COMBAT HELMET ADVANCES ENHANCED PROTECTION
By Bob Morrison
Over the centuries the combat helmet evolved from a protective measure intended to protect against trauma injuries caused by sword and mace to an overhead ballistic shield against artillery shrapnel and debris, though until relatively recently the average helmet issued to frontline troops has actually provided sometimes scant protection against high velocity bullets. In the Twentieth Century most combat helmets were essentially designed for trench or foxhole warfare, where the ballistic threat was likely to be predominantly from above, and it is only in recent years that attention has turned to providing higher protection against blunt trauma injuries resulting from close proximity to IED (improvised explosive device) and countering the lack of protection between the brim of the helmet and top of the ballistic armour vest.
According to a 2009 US Army report on the screening of 3973 personnel of a Brigade Combat Team following their deployment to Iraq, of 1292 reporting an injury 907 had a clinician-confirmed traumatic brain injury (TBI) history. This figure represents over one in four (22.8%) troops in a single combat unit suffering an injury which at best left them with post-operational headache and/or dizziness, with irritability and memory problems persisting and presenting over time, despite of course every soldier being equipped with a ballistic helmet.
To draw a simple analogy with the construction site safety helmet: it should protect the wearer’s skull if a roofing slate is dropped on him or her, but will do little to dissipate the blunt trauma of a bag of cement falling on the head from second floor scaffolding and will offer no protection from an accidental smack in the face by the swinging end of a carelessly carried scaffold pole or ladder.
The design of the British Mk.6 combat helmet manufactured by NP Aerospace, introduced in the mid-eighties and born out of more than a decade of experience of urban operations on the streets of Northern Ireland, actually went considerably further in the blunt trauma protection area than many of its contemporaries. That advantage, including substantial inner padding and a skull-cap like support framework, has carried through to the ergonomically redesigned Mk.7, from the same manufacturer, which has been issued to troops serving in Afghanistan since 2009 under an Urgent Operational Requirement.
NP Aerospace has also addressed protection concerns in the exposed helmet brim to vest area by designing the modular AC900/ICH (Integrated Combat Helmet) model which has provision for the fitment of both a mandible guard and full face visor, with an unique fixing design which allows a night vision device to be fitted to the same bracket as the visor. The patented multi-axial shell construction of the AC900/ICH results in a 10% weight saving at no reduction in protection level, helping to compensate for the additional weight of the mandible guard when fitted.
At time of writing no provision has been made for providing visor and mandible guard protection to the GS Mk.7 helmet currently issued to UK frontline forces. In the event of military personnel being deployed in civil disturbance situations, either on operational deployments overseas or at home in support of the police, for example if there is a repeat of the English Riots of August 2011, it is presumed that older Mk.6 helmets with provision for face visor attachment will need to be reissued.
Across the Atlantic, in early February 2011 the US Army announced it was looking at an improved combat helmet design, the Enhanced Combat Helmet or ECH, which surpassed the ballistic capabilities of the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) first issued in quantity in 2003 and still being worn in the field. Although visually not too different from the ACH it is designed to replace, the performance difference was said to be huge by the Soldier Protection and Individual Equipmen