If you served in any kind of infantry capacity in the U.S. military, you know the helmet you wore to an intimate degree, probably with a mixture of nostalgia and hatred—and for some, gratitude for the bullet or piece of shrapnel that didn’t get through.
U.S. doughboys fighting in World War I wore the wide-brimmed M1917 helmet, known as the Brodie helmet in Britain to help protect from enemy sniper fire and the shrapnel and debris raining down on the trenches and forests of Europe, though they didn’t offer much protection.
The remaining WWII veterans alive today have something in common with every vet whose tour of duty began before 1985: They all wore the same “steel pot” M1 helmet, which was in service for more than 40 years. The outer steel shell of the M1 was one-size-fits-all with a hard-hat type liner containing the suspension system adjustable to the user’s head.
After 1985, the steel was sent to the surplus yards and U.S. military combat personnel were issued to Personal Armor System for Ground Troops Helmet (PASGT) with a shell made from 19 layers of bullet-resistant Kevlar rated for Level IIIA protection.
In the years since, the PASGT has been replaced by the Lightweight Helmet for the U.S. Marine Corps and the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet by the U.S. Army, which was later replaced by the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH).
Regardless of which helmet you were issued, they all had a few things in common—they’re heavy, hot, and largely uncomfortable. The Army hopes to cut back on at least two of those detriments with a new bullet-resistant material.
This story from Army Times says the U.S. Army is looking to replace its helmet yet again with one that’s up to 24 percent lighter than the ACH, which has been in service for about 15 years.
The Advanced Combat Helmet Generation II looks pretty much the same as its predecessor, but is made of polyethylene instead of layered Kevlar.
“The goal is to achieve a lighter-weight helmet with equal to or greater protection (than the legacy ACH),” said Maj. Brandon Motte, assistant project manager at Soldier Protective Equipment, in the story.
While an extra large ACH weighs 3.88 pounds without accessories, while an XL Gen II ACH weighs 2.94 pounds—a 24 percent reduction. Small and medium sized helmets will see a 21 percent weight reduction.
It may not sound like a lot, but when you consider soldiers in the field wear their helmets anywhere from 12 to 18 hours at a time, as the story says, any reduction in weight can make a big difference in reducing stress on the body that causes fatigue.
The story says the team from Soldier Protective Equipment is planning to meet with the Defense Logistics Agency next week to figure out how to get the new helmets into the supply chain and begin purging the old ACH helmets.
This could be good for shooters of all kinds, as they might be able to get a legacy ACH helmet on the cheap fairly soon.
Why, you may ask? Well, in addition to having a helmet that can stop a 9mm, tactical helmets are being used by more operators and professionals every day. Recently, New York City spent $7.5 million to outfit NYPD officers with heavier body armor, and ballistic helmets, which can be used for more than protection. Adding rail sections to the helmet can allow users to attach lights and other equipment, as well as optics like night-vision and thermal devices—plus, modern helmets are designs to work with headsets and hearing protection.
As military technology, such as rifle scopes that are wirelessly linked to helmet-mounted optics, become more prevalent and less expensive, they will likely work their way into the sporting world, especially for hog and predator hunters who rely heavily on electronic optics. And if helmets become lighter and more comfortable, you’ll likely see more people wearing them outside the LEO and military community.