, the front shell of the AirFrame is a bit wider than the tops of the Sordin headset. This allows the AirFrame to offer the option of adding on low profile ear and maxillofacial ballistic protection while still accommodating the headset, and without those attachments adding to the original width of the helmet.
As far as fitment and adjustment, the Crye AirFrame helmet is for the most part conventional. The process involves arranging the pads to the user's preference through trial and error until a comfortable fit is obtained. I actually experimented with a few different kinds of pads and found that the Ops-Core pads work pretty well, especially if additional stability is desired for use with NODs. The Ops-Core Head-Loc retention system is the same as reviewed previously, and is easy to adjust.
Since the front shell overlaps the rear shell, there's an internal 'step' where they overlap, and the rear shell sits closer to the head than the front one. This 'step' provides more than enough space for the headband of a headset; in this case, my Sordin Supreme Pros. When wearing the AirFrame with a headset, the correct pad thickness should be chosen so that the side cut of the helmet is just above the ear cups of the headset, and that the helmet doesn't sit too low and squeeze the tops of the earcups. The earcups are not supposed to fit inside the helmet. Once I figured out the proper configuration of the pads, it was a breeze putting the AirFrame over the Sordins, with no fiddling necessary. It helped to loosen up the Head-Loc straps and hold them out of the way when donning the helmet, then snug them up afterwards. The ride-height that worked for me was with the front lip of the helmet just over my eyebrows, to ensure clearance for my eyewear.
Since the rear shell wraps around the head at the rear, it presents a lower profile and doesn't stick out as much so it's less likely to have interference with equipment or a pack when in the prone position, or bang on doorways and such in close quarters and vehicles. I didn't notice any interference or contact with the rear of the Crye Chassis in any position; even when prone with the head tilted back. The AirFrame allows for full mobility in both tilt and rotation.
Comfort and Stability - The AirFrame has the Ops-Core Head-Loc H-nape strap retention system, which offers better stability and comfort than the standard ACH strap system. I did a bit of walking around at night with a AN/PVS-14 mounted to the VAS shroud. I found that using a couple of the dual-density Ops-Core pads helped increase stability over the supplied pads, as they're harder. The AirFrame comes with Crye and Team Wendy pads, but they can be swapped out with any other. The AirFrame basically feels like a standard ACH with Head-Loc retention system. The difference comes from the weight reduction from materials and geometry (about 20% depending on the helmet and cut), and vented design (also about 10%-20% reduction in heat inside the helmet, depending on conditions). Vents do help keep under-helmet temperatures down through passive cooling, as evidenced by all the vented non-ballistic helmet designs out there. Whether the individual can notice any benefits will of course depend on the individual and operating environment, but I think that any heat dissipation in hot climates is a good thing. Conventional, solid helmets can trap heat in the top, while the vented design allows the heated air to rise and escape through the ventilation gap between the front and rear shells, thus aiding transpirational cooling, especially in hot, dry climates. The airflow also means less fogging of eyewear and goggles. It's been nice weather when I've used the helmet, so I haven't tried it in really hot temperatures yet. That being said, the top of the helmet inside doesn't trap warm air like a regular helmet does - I noticed this when swapping back and forth with the Gentex TBH.
Ears & Chops - The Ears and Chops install and remove very easily by sliding their tab into the receptacle inside the helmet and lining the rear with the groove between the ARC rail and shell. They can be removed with the helmet mounted on the head. It's possible to install them with the helmet on the head, but I just find it easier to take the helmet off, slide them on then put the helmet on again, instead of trying to do it by feel. With the Ears installed, coverage is similar to the standard ACH, and I don't notice much of a difference in hearing with and without the Ears installed. I tried it with the Ears installed on one side and none on the other, and it's barely noticeable. I did notice a small difference with the Chops, but again, not much. This was with normal hearing; no headset. With a headset and the Chops, I couldn't tell the difference as the microphone of the Sordins are not covered by the Chops, but are just below them.
As far as vision goes, I didn't feel that the Chops restricted my peripheral vision or field of view negatively. Having the opening at the front also contributes to a more 'open' feeling while still allowing the unobstructed use of a hydration tube, normal speech and eating.
The big question I had (and everyone who saw them), was 'can you shoot properly with the Chops installed?' The answer is 'yes'. The Chops themselves are rigid, and do not flex at all. They're like small pieces of the helmet shell. They can, however, flex on their mounting tabs, which also helps when putting on the helmet over a headset. They'll flex a bit outwards or inwards. When shouldering the rifle as normal, a slight cant inwards (or, a tilt of the head) puts a standard height sight in front of the eye. The Chop is sandwiched between the stock and pressed up against the cheek, and only adds its thickness of about .3". Don't get me wrong - it's not as comfortable or convenient as shooting without the Chops, but it's definitely doable once you figure out what you need to do to adapt, and practice that way. One thing that I thought would help would be to overmold the Chops with rubber so that they don't slide against the stock, for a more secure cheek weld, and it'd be quieter when you bang the stock against it. Crye has some die-cut rubber stickers in the works, specifically for this purpose.
The user also has the choice of installing the Ears on the rifle side and the Chops on the other side, if normal cheek weld with a weapon is a priority. It might look a little weird, but the option is there. The Chops and Ears are light weight enough so that installing only one won't result in the helmet being lopsided from weight imbalance.
The study and use of the AirFrame helmet makes it evident that Crye has thought this concept through quite thoroughly, and examined the different requirements and configurations that the end user might need. By making separate front and rear shells, this enables Crye to produce and assemble a helmet with different ballistic properties at the front than the rear, offering modularity and tailorability over one-piece shells. The Ears and Chops offer the end user armoured scalability, depending on the mission, in one modular package; instead of having multiple helmets with different head coverage. All this in a helmet that is lighter and cooler than the current standard ACH. With the AirFrame, Crye has again raised the bar.
Crye Precision Jumpable Plate Carrier (JPC)
4/20/11 - The Crye Precision JPC (Jumpable Plate Carrier) caused quite a buzz when it was unveiled at the 2010 SHOT Show. Some changes have been made since then, and the updated production version was shown at the 2011 SHOT Show. The JPC is an extremely light weight, packable, minimalist plate carrier that weighs just over one pound. Even so, Crye has been able to incorporate features into its design that many more complex plate carriers don't have.
Overview - The Crye JPC (Jumpable Plate Carrier) is a very light weight, low profile carrier capable of carrying front, back and side plates (optional). It has an integral top admin pocket and mag pocket in the front flap which can carry 3 M4-type magazines. It utilizes Crye's patent-pending AirLite skeletal cummerbund system. Originally, the JPC was conceived as a 'slick' plate carrier designed to fold up and pack into as light (about 3/4 lb) and flat a package as possible that could be easily stowed in a bag when jumping (out of an airplane). It had no PALS webbing nor cummerbund. The current version as we see it now is what evolved out of the original - with additional features and load bearing capability, while still being as light as possible. The weights of the JPC are: small 1.2 lbs, medium 1.3 lbs, large 1.4 lbs and extra large 1.5 lbs. It's available in MultiCam, Coyote and Ranger Green.
Jumpable Plate Carrier Components
Front Plate Bag- The front JPC plate bag is made from a combination of materials. 500D Cordura is used for the construction of the front panel. The inside panel has a 330D Cordura center strip, with stretch woven fabric to either side of it, which ensures that plates of different thicknesses, and level IIIA soft in-conjunction inserts can be accommodated while keeping the fit snug. The plate bags are sized to fit SAPI or stand-alone operator cut or swimmer cut plates. At the inside top if a rectangle of black mesh. The mesh material is thick, yet soft, and provides a measure of ventilation at the top of the plate, right where you usually get sweaty. It also helps cushion the top of the part of the plate where it sits against your upper chest, for added comfort.
As I'm a smaller guy, I usually use a medium-sized plate in front for better mobility, and a large in the back. The front plate bag shown here is for a medium SAPI plate or stand-alone plate. The plate bags are available for different plate sizes (Sm, Md, Lg, Xl) and will accommodate most 'operator cut' plates. In case you are not using a stand-alone plate, there's enough room in the plate bag to place a Level IIIA soft insert behind the plate.
The plate bag opens at the bottom for insertion of the plate with a Velcro-secured flap. There is a pull tab in the middle of the flap which opens the flap and drops the plate if it has to be ditched. The pull tab can be tucked away inside the plate bag if that feature is not needed. The side panels of the plate bag are made of a stretch-woven fabric. These allow the plate bags to expand at the sides to provide a snug fit for the plate.
The front flap is lined with Velcro underneath, to which the cummerbund ends wrap around and attach. The bottom row of velcro is also a row of PALS webbing, which serves as a mounting point for a groin protector or other accessories. The front flap doubles as an M4 magazine pouch, and can hold three thirty round magazines. It will fit USGI mags, PMags and Tangodown ARC mags. The magazines are separated by internal elastic dividers, and elastic shock cord with pull tabs are used for retention (these can be removed). On the front of the flap are three rows and six columns of PALS webbing. There is a large loop Velcro surface inside the mag pocket that allows users to adhere standard Velcro coins on mags for extra retention. When not in use, the top of the mag pockets are held shut by internal Velcro and the pocket lays flat. When filled with mags, the sides of the flap does pull away a bit from the Velcro under it since it's a flat pocket that now has an item inside it. This does not affect the functionality or security of the Velcro keeping the front flap secured. There are two 1" common loops sewn at each side of the plate bag, in line with the top and bottom of the flap. These are used for attaching the side plate pockets to.
On the upper portion of the front plate bag is an 'admin pocket'. This is velcro-closed on the top, and has three elastic loops inside, suitable to pens, chemlights, or pistol mags. It's actually a pretty deep pocket, and at the bottom inside is a drain hole. There are also two rows of PALS webbing on the front of the pocket, with velcro covering the center portion for patches/ID.
Rear Plate Bag and Cummerbund - The rear plate bag is of the same construction as the front plate bag - 500D and 330D Cordura, and stertch woven fabric. There's also the mesh ventilation/comfort window at the inside top. Like the front plate bag, the rear fits standard SAPI or similarly-shaped plates. The rear plate is inserted into the rear plate bag through a bottom opening with a Velcro flap that has the same pull tab in the middle for dropping the plate if necessary. The outside face of the rear plate bag is covered in six rows of MultiCam PALS webbing.
The distinctive and unique AirLite cummerbund is a skeletonized version of a PALS-covered panel. It's missing the base fabric sheet and instead, the PALS webbing 'stand alone' by themselves, leaving the rows between them open. Each row is made up of two pieces of webbing with a thin stiffening material sandwiched between them. This adds stiffness for supporting pouches. On the inside, the center row of webbing is covered in velcro which helps secure the side plate pockets. The skeletonized design of the AirLite cummerbund allows pouches to be mount on the outside and inside of the cummerbund, while shedding unnecessary weight and bulk, and improving ventilation.
A column of webbing sewn vertically on each side of the rear plate bag form three loops through which the three rows of the cummerbund webbing pass through. Thick elastic shock cord is laced through the end loops of the cummerbund and the bottom three row of PALS webbing. The girth of the cummerbund is adjusted by lacing the cummerbund ends further to the outside or closer to the center of the rear plate bag. For me, the cummerbund rows actually overlap. There's a lot of available adjustment; more so than a velcro-flap type setup, so only one size of cummerbund will fit most people. The shock cord also allows some expansion, which helps when putting the plate carrier over bulkier clothing or for unrestricted breathing. It also keeps the plate carrier snug and stable.
There's also a ladder lock buckle sewn on each side of the plate bag, for using a single strap instead of the cummerbund, if an even more 'minimalist' setup is desired.
Shoulders - The distinctive-looking JPC shoulder straps are made of die-cut hypalon, and are very low profile. They're sewn into the corners of the front and rear plate bags and overlap each other, with mating velcro surfaces. There's a lot of adjustability as the straps are long, but they are stitched at intervals to allow the excess length to be trimmed off, which I did. The overlapping straps are covered with a stretch-woven sleeve, with velcro one-wrap loops for securing hydration hoses and cables.
Side Plate Pouches - The JPC Side Plate Pouches are available as accessories for the JPC and allow the user to quickly up-armour the JPC. They're made of stretch-woven fabric and are extremely light weight. They're made to fit 6" x 6" rifle side plates. Crye's patent-pending attachment system utilizes velcro-backed straps with four rows of webbing. The velcro keeps the straps secured, and from slipping through the webbing after being woven through the PALS webbing on a vest. The pouches can mount to the JPC in two different orientations - with the attachment straps horizontal or vertical. With the straps horizontal, they attach to the plastic common loops on the front plate bag. The velcro on the outside of the pouch then interfaces with the velcro on the inside of the center row of webbing on the cummerbund, keeping it in place. When positioned with the straps vertical, the pouch is attached to either the inside (shown below) or outside of the cummerbund. Attaching it to the inside allows other pouches to be mounted to the outside of the cummerbund. The plate pouches can be attached to any PALS webbing, on any other plate carrier this way.
Donning/doffing and initial adjustment - The JPC is pretty conventional when it comes to donning/doffing. The front flap is lifted up, the cummerbunds are brought around to the front and positioned on the front plate bag, then the front flap is closed. Initial adjustment entails figuring out the ride height desired, and adjusting the overlapping velcro surfaces on the shoulders, and girth adjustments, accomplished by loosening or tightening the shock cord lacing at the back. The shock cord can be laced different ways to make smaller adjustments. I adjusted the girth so that when worn with a t-shirt, it's snug, but not tight. This way, I can put it over a thicker layer, like a jacket, and utilize some of that stretch in the shock cord. The position of the cummerbund under the front flap can also be varied by an inch or two each, to make it tighter or looser.
As shown below, the JPC presents a very low profile, especially over the shoulders. There's a medium CPC plate in the front and a large SAPI plate in the rear, both with in-conjunction plate backers. The side plate pouches are mounted on the inside of the cummerbund, vertically, which I preferred to attaching them to the front plate bag. It's low profile enough to wear under a loose-fitting jacket, or over a concealment soft armour vest if additional protection is desired. For reference, I'm 5' 7", about 155 lbs, and this is the JPC with medium front plate bag and large rear plate bag shown below.
Observations and notes - For a 'minimalist' plate carrier, the JPC actually offers quite a bit in terms of built-in capability and expandability. Don't get the wrong impression that since it's such a feather-weight plate carrier that it can't be loaded up - it'll carry a full compliment of gear quite well. The practically-sized admin pocket in the front (many are too shallow), plus three-mag pocket in the flap allows the user to carry spare pistol mags and three M4 mags without having to add a single pouch to the JPC. This cuts down on added weight and bulk from pouches. Since it's a flat pocket, items should be limited in size and not too bulky, or the pocket will be too tight.
I was originally a bit skeptical of the AirLite cummerbund the first time I saw it, but that skepticism went away when I examined it. The hidden stiffening material in the webbing provides the stiffness necessary to support pouches mounted to the grid. The additional benefit from this design is that it provides ventilation on the sides that a solid cummerbund doesn't. The AirLite cummerbund so light weight and low profile that even if the user isn't planning on attaching any pouches on the sides, I'd leave it on. Unless packability is the priority, I don't really see much benefit to swapping the cummerbunds out with a single strap or elastic-type cummerbund as the AirLite cummerbund, even if unused, adds a measure of stability to the JPC - more so than a single strap on the sides. It helps prevent any up-and-down shifting of the front and rear plate bags relative to each other. Plus, if you need to quickly add the side plate pouches, you can do it in a jiffy.
Keeping in line with the intent of the JPC, I loaded it up minimally at the range. Two or three extra Glock mags in the top admin pocket, and three M4 mags in the flap. This kept the profile low, and the front less bulky, which was a benefit when shooting from prone. I also attached an Eagle canteen pouch in the back with a 1-qt Source Hydration Kangaroo Collapsible Canteen. The Emdom URS provided a simple sling for my rifles, attached to the rear webbing.
There's enough tension across the front flap to keep the rifle magazines relatively snug in there, even without the elastic shock cord retention, so I usually just left them to the side of the mags. None of my mags slipped out when shooting from prone or side prone, or running. The Crye CPC flap has a similar setup, and I really like being able to carry additional mags in the flap and have singles across the front.
Since the JPC shoulder strap are unpadded, they're not a comfortable as some carriers with padding on the shoulders if the carrier is fully loaded up with a lot of stuff and you're wearing it for a long time. They were designed for the lowest profile possible. If padding is desired, generic shoulder pads can be installed on the JPC shoulder straps. But, if you're planning on using this as a fully loaded plate carrier, then maybe the CPC or Crye Chassis might be a better choice. When considering the JPC, think 'light, low profile and fast'.
Normally, I'd use a plate carrier without plates in it, as they make less-than-optimal load carrying platforms due to the looseness and floppiness of the plate pockets without plates in it. However, the built-in load carrying capability of the JPC, its light weight, and ease at attaching a hydration pouch on the back prompted me to try it with only Level IIIA plate backers (soft armour inserts). The plate pockets have the elastic sides, so aren't too loose on the soft armour inserts. I tried it out a couple of times at the range and found it preferable to my chest rigs - more comfortable, lighter weight, more stable with my rifle attached to the shoulder, with the additional protection of the soft armour inserts (which I can't have with a chest rig only) when shooting steel plates. I would not use it without the plate backers, though - the pockets would then be too loose.
Quite a few different light weight plate plate carriers have been introduced to the market since the JPC was unveiled, with most using light weight materials and striving to create as low a profile as possible. Even so, the JPC becomes the one to beat in the light weight/low profile category, and provides yet another viable option for the consumer to choose from.
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