Ballistic helmets are a type of protective headgear common within military forces, designed to provide a high degree of protection against ballistic threats. Ballistic helmets are critical for military personnel and law enforcement officers who operate in dangerous environments where hostile gunfire, projectiles and ordnance may be encountered.
Compared to other types of protective helmet, such as bump helmets, combat helmets and those designed for search and rescue or riot control, which may protect against impacts from blunt objects, ballistic helmets provide much greater levels of protection. Typically made from high-strength, lightweight fibrous materials such as Kevlar and carbon fiber, military ballistic helmets are designed to withstand ballistic impacts including penetration from bullets as well as protection against shrapnel from explosives or other fragmentation sources.
Levels of Ballistic Protection
Ballistic helmets are designed to meet differing levels of ballistic protection dependent on their intended end use. In the United States, ballistic protection levels/standards are defined by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ):
NIJ Level II
This level of protection is designed to stop common handgun rounds, such as 9mm and .357 Magnum, fired from short-barreled handguns. Ballistic helmets at this level are capable of stopping these rounds at a velocity of up to 1,305 feet per second (fps).
NIJ Level IIIA
This level of protection is designed to stop more powerful handgun rounds, such as .44 Magnum, as well as slower-moving rifle rounds, such as 9mm submachine gun rounds. Ballistic helmets at this level are capable of stopping these rounds at a velocity of up to 1,450 fps.
NIJ Level III
This level of protection is designed to stop high-powered rifle rounds, such as 7.62mm NATO and .308 Winchester. Ballistic helmets at this level are capable of stopping these rounds at a velocity of up to 2,780 fps.
NIJ Level IV
This level of protection is designed to stop armor-piercing rifle rounds, such as .30-06 M2 AP and 7.62mm M2 AP. Ballistic helmets at this level are capable of stopping these rounds at a velocity of up to 2,880 fps.
Military Ballistic Helmet Features
The thicker construction and materials used in ballistic helmets typically make them heavier than other categories of combat helmet, however advancements in materials and construction ensure suitability for prolonged wear in a wide range of missions.
As with most modern combat and tactical helmets, military ballistic helmets integrate a range of features to enhance their effectiveness and comfort. Ballistic helmets are typically available in a wide range of sizes with adjustable straps to ensure a secure fit, cushioning for impact absorption and ventilation to prevent overheating. Ballistic tactical helmets also typically include modular mounts and side rails for integration of soldier-worn technologies, hearing protection, communication devices and night-vision imaging systems that improve a soldier’s situational awareness and overall safety.