This week, we look at interesting developments in the military’s development and refinement of its ballistic helmets. We are very proud of our ATE and MICH helmets, and would put them up against the best helmets out there. You simply can’t find sbetter NIJ III-A-rated helmet for the price that we are able to offer them for, which is why they are the best choice for most military, police and first responders looking to protect themselves against head injuries. But just because there is no such thing as a bulletproof helmet does not mean that there is no room for improvement, and at Hard Head Veterans we like to keep ourselves informed about the newest technological developments the military is making in our field. Today we’re specifically looking at ballistic helmet advancements in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.
Marine Raider training at Atlantic Airfield. Photo Credit Sgt. Donovan Lee/Marine Corps.
The U.S. Marine Corps has commissioned a ballistics study comparing the performance of the Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) with the Ops-Core FAST Helmet. They intend to compare how the mid-cut ECH compares to the high-cut FAST in similar combat conditions. Broadly speaking, high-cut helmets offer less protection around the ears in exchange for a much greater ability to integrate communications gear and attach other gear according to the wearer’s tactical needs and preferences. Check out our high-cut helmet, the ATE, and how it compares with other high-cut helmets in its category.
This May, Marine Corps Systems Command (SYSCOM) awarded Gentex Corp. a contract to provide the helmets for testing, in order to “develop a better understanding of the trade-offs between ballistic protection, situational awareness, and hearing system integration,” according to a statement SYSCOM gave to the Marine Corps Times. This study comes while the Marine Corps is still in the process of phasing out the Lightweight Helmet in favor of the ECH, which is based off of the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) design currently used by the Army. The ECH improves on the ACH in a number of ways, but lacks the above-mentioned tactical flexibility of the high-cut helmet. This flexibility has made high-cut helmets a very popular choice for special forces.
Additionally, SYSCOM has been looking at equipping grunts with new headsets, which might not be ideal for mid-cut helmets like the ECH. The Peltor headset is designed to combine the two crucial factors of hearing protection and communications ability. Traditionally these two imperatives have been in conflict with each other, necessitating a sacrifice of hearing protection in favor of situational awareness. New developments in headset technology have largely mitigated these concerns.
SYSCOM indicates that it is looking to buy between 7,000 and 65,000 headsets in the coming years. They also state that they would like the headsets to be compatible with the ECH, but we think that is unlikely to be the case considering the ECH’s design. The decision to upgrade comms headsets along with demonstrated user preference for a high-cut helmet likely explains SYSCOM’s decision to run ballistics studies on the Ops-Core FAST Helmet.
Marines in a live-fire exercise at Camp Lejeune. Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Justin X. Toledo /Marine Corps.
We think it’s good for the military to constantly test its gear, and find new and better ways of making equipment to protect soldiers in the field. Offering soldiers several options for helmets and other protective gear will allow them to choose the option that works best for their individual tactical needs. We think our ATE helmet stands toe to toe with the best helmets money can buy. We have done the ballistic testing to prove it, and designed it to be compatible with a variety of additional tactical gear. We’ll gladly put our ATE helmet up against the Ops-Core FAST Helmet any day.
The prototype helmet designed by the NSRDEC, designed to be lighter and stronger than previous models. Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez.
The U.S. Army has been conducting research on ballistic helmet materials that will allow them to field a new, lighter helmet to replace the ACH. Researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Natick, Massachusetts have been conducting experiments in the way they process ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE. Side note: UHMWPE is a classic terrible military acronym. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Anyway, UHMWPE is a thermoplastic that is already used in the ECH and the second generation of the ACH. NSRDEC has taken that material and changed the way it is processed, so that the result is a lighter-weight material that offers even more exceptional ballistic protection. Research and development with helmets and body armor has always had to balance the desired level of ballistic protection with the fact that the materials most resistant to bullets are usually quite heavy. These Army scientists claim to be overcoming this problem with the progress in their research with UHMWPE. Check out this video they made explaining their research.
Video Credit: U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center
The NSRDEC prototype helmet is strong enough to protect against fragmentation and rifle fire. Its shell weighs 2.5 pounds and when normally equipped it weighs 3.5 pounds, which is very light for the level of ballistic protection it affords. By comparison it offers the same ballistic protection as the Integrated Head Protection System (IHPS), the futuristic helmet debuted in limited quantities for evaluation earlier this year. However, the NSRDEC prototype helmet is half the weight of the IHPS.
As we have been discussing, weight is one of the most important considerations when designing a high-quality ballistic helmet. Our number one priority is preventing head injuries, but the human head is limited in how much weight it can comfortably carry, and for how long. You know you will really notice the extra weight if you’re on an extended mission, which is why every helmet manufacturer publishes the weight of their helmets for comparison with the competition. Because of this weight consideration, there has always been a ballistic protection trade-off to accommodate the weight limits of the average soldier. As Richard Green, the director of the Soldier Protection and Survivability Directorate at NSRDEC, put it to the Army Times, “There’s kind of a competition between increased threat and weight. We want to protect against increased threat, while minimizing the weight. That’s our goal.” If the NSRDEC research continues to be fruitful, they could revolutionize ballistics materials as we know it.
The NSRDEC’s research into stronger and lighter thermoplastics is still preliminary, and the prototype helmet they recently debuted will not be ready for distribution for some time, at least a year according to NSRDEC estimates. Further testing and refinement is necessary before the Army will start placing order of helmets using the new materials, and it is unclear how long it will take for them to filter down to most soldiers or whether other branches will use them as well. It is also not clear if ballistic helmets made from these materials will be available to non-military personnel like police, firefighters and EMTs. While the research looks promising, we still have a long way to go.