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As the most treasured part of the human body, the head has always been desired to have maximum protection from any damage – at work, hunting, while doing sports or other leisure activities and, most importantly, during military conflicts, accompanying the history of any country or nation, the most contemporary history, unfortunately, so far being no exception.
But we have to face reality: if the problem of war conflicts still exists in today’s world, however sad it may sound to us, the most current level of human body protection – and, primarily, of the head – should be obtained.
So, let us study one of the most improved combat helmets used widely at present, the US military helmet, in close-up and dwell on the possible perspectives of its further improvement. However, even to cut a long story short, we still need to dive into a bit of history behind the modern US helmet evolution, as it is impossible to realize all the drawbacks and advantages of the contemporary protective headgear without being aware of its path of development.
The protective helmets of today are a reincarnation of the war helmets used by our predecessors throughout the centuries, and even millenniums of human history, first being made of leather and other natural materials and later being improved as the methods of metal treatment were learned.
However, the modern helmets are also true children of World War I. With the invention of gunpowder and firearms, protective metal headgear temporarily ceased almost entirely at first. It can be easily explained by the fact that the metal defensive outfit is heavy to wear while the demand for troop mobility grew more critical. Moreover, the metal armor of that time could hardly provide proper protection from a bullet. Therefore, the armies switched back to cloth and leather outfits, protecting the body and the head primarily from rain, cold, and sunrays.
However, the Great War of the early 20th century proved a severe mistake. As the military weapon continued to develop, more and more soldiers were being killed or injured in trenches than on the battlefield, most damage done by shell fragments rather than bullets.
Since then, the metal helmet returned to use, though significantly modified.
During the First World War, it was converted into the Brodie helmet in the UK, the Adrian helmet in France, the Stahlhelmet in Germany, and the M1917 headgear, also known as the Kelly helmet in the USA. All of them are made of steel sheet pressed or cast in the form of a bowl, aiming at one common purpose – to protect the head from shrapnel and shell fragments. Camouflaging the helmets with paint – often mixed with sand or mud – also came into practice, further enhancing the soldier’s protection.
Later on, at the outbreak of the Second World War, as the weapons again proved to have improved enormously, so did the helmets. The steel alloys improved, providing better – though not ultimate -protection, even from bullets. Thus, the US Kelly helmet was substituted by a more reliable and comfortable M1 which remains a prototype for many modern helmets of today. It had a better shape, an improved harness, a convenient suspension system, a nylon-and-resin composite liner, and a camouflage cloth covering.
These helmets – with several modifications for various types of troops – were so successful that they were widely used up to the1970s.
As the world dived into the era of airspace travels, various new chemical substances and materials started to appear. Thus, Kevlar in 1965 by Stephanie Kwolek, working for DuPont, a prominent US chemical company.
It is a para-aramid synthetic fiber with high resistance against hot temperatures and physical forces. In the early 1970s, it started to be applied in many spheres of production as a suitable replacement material in goods and garments containing steel as Kevlar impact resistance and characteristics are five times better than steel.
Consequently, Kevlar became part of the composite materials applied in the PASGT set of US military garments (“PASGT” standing for “Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops”), which came into use in 1983.
The PASGT helmet was not an exception. It was developed in the mid-1970s by Phil Durand and McManus's task force working for Natick Research Lab. This significantly increased bulletproof characteristics of the head protection garment, which was immediately named "K-pot," "K" standing for "Kevlar."
Compared with the previously applied M1 helmet widely known as "steel pot," the PASGT headgear also underwent several necessary modifications regarding its shape, liner, and attachment harness.
An enlarged covering capability improved the new helmet for the neck, forehead, and ear areas, thus protecting the 11% greater area. At the same time, the center of the helmet's gravity shifted lower, and the weight of the average helmet decreased to 1630 g, while its anti-spall protection increased by 50% compared to the М1 headgear. The helmet was initially manufactured in three, then in five different sizes varying from XS to XL, XS being suitable for women.
The 1980s'helmet was made of Kevlar-29, its pressed 19-layer fiber adherent with phenol-formaldehyde resin. Starting from early 1990, the headgear material was further improved to Kevlar II (KM2) layers of tighter-woven fiber alternating with an adhesive substance made of 50-to-50 mixture of formaldehyde resin and polyvinyl-butyral resin.
To prevent the unwanted shift of the helmet off its correct position, the new headgear featured an improved chin strap which can be regulated to fit personal head measurements and is enhanced with a quick-release buckle for fast helmet removal in case of accidental trapping.
The damper harness includes soft pillow paddings for additional head comfort and is fastened to the inner side of the helmet top, not to its headband section. The helmet top on its inner side is further improved with a 3/8-inch layer of soft foam.
For paratroopers, a still enhanced layer of foam absorber is used, the shape of the helmet and the headgear harness is also modified to minimize the possibility of losing the helmet or its shifting of the correct position during the jump and offering better chin and neck protection when the helmet encounters significant air resistance pressures.
The helmets themselves have painted olive-green, but their camouflaging is further enhanced by cloth covers dyed in the mixture of colors matching the surrounding landscapes or the army division requirements. The slots in the helmet serve to accomplish the camouflaging.
Generally speaking, the Kevlar-based PASGT helmet was a real breakthrough in the ssoldier'sprotection and comfort and turned out to be frequently copied by military structures of various countries worldwide. Even at present, part of the US army forces acting away from the conflict "ot-points" "as well as soldiers in many other governments continue to wear the PASGT or similar-type Kevlar headgear in Canada, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Egypt, Mexico, France, Germany, Finland, and many others.
As the demands for further improved contemporary headgear remain high, another enhanced version of the US combat helmet known as Advanced Combat Helmet (abbreviated as "CH" was designed in the early 2000s. It was made of combined Kevlar and Twaron. This new-type ballistic fiber belongs to the same para-aramid group as Kevlar but features better durability and resilience to tension loads.
The ACH helmet also provides more excellent head and protection against possible concussions due to enhanced impact absorption characteristics, aiming to protect the soldier not only from a bullet strike but also from ballistic impacts of high intensity, which are pretty standard for the military actions theater of today. The improved cushion lining and suspension system are the hhelmet'sbenefits.
Another advantage of the ACH helmet is its compatibility with various accessory gadgets, including night-vision goggles, sand/dust-protection gear, lights, video cameras, navigation and communication equipment, and the like. All the devices mentioned above can be easily mounted on the ACH helmet.
The ACH helmet is designed with another part of the defensive outfit. However, there is also one disadvantage of the ACH headgear compared to the older PASGT helmet. To allow better visibility and hearing and better compatibility with the on-helmet mounted devices, the ACH helmet protective surface has been significantly decreased: its side and forehead areas have been reduced. Still, this reduced protective surface should undoubtedly be considered and well-briefed to soldiers using this new type of headgear.
Moreover, the weight of the ACH headgear remains rather uncomfortable, especially if the helmet is equipped with mounted gadgets that could be pretty heavy themselves.
And, unfortunately, even the ACH helmet cannot give the soldier one-hundred percent protection from a bullet shot straightforward from the most contemporary guns located near the helmet.
These still-present shortcomings give grounds for further improvement of the combat helmet regarding its weight as well material durability, strength, and resilience.
Thus, now there is a tendency to use ultrahigh-molecule polyethylene instead of para-aramid fibers, which should undoubtedly diminish the weight of the headgear. However, this material has not proved to show the equal degree of strength and resilience to high-impact loads as Kevlar or Twaron so far.
The U.S. Army Natick Research, Development, and Engineering Center is now involved in creating a comparatively new material known as Zyion. The use of this or similar-type material is expected to decrease the helmet weight up to 800 or 900 g; however, so far, the substance is vulnerable to sunlight and water.
So, the search for new enhanced materials is still on.
Another area of improvement is the Integrated Head Protection System (IHPS), now slowly coming into an application at the Security Force Assistance Brigade 2 (SFAB2).
The IHPS helmet features a boltless system of retention, which provides better impact protection. The IHPS features only two mounting points to which various gadgets can be easily attached to replace multiple brackets used on other helmet types.
The IHPS helmet also covers the wider head area.
The headgear is further improved with the mandible protector and the attachable visor, which can also be fastened to the helmet with no bolts. The maxillo-facial protection option is designed to protect the lower part of the face. The new type of padding provides a significantly higher level of blunt-trauma protection than that of the ECH headgear.
The researchers are also involved in creating a personal visual augmentation system that will allow the soldier to see data of augmented reality provided by drones or similar sensing devices on a helmet’s face screen.
So, as we can see, the weapon’s evolution causes the protective armor industry to develop more improved combat outfits, head protection garments being no exception.
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