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More protection, comfort built into new helmet design

Sep. 24, 2013 - 06:09PM   |  
The Helmet and Electronics and Display System-Upgradeable Protection, or HeADS-UP program, at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Mass., seeks to provide better headgear for soldiers and Marines.
The Helmet and Electronics and Display System-Upgradeable Protection, or HeADS-UP program, at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Mass., seeks to provide better headgear for soldiers and Marines. (David J. Kamm / NSRDEC)
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Army researchers have found ways for soldiers’ helmets to provide better protection and comfort, even loaded down with night vision goggles and other gear.

The four-year effort was meant to integrate better protective materials, liners and heads-up display technologies and communications.

A face shield is one of the elements of a new modular prototype, necessary because of higher numbers of facial injuries in the current wars caused by roadside bombs.

“Because of face injuries from rocks, glass and fragments from improvised explosive devices, there has been a call for increased protection” said Don Lee, who leads the project at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, in Massachusetts.

Lee cited a Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat report that said of all the injuries to the head, 72 percent are to the face.

“So that shows a technology gap there,” he said.

Natick’s project is called the Helmet Electronics and Display System-Upgradeable Protection, or HEaDS-UP.

The concept is a single helmet to replace two helmets soldiers use, the Combat Vehicle Crewman Helmet and the Advanced Combat Helmet.

Lee said that while this is “in no way, shape or form the Army’s next helmet,” Natick will provide its research to the acquisition office for soldier equipment, PEO Soldier to help it develop future headgear.

“We’ve come up with tradeoffs, ideas, designs that the soldier will benefit from in the end,” Lee said.

The single helmet’s modular design has a detachable face-shield, and large jaw-piece that might look unusual, but actually better balances the helmet, Lee said.

The jaw protection, or mandible, maintains the head’s natural center of gravity, reducing the likelihood of strain and fatigue, Lee said.

“The mandible is not as big as it looks,” he said, referring to an Army photo. “It actually weighs less than a pound.”

Not every soldier would wear every piece designed for the helmet, Lee said. For instance, a soldier who is in a vehicle’s gun turret and therefore vulnerable would be able to add more protection.

“We’ll be able to up-armor him as much as we can, and that’s a good thing,” Lee said.

Research at Natick focused not only on materiel but biomechanics in an effort to improve the fit, balance and weight of the helmets.

“If you hang a quarter-pound on the front, it feels like nothing, but what about after a 12-hour mission,” Lee said.

Scientists, who looked at 300 combinations involving helmets and head gear, hope to share their data with Army’s medical community to reduce neck, shoulder and back injuries.

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