U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Composite Structures 101 (2013) 313–331; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compstruct.2013.02.014


Protecting a soldier’s head from injury is critical to function and survivability. Traditionally, combat helmets have been utilized to provide protection against shrapnel and ballistic threats, which have reduced head injuries and fatalities. However, home-made bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been increasingly used in theatre of operations since the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Traumatic brain injury (TBI), particularly blast-induced TBI, which is typically not accompanied by external body injuries, is becoming prevalent among injured soldiers. The responses of personal protective equipment, especially combat helmets, to blast events are relatively unknown. There is an urgent need to develop head protection systems with blast protection/mitigation capabilities in addition to ballistic protection. Modern military operations, ammunitions, and technology driven war tactics require a lightweight headgear that integrates protection mechanisms (against ballistics, blasts, heat, and noise), sensors, night vision devices, and laser range finders into a single system. The current article provides a comparative study on the design, materials, and ballistic and blast performance of the combat helmets used by the US Army based on a comprehensive and critical review of existing studies. Mechanisms of ballistic energy absorption, effects of helmet curvatures on ballistic performance, and performance measures of helmets are discussed. Properties of current helmet materials (including Kevlar® K29, K129 fibers and thermoset resins) and future candidate materials for helmets (such as nano-composites and thermoplastic polymers) are elaborated. Also, available experimental and computational studies on blast-induced TBI are examined, and constitutive models developed for brain tissues are reviewed. Finally, the effectiveness of current combat helmets against TBI is analyzed along with possible avenues for future research.