History of the ACH Helmet

What is the Advanced Combat Helmet?

The Advanced Combat Helmet, or ACH, is a military helmet that is used in active combat zones. Development of these helmets began in 2003.

United States Army Soldier Systems Center, U.S. Army Special Operations Command and U.S. Army Research Laboratory worked together to create this helmet. It is currently the standard issue helmet for all United States ground forces.

United Shield ACH Ballistic Helmet
The ACH helmet is made from Kevlar. This is a United Shield ACH Ballistic Helmet with an NIJ IIIA threat level rating and full coverage.

The Advanced Combat Helmet is based on the MICH (Modular Integrated Communications Helmet). This helmet is an upgraded version of the PASGT (Personal Armor System for Ground Troops) and it offers more advanced ballistic and impact protection for the wearer.

The MICH helmet was also made to be easier to use with hearing protection and radio communication headsets.

The Personal Armor System for Ground Troops Helmet (PASGT) helmet was first put in use in 1983.
The Personal Armor System for Ground Troops Helmet (PASGT) helmet was first put in use in 1983.

The PASGT, sometimes called the K-Pot, has been in use since 1983. It is also made of Kevlar.

The ACH is also lighter than the helmets that came before it, making it more comfortable for the long periods of time that troops are required to wear them. This coupled with the increased amount of padding as well as waterproof padding makes the helmet easier for soldiers to wear in the field.

Waterproof padding ensures that sweat does not collect inside the helmet in the same way, plus it makes the helmet more suitable for amphibious missions. Padding in the ACH is attached with a suspension system helps both the function and the comfort of this helmet. Additionally, the straps are adjustable, so all troops are ensured a safe and secure fit.

ACH Helmet , as worn by a soldier
ACH Helmet , as worn by a soldier

How is the Advanced Combat Helmet Improved from Prior Helmets?

This helmet takes elements from several other helmets to create a better overall helmet. The materials that are used to make this helmet are more durable than those that came prior, making it more resistant to ballistic damage and impact damage. MICH helmets had attachment points for other modules, a feature that the ACH adopted. This allows troops to add devices to the helmet as needed. For instance, night vision goggles and other visual devices can be added.

Conversely, the mounting areas on the helmet can also be used for communication devices, which are critical during sensitive missions. Edges on the ACH are cut closer to the head than prior military helmets. This reduces the total area of coverage and protection.

ACH Helmet with Helmet Cover
ACH Helmet with Helmet Cover

Beneficially, however, it increases a soldier’s line of sight and ability to hear nearby noises. Holes are predrilled on all helmets for the easy and fast attachment of needed devices. Increased suspension was added to these helmets that wasn’t present in the PASGT helmets. This allows soldiers to have a more securely fitting helmet. This has reduced shrapnel deaths over time. Changes in the helmet coincided with other armor and protection tools for troops, which have reduced casualties even further.

What are the Specifications?

The Advanced Combat Helmet is made of Kevlar. More specifically, helmet Kevlar class IIIA.

Helmet cover in use
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jordan Trent)

It contains seven total pads. One pad is at the top of the head and the other six are located around the sides of the helmet.

Straps are attached to the helmet at four points, two in front and two in the rear. Between the rear helmet straps, there is an additional Kevlar pad, which acts as additional shrapnel protection.

There is a single predrilled hole for the attachment of either a night vision goggle or other form of attachment.

If specified, these helmets can be acquired with additional holes. Pads on these helmets are ¾ inches. ACH helmets come in four different sizes; small, medium, large and extra-large. Small helmets can accommodate those with a head length at or below 7, ¼ inches. Medium helmets can fit heads from the 7, ¼ inch head length up to 7, ¾ inches. Large size helmets can fit a head that is 7, ¾ inches long to 8, ¼ inches. Finally, the extra-large helmets can accommodate a head length from 8, ¼ and up. Respectively, these helmets can fit a head width from 6, ½ inches and more. Head circumferences from 21, ¼ inches to 23, ½ inches.

Varying sizes of heads can be accommodated due to the adjusting straps on the ACH models.

Can the ACH Helmet Stop A Rifle Round?

Armor with the NIJ IIIA rating isn’t meant to stop a high powered rifle round.

Think of IIIA as more like “protection against high power pistols”.

However, these helmets can stop a rifle round in certain situations – like a glancing blow or a very long range shot where velocity has decreased.

Here’s a video from the PEO (Program Executive Office) that details one such event.

Having some level of ballistic protection is a plus – the so-called bump helmets only offer protection against falls, collisions, and other such incidents. Bump helmets offer no ballistic protection.

What Comes Next? The Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH)

While the Advanced Combat Helmet offered massive improvements over both the MICH and PASGT helmets, there have been improvements on the ACH model as well. For instance, these helmets are now used as the basis for new and ultra-light helmets that are currently being developed by the military.

U.S. military groups are working on the ECH, or Enhanced Combat Helmet, which will be a marked improvement on the ACH. Currently, it is in the prototyping phase.

New ECH prototypes have significantly improved ballistic resistances but weigh less. You can tell the helmets apart because of the variance in chin strap and color.

Many of the features from the Advanced Combat Helmet, such as the padding, cut, strap design and device mounting have remained the same. This is because those features performed well in the field and served the troops using them.

It doesn’t look a lot different than the ACH.

ECH Helmet - shown here with helmet cover - looks a lot like the ACH.
The Enhanced Combat Helmet visually looks very similar to the ACH – but it’s made from much more advanced materials. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel Kitandwe)

But the ECH will be made of ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene fibers rather than the aramid fibers used in the ACH.

ECH Helmet showing microscopic damage
The Army’s Enhanced Combat Helmet uses composite fibers developed from UHMWPE—high-performance, ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene. The inset image, obtained using scanning electron microscopy, reveals a permanent indent from a test bullet on the surface of polycarbonate material, in contrast with polyurethane urea elastomer materials, where no damage was observed after impact. (U.S. Army illustration)

There are also specialized helmets used by special operations forces.

One such example is the Team Wendy Exfil Ballistic Helmet.

It provides compatibility with a wide range of gear used by special ops – including NVGs, IR strobes, task lights, and more.

But it is especially easy to use communication headsets mounted to the rails provided.

References:

https://www.fortbraggsurplus.us/Advanced-Combat-Helmet-ACH-U-S-Military-p/ach-helmet.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Combat_Helmet

https://www.military.com/equipment/advanced-combat-helmet-ach

https://www.nap.edu/read/18621/chapter/4

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_Combat_Helmet_(United_States)

DLP Tactical – Helmets & Body Armor – A good gallery of various helmet types.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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