A good ballistic helmet is an essential item of protective gear for today’s tactical team operator. Ballistic helmets perform a dual role; they protect the head from ballistic impact and provide protection from low-velocity impacts. Traditional riot and crowd-control helmets are not ballistic helmets. They were only designed to provide protection from hand-wielded impact devices or thrown objects. They won’t stop small arms projectiles.
Many agencies have purchased military Personal Armor System Ground Troops (PASGT) helmets in an attempt to provide their officers with better protection. Although there is currently a proliferation of surplus PASGT helmets at a comparatively low cost, the PASGT helmet is clearly not the best choice for either tactical units or as a general-issue ballistic helmet.
The military-issue PASGT helmet—or “K-Pot” (“K” for Kevlar®) helmet, as it’s commonly referred to by troops—was designed primarily to provide protection against fragmentation from grenade and mine explosions. While it does provide inconsistent ballistic protection that’s roughly equivalent to the NIJ Level IIA standards, the PASGT, is overly heavy for the level of protection that it provides, is uncomfortable to wear in the prone position, and reduces peripheral vision.
There are other negatives as well. The PASGT helmet uses a bolted-on nylon suspension with a leather headband that is fastened onto the inside headband. While the PASGT’s harness system was an improvement over the helmet harness system on the old military M1 steel pot helmet (used by our military from WWII until the issuance of the PASGT in the early ’80s), it still leaves much to be desired.
The PASGT suspension system is unstable and uncomfortable. The PASGT puts weight stress on the top of the wearer’s head. As a result, many PASGT users would buy a circular pad to help ease the weight stress on top of their heads. PASGT to ACH
The U.S. Army has transitioned from the PASGT to the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH), the Army’s next generation protective combat helmet. Army-wide fielding of the ACH began in June 2006.
The ACH is based on the MICH TC-2000. The Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH) began development in 1997 at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center at Natick, MA as part of the Special Operations Forces Personal Equipment Advanced Requirements program at the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Three versions of the MICH were developed—the MICH TC-2000, MICH TC-2001 and MICH TC-2003. The MICH helmet was named one of the 10 Best Inventions of 2002 by the U.S. Army Material Command.
Although the Marine Corps tested the MICH, it ended up opting for what is essentially an improved version of the PASGT—the Lightweight Helmet (LWH). The LWH provides increased ballistic protection and features an improved suspension. The ACH utilizes a later generation of Kevlar than the PASGT. It provides increased protection from handgun rounds, while being lighter in weight than the PASGT. This, combined with different bonding techniques, forms a shell capable of halting a 9mm round fired from a SMG, in addition to protecting against fragmentation. Depending on the helmet size, the ACH ranges in weight from 3 to 3.6 pounds.
The ACH is slightly smaller than the PASGT. It’s cut higher, and the edge is trimmed away for improved visibility, unobstructed hearing and reduced weight when compared to the PASGT helmet. This allows for greater situational awareness and less obstruction of the wearer’s vision when employed with the Army’s Interceptor® body armor.
A common complaint with the PASGT was that the high collar of the Interceptor pushed the back of the helmet forward. This resulted in the brim of the helmet being moved over the eyes, obstructing vision, when firing from a prone position. The ACH can be used with all types of body armor without it feeling clumsy or it bumping into the armor. It also provides greater compatibility with communication systems, one of the reasons that the MICH was originally developed.
Coverage is reduced by 8%, compared to the PASGT. Marine Corps officials opted for the increased coverage of the LWH over the ACH, feeling it was better suited their operational needs. The Army felt that the advantages of the lower profile helmet outweighed the reduced coverage, especially in today’s MOUT environment.
The Army was not the first to see the advantages of a lower profile helmet. Lower profile helmets, such as the RBR Combat MKII Level IIIA helmet, have been popular with special operations forces (SOF) operators and tactical teams for a number of years.
The nylon cord suspension system, sweatband and chin-strap found on the PASGT helmet has been replaced on the ACH with an innovative seven-pad system and four-point retention system. The MICH / ACH pad system is similar to the cushions and straps that are found on bicycle helmets. The pad system is designed to provide better impact protection, stability and comfort for the wearer.
The ACH suspension pads are composed partly of comfort foam where the pads touch the head. They are mostly composed of “slow-memory” impact foam. The impact foam is designed to act like a shock absorber. The pad system has proven its worth in Iraq, providing troops with potentially lifesaving blunt impact protection from the blast force of IEDs.
The pad system allows the wearer to stay conscious in the event of blunt impact. In tests conducted by the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Lab, the pad system demonstrated significantly greater non-ballistic blunt impact protection than the sling suspension system previously used. As a result, the pad suspension system is now the only authorized suspension system for both the Army ACH and the Marine Corps LWH. The LWH initially utilized headband crown mesh design suspension system.
The pad system does not appear to provided any advantages over the sling suspension system from ballistic-induced backface trauma, although this is still debated. Prior to the testing by the Army Aeromedical Research Lab, the Marine Corps completed tests at the University of Virginia. These tests assessed the risk of ballistic-induced backface trauma. The results of the testing showed no significant difference between the sling suspension system and the pad suspension system.
The ACH has a black CoolMax® cloth covering that wicks moisture. This helps the user stay cooler. The lining inside the ACH consists of a glued-on strip of Velcro® fastener. This allows users to unhook and adjust the pads to create a custom fit. The ACH has an improved strap that attaches at four points on the helmet while retaining the chin pocket. This provides a more secure fit. The two-point chin-strap on the PASGT has been replaced with a four-point chin-strap.
The two-strap “pocket” at the chin remains the same as on the PASGT. However, instead of anchoring to the helmet over the ear, the ACH utilizes one strap in front and one strap behind the ear on each side for better stability and security. The ACH can be fitted with a mounting bracket for an AN/PVS-14 monocular night vision device (MNVD) on the front, similar to that on the PASGT helmet. The ACH can also be fitted with a pair of straps on the rear of the helmet to keep protective eye wear.
Misconceptions exist regarding helmet testing. One common misconception is that of NIJ-certified Level IIIA helmets. The NIJ does not certify Level IIIA helmets. The only comprehensive Level IIIA testing protocol for helmets in the U.S. is the H. P. White Helmet Test Procedure (HPW-TP-0401.01B). The NIJ certification for helmets (NIJ Standard 0106.01) only provides for testing up to Level II. Additionally, it does not measure backface deformation. That said, testing protocols of NIJ Standard 0106.01 are employed by many manufacturers for testing helmets up to Level IIIA.
Level IIIA testing to NIJ Standard 0108.01 for ballistic material is only for testing flat armor panels. NIJ Standard 0108.01 for ballistic material specifically excludes helmets from being tested to this standard. The H. P. White Helmet Test Procedure is considered to be the most comprehensive helmet test standard currently available. In the H. P. White Procedure, helmets are tested versus penetration and backface deformation of Level IIIA 9mm and .44 Magnum ammunition. The test additionally requires that one of each of the above rounds must impact directly on a suspension system fastener resulting in zero penetration.
Ask to see test results. Manufacturers should be able to provide them. Ballistic helmets that don’t meet the requirements of the H. P. White Helmet Test Procedure should be considered substandard. A number of manufacturer’s now offer versions of the MICH / ACH. Many of these are identical to the MICH / ACH. Others are variations on the design, incorporating some MICH / ACH features and adding others. The following is a description of MICH-style ballistic helmets from top manufacturers.
The ArmorShield Commandolite™ is billed by the company as the lightest weight IIIA helmet produced to date, with a weight of just 2 pounds. The Commandolite was developed for special forces units and law enforcement. The Commandolite is comparable in cut to the MICH Helmet. It features an adjustable leather / webbing padded headband and strap system.
The Commandolite provides Level IIIA protection, according to NIJ standards. ArmorShield states that the Commandolite protects against 9mm FMJ and .44 Magnum SJHP in accordance with NIJ Standard 0101.04. (June 2001). It has a V50 of 600 m/s (2,000 fps). It has fragmentation resistance ranging from 400 m/s up to 750 m/s; as tested with 1.1g, .22 caliber, 17-grain Fragment Simulated Projectile (FPS).
The BlackHawk® Ballistic Level IIIA MICH Helmet is based on the original MICH design. This design maintains a large coverage area while providing excellent comfort, The helmet features an Improved Operator’s Cut™ to enhance vision and hearing. The helmet is designed for military and police tactical units and is compatible with all NV and communication systems.
The BlackHawk Ballistic Level IIIA MICH Helmet features a unique design suspension system that doesn’t require replacement with aftermarket pads. The proprietary suspension system is fully adjustable to fit a variety of head shapes.
The head harness on the BlackHawk Ballistic Level IIIA MICH Helmet is fully adjustable and insulated. It features adjustable crown and temple tension and two-way adjustable rear support. It has a two-way adjustable chin strap with a quick-release system. The BlackHawk Ballistic Level IIIA MICH Helmet is constructed of plain weave aramid in a high tensile elongation resin. It has a black epoxy and polyurethane shell coating. ARPAT helmet covers are available from BlackHawk.
Gentex makes a version of the ACH for specifically tactical law enforcement—the Tactical Ballistic Helmet (TBH-II) Law Enforcement. The TBH-II helmet is lightweight and designed to offer superior protection against ballistic level IIIA threats, as well as secondary projectiles.
Three versions of the TBH-II are available—the TBH-II, TBH-II HC and TBH-II SC. The profile of the TBH-II is similar to the U.S. Army ACH / MICH TC-2000. The profile of the TBH-II HC is trimmed about 1 inch higher on the sides to better accommodate headsets that protrude outward at the bottom such as the Gentex GenCom III and Peltor Comtac II. The profile of the TBH-II HC is similar to the MICH TC-2002. The profile of the TBH-II SC is trimmed about 2 inches higher to allow interface of headsets with large ear cups and also for interface to various weapon sights. The profile of the TBH-II HC is similar to the MICH TC-2001.
The performance of the TBH-II helmet is based on the U.S. Marine Corps new LWH infantry helmet and U.S. Army ACH. In addition, ballistic testing is conducted with both 9mm and .44 Magnum projectiles in accordance with NIJ-0106.01 at minimum 1,400 fps velocity. The U.S. Army has approved the helmet’s X-Harness™ retention design for airborne operations. The X-Harness is the only X-style unit that is approved by the U.S. Army Airborne Test Board.
Gentex states that the helmet has been fielded by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. and international SOF, various police departments and other state and federal law enforcement agencies. Innovative features of the helmet include suspension systems that can have either a headband crown mesh design similar to that originally used in the Marine Corps LWH helmet or a variable pad system that allows the user to adjust pad thickness for uniform compression for maximum comfort and stability. The pad suspension also includes patented split crown pads to accommodate over-the-head, headband-style headsets eliminating pressures created by the pad pressing against the headband.
The retention assembly on the TBH-II incorporates the ACH four-point attachment to the helmet shell to provide maximum stability. It offers a removable suede-covered split chin strap and leather nape pad with foam cushioning. The various buckles and slides allow for length adjustments both front and rear to prevent rotation and to accommodate gas masks, headsets or other items worn with the helmet.
TBH-II helmet shells are available in four sizes—small, medium, large, and X-large. Helmets may be ordered either drilled on not drilled for NVG brackets. The TBH-II is available in a variety of colors including black, green 383, olive drab, desert tan and foliage green. Optional components include helmet covers, night vision brackets for PVS-7B/D, 14 and ANVIS-6-style mounts, Ballistic Optical Armor (BOA) and EPS-21 eye protective goggles, GenCom III and GDH headsets.
The Max ProPolice Level IIIA BA3AC Lightweight Combat Helmet weighs up to 30% less than PASGT-type helmets and 10% less than competitive ACH-grade helmets. The key to the weight saving in the BA3AC helmet is the shell’s construction. The helmet shell is made with the same proprietary molding process and similar construction—continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic—as the company’s NIJ Level IIIA helmets. The reinforced thermoplastic is tougher than the thermoset plastic used in conventional helmets. It needs less material to meet Level IIIA standards. The BA3AC helmet is the first police helmet to use this material combination.
More than 10,000 of the earlier helmets have been used in security service in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the new combat helmets, the material is fined tuned to protect against high-velocity shrapnel as well as NIJ Level IIIA rounds. The BA3AC helmet absorbs more than twice the impact against incoming fragments.
The Max ProPolice BA3AC helmet exceeds ACH specs for impact while meeting all specs for ballistic protection. In standardized ACH tests, the helmet transferred only 80 Gs of impact to the dummy head, compared with 200 Gs for others tested. The Max ProPolice BA3AC has the standard ACH cut. The helmet features the Max ProPolice Comfort Fit suspension, a proven suspension system that is designed to combine wearer comfort and shock protection.
The MSA ForceField™ ACH Advanced Combat Helmet for Law Enforcement is an enhanced version of the MICH / ACH that was originally developed for the USSOCOM. The battle-tested MSA ACH has been credited with “taking the bullet” and saving several soldiers’ lives during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ForceField ACH is designed to meet to meet advanced handgun specifications for law enforcement tactical applications, combining level IIIA ballistic protection along with impact, and fragmentation resistance to military standards. The ForceField ACH meets all specifications for the military ACH, including the best impact protection, stability, and comfort available. The ForceField ACH features the genuine MICH / ACH patented low-profile design to reduce risk of interference in target acquisition.
The ForceField ACH features the innovative suspension system of movable comfort pads for customized sizing utilized in the military-issue ACH for unsurpassed comfort for long-term use. The ForceField employs the four-point chin strap system with nape pad of the ACH, for increased stability. All hardware is ballistic-rated. The ForceField ACH is compatible with NVGs, MSA’s CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, & Nuclear) gas masks, and MSA’s communication devices.
PROTECH® Tactical offers two MICH / ACH-style helmets—the Delta 4 and the Delta 4 LT. The Delta 4 ballistic helmet is designed to provide lightweight, high-performance protection. The Delta 4 is designed for comfort. It weighs less than 2.8 pounds and is provides Level IIIA protection. The Delta 4 meets and exceeds NIJ 0106.01 standards, defeating level IIIA rounds. The Delta 4 will stop a 124-grain FMJ 9mm at 1,200 fps or a 17-grain fragment at 1,600 fps.
The Delta 4 features lightweight, high-performance, multi-layered aramid construction. The helmet has an adjustable three-point retention system with flexible chin cup. It has an internal shock-absorbing foam suspension system for impact protection and maximum air circulation. The Delta 4 is offered in black and in medium and large sizes.
The Delta 4 helmet is included as part of the PROTECH First Responder Kit. The PROTECH First Responder Kit is designed to make it simple for law enforcement and security agencies to prepare for IARD situations. In addition to the Delta 4 helmet, the PROTECH First Responder Kit also includes a Level III+ plate, tactical plate harness, Level IIIA Patroller shield, and the PROTECH Cruize duffle.
The Delta 4 LT is the lightest ballistic helmet in the PROTECH line. Weighing in at about 2 pounds, the Delta 4 LT is 20% to 30% lighter than most other Level IIIA helmets yet delivers better protection. The Delta 4 LT is crafted from multiple layers of lightweight, high-tech aramid composite that are laminated under heat and pressure. The Delta 4 LT provides NIJ 0106.01 Level IIIA protection.
The ergonomic Delta 4 LT is contoured to provide the wearer with a larger field of vision and enhanced field mobility. It also offers better compatibility with gas masks, goggles and communications gear. The Delta 4 LT features an internal shock-absorbing foam suspension system for impact protection and maximum air circulation. The helmet has a three-point adjustable retention system with flexible chin cup. The retention system has a snap and Velcro release system. The Delta 4 LT is offered in black and in small, medium, large, and X-large.
Rabintex has teamed with Composix Co., a U.S. company located in Newark, NJ, to form Rabintex USA LLC. Rabintex USA was formed to allow Rabintex to sell the Rabintex ACH (R-ACH) to the U.S. DoD. The R-ACH is designed and manufactured to U.S. military ACH specs.
The Rabintex RBH Attack helmet and the R-ACH were developed by Rabintex to serve different purposes. The RBH Attack helmet is designed more for bullet-resistant capabilities. The R-ACH was designed more for fragmentation capabilities. The military is more concerned with fragmentation based on its global war-fighting experiences. Rabintex states that most law enforcement agencies, which are more concerned with providing protection from bullets, would find the RBH Attack helmet more suited to their needs.
RBR Tactical has four different MICH-style helmets in its MACH Series, the MACH I, MACH II, MACH III, and MACH IV Advanced Combat Helmets. All RBR ballistic helmets have been tested to the requirements of the H. P. White Helmet Test Procedure (HPW-TP-0401.01B) and MIL-STD 662E. The MACH Series helmets are tested and certified by H.P. White Labs withstanding multiple impact IIIA ballistics. V-50 Performance of the MACH Series exceeds 2,100 fps.
The RBR MACH I Advanced Combat Helmet is designed in the advanced combat style (MICH TC-2000 / ACH) and delivers full Level IIIA performance, exceeding the standard issue ACH. The MACH I weighs 2.7 pounds to 3.0 pounds. The RBR MACH II Advanced Combat Helmet is designed in the MICH TC-2002 Side Cut “Gunfighter” helmet style. The MACH II provides full Level IIIA protection while maximizing peripheral vision and deployment of muff-style communication systems. It has a wider cut around the ears for use with various communications systems. It also has a higher cut around the neck for more movement and peripheral vision. The MACH II weighs 2.6 pounds to 2.9 pounds.
The RBR MACH III Advanced Combat Helmet is designed in the MICH TC-2001 full ear cut-out style. It has a special design cut for integrated muff-style communications. The MACH III provides full Level IIIA performance. The MACH III is ideal for long-range operators, including snipers, where stealth is an operational requirement. The MACH III weighs 2.4 pounds to 2.6 pounds.
The RBR MACH IV Advanced Combat Helmet is based on the original Special Forces MICH design and original RBR Combat MKII helmet. The MACH IV was designed with a focus toward a lightweight, compact and streamlined design without any compromise to the ballistic protection. RBR considers the MACH IV to be the most streamlined, ergonomic and ballistically capable helmet available in today’s modern helmet technology. The MACH IV provides full Level IIIA performance. The MACH IV weighs 2.6 pounds to 2.9 pounds.
RBR MACH Series helmets are constructed of the latest specification aramid (Kevlar) bound in a thermoplastic resin matrix, utilizing a proprietary process developed by RBR. The shell is coated with a durable epoxy / polyurethane paint. The MACH Series helmets are available in black, olive drab and tan. The edges of the helmets are covered with a low-profile neoprene extrusion for protection. RBR MACH Series helmets utilize only four fastening bolts, but all bolts are made from high-grade stainless steel.
The MACH Series helmets feature RBR’s fully padded four-point head harness suspension system. The RBR head harness is designed to give the wearer optimum standoff of the helmet’s inner shell. All MACH helmets are optional MIL-SPEC pad system capable. The RBR head harness is a four-strap system. It features a crown pad and a brow pad for comfort. The brow pad is covered with leather to absorb perspiration and provide added comfort. A three-point retention chin strap provides better stability and resistance to helmet “roll-off” during periods of high activity. A plastic chin cup is integrated with the chin strap for a secure fit. The chin cup can easily be removed for added security when a gas mask is being worn.
The RBR head harness is fully adjustable, accommodating the use of gas masks and allowing just two helmet sizes (medium and large) to fit all head sizes. The harness itself can be removed and replaced in minutes by simply unfastening five screws. All RBR helmets meet or exceed the EN 397 safety standards for shock absorption. The recommended maximum acceleration before damage is caused to the human skull is 300 Gs.
RBR has developed an Integral Shock Attenuating Liner for its helmets. When drop-tested on a Snell B-90 Hemispherical Impactor at 45 joules of energy, RBR helmets with the Integral Shock Attenuating Liner exhibit a G-force of 155, well within safety parameters. Helmets without the liner exhibit a G-force over 400. RBR helmets can also incorporate additional impact liners for specific uses. With the addition RBR high-impact liner, the helmets meet the EN 966 standard.
A number of accessories are available for RBR helmets. One that deserves special mention is the add-on rifle protection system that’s available from RBR. The system consists of a helmet cover that incorporates two high-protection plates that have been specifically designed to match the contours of the helmet. The plates provide single-strike protection to the critical front and rear areas of the helmet. They are designed to stop several types of high-velocity rounds, including 5.56x45 SS109 and 7.62x39 FMJ mild steel core rounds.
As can be seen, agencies and tactical officers have many different MICH-style helmets from which to select. And, we have by no means covered every MICH-style helmet on the market. Which helmet is the best choice will depend on many factors, including the operational scenarios in which it will be employed. What is best for one officer may not be best for another. Just as the Army and Marines couldn’t agree on the same helmet, deciding on which is best will often come down to personal preferences.
Eugene Nielsen is a private consultant and a former police officer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.