Research performed in the Helmet Laboratory at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, Soldier Center has led to a revolutionary new combat helmet (photo credit: U.S. Army).

Posted on March 6, 2023 | Completed on January 19, 2023 | By: Travis J. Kneen

What are the emerging technologies and ideal ballistic materials to maintain lightweight capabilities for rifle-rated helmets?

With the recent release of the Security Forces NextGen Helmet 2.0 by the Air Force Security Forces Center, the Defense Systems Information Analysis Center (DSIAC) was asked to determine if there are emerging materials/technologies for rifle-rated helmets.  The currently available lightweight polyethylene (PE) ballistic shells are usually rated IIIA by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and are tested to stop up to 124-grain, 9-mm full metal jacket rounds at a nominal velocity of 1,400 ft/s (should also stop 240 grain .44 Magnum rounds at 1,400 ft/s).  While these helmets can weigh less than 2 lb, many rifle-rated (NIJ >IIIA) helmets weigh more (and cost more) due to the materials, lay-up processes, and processing required to stop the larger energies (~2,000-3,000 ft-lb) inflicted by rifle rounds.  DSIAC identified the “tip of the spear” research organizations within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) performing the low-to-mid technology readiness level research and development as the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Soldier Center at Natick, Program Manager – Special Operations Force Survival Support Equipment Systems at Natick, and Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico.  DSIAC connected the inquirer with subject matter experts from the Soldier Center’s Ballistic and Blast Protection and Integrated Multi-Threat Headborne System groups for further discussions.  Two manufacturers, Gentex/Ops-Core and Avon Protection, were identified as having relevant, currently available rifle-rated helmets and have supplied helmets to the DoD previously, though it is noted that other manufacturers exist.  Though no helmet is currently within the desired weight requirements (it is noted that for ballistic helmets, areal density is a better measurement), there are helmets available weighing about 3 lb made from PE matrix composites.

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