The U.S. Army gives each soldier a combat helmet that protects them in the field. Helmet designs continue to develop as the Army prioritizes advancement in all its equipment. The Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) is the current model. ECH replaced the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH) and Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) designs the Army used since the war in Afghanistan.
The ACH and MICH helmets preceded the ECH model. The MICH was the first to replace the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT) helmet in 2001. The Army modified the MICH under the ACH name, though the designs are similar. These helmets feature Kevlar fibers for lightweight construction and pistol-resisting capabilities. Both versions expose parts of the forehead and ear in favor of high visibility and compatibility with equipment like communications headsets and night-vision goggles.
The ECH Helmet has been in service since 2012. This design features an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) shell that can withstand rifle rounds. The thermoplastic material uses a tactical cut design to make ECH helmets some of the lightest and most comfortable the Army has ever used. While the tactical cut and design expose more of the front, sides and back of the head, the strong UHMWPE fibers offer notable ballistic and fragmentation resistance.
Comparing the Helmet Designs
The newer ECH is similar to the ACH and MICH designs in many ways. These helmets have similar shapes and weigh about the same. The similarities in size and weight make these helmets comparable choices in terms of comfort. Additionally, these helmets feature design choices that compromise small coverage in favor of compatibility with other useful equipment. You can equip a MICH, ACH or ECH helmet with communications headsets, goggles, visors and more.
The differences between the ECH and the older MICH and ACH military helmets are in the materials and ballistic performance. While the MICH and ACH use Kevlar, the ECH comprises UHMWPE fibers. These materials stop bullets in similar ways, but UHMWPE thermoplastic can make thicker equipment at the same weight. The ECH's thicker construction bolsters its comparable ballistic performance with 35% greater fragment-stopping capabilities compared to ACH and MICH helmets. ECH helmets also resist some rifle bullets.
Which Helmets Are Available to Civilians?
At this time, civilians can easily access MICH and ACH helmets. Any equipment that the Army actively uses is difficult to find and purchase legally. Introducing new equipment leads to broader availability of the retired or phased-out gear.
PASGT helmets became available as the Army adopted ACH and MICH. The ECH's introduction made it possible to purchase ACH and MICH helmets. ECH helmets will be easier to buy when the Army rolls out its next advancement.
How Protective Are the Bulletproof Helmets Available to Civilians?
The helmets available for civilian use are just as reliable as those used by armed forces and police units because they are effectively the same equipment. Most ballistic helmets meet the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ) highest performance standards. The original NIJ standard 0106.01 for helmets featured three levels — I, IIA and II. Now, a modified version of the standard includes Level IIIA, which has become the most prominent type.
Under NIJ standard 0106.01, a helmet must undergo testing against four handgun rounds, each connecting with a different spot on the helmet. A helmet must resist penetration from .357 SIG FMJ, 9 mm and .44 magnum SJHP rounds traveling upwards of 1,450 feet per second to achieve Level IIIA status. All MICH, ACH and ECH helmets are level IIIA. You can browse IIIA helmets through our online store.
The Future of Ballistic Helmets
While the ACH and MICH designs are the newest widely available to the public, the ECH design should make its way to U.S. consumers before long. The Army plans to make the Integrated Head Protection System (IHPS) the standard going forward. The IHPS helmet has seen military use since 2019, and the Army's new $87 million contract with Avon and Gentex will increase its circulation by September of 2023.
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