HOME / Helmets: Is it Keblar or Kevlar? The new Marine Helmets.

The earliest use of helmets in the Philippines could have originated with the Spanish troops who accompanied the first European explorers. This statement would however exclude the possible use by the inhabitants of the Islands of helmets that could have obtained them by trading with the Chinese and Islamic traders.

The helmet returned to military use in modern war as protection from fragments of explosive shells impacting on the head of the soldier. This is a reaction to the development of "shrapnel" or explosive projectiles fired from cannons. It was discovered that by protecting the head of a combatant with a helmet, the number of casualties on the battlefield would be reduced substantially. (As troops would not be disabled by injuries that would be considered minor wounds if these shell fragments impacted on other parts of the body.)

The widespread use of helmets in occured in World War 1, with the German troops adopting a steel helmet that resembled a coal bucket. And the English and American armies using a steel helmet that resembled a soup dish. This "soup dish" helmet would be used in the Philippines in the beginning of the Second World War. However most Philippine troops of the United States Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) would be first issued coconut fiber helmets that were only good for protection from the sun.

The second type of helmet that would be used by the Philippine Armed forces was the US M-1 helmet that replaced the WW1 design or "Bataan" helmet that was worn by US forces when they "returned" in Leyte. The M-1 helmet consisted of two parts. A steel outer shell and a liner made from impregnated cloth fiber. The outer steel shell would be used by troops as an expedient shovel, basin, water kettle, stool, or even as a pillow.

The M-1 helmet continues to serve in the Philippines with changes to the liner being made of injection plastic, ballistic nylon, or fiberglass. A distinct part of the Philippine Marines uniform since their beginning has been the wearing of the helmet. Recently some small quantities of the US designed PASGT Helmet have been issued to some Marine units. The first helmets could have been obtained from US military stocks from the two bases of Clark AFB and Subic Bay. Or perhaps from US Foreign Military Assistance shipments. The distinct shape of the US PASGT has become popular that it has been manufactured by Canada, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and even the Peoples Republic of China.

Recent events in the Philippines that led to the sudden change of the Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) of the Philippine Navy were his comments in regard to the procurement of PASGT type helmets of substandard quality for the Philippine Marines. The following articles and webpages hopefully can provide some background on the helmets in question.

Former Marine Commandant and Commanding General Southern Command is charged:
Espinosa, 17 others charged for buying ‘substandard’ helmets.

EX-MARINES CHIEF FACES GRAFT RAPS .MANILA, July 22, 2004 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla - Prosecutors asked the Sandiganbayan yesterday to suspend a former commandant of the Philippine Marines, now the head of the Manila Economic Cultural Office in Taiwan, for the anomalous acquisition of Kevlar helmets worth P3.8 million.

TEST AND EVALUATION REPORT on Marine Corps Combat Helmets.(HQPMC)

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Used with permission from the site of Michaeli and Charles A. Simpson, author.

The History of the PASGT Helmet

by Charles A. Simpson
 
The PASGT helmet grew out of a research effort initiated by the Army's Natick Research Lab in the early 1970'sthat was intended to lighten the load carried by infantry soldiers. Since the helmet and the flak jacket represented a fair amount of weight, it was hoped that the use of the aramid fibers (Kevlar) instead of steel might help ease the soldier's burden. As the program evolved, the emphasis changed from making a lighter helmet to making a more protective helmet at a weight equivalent to the M-1 Steel Pot.
After determining that the kevlar technology was practical, a Natick team, led by Phil Durand, initiated a very detailed anthropometric study of the human head in order to determine the optimum dimensions of the new helmet. This data was very important since many of the problems inherent in the M-1 Steel Pot, such as instability, were the result of the fact that it fit most soldiers poorly. It was scientifically determined that new helmet would require three sizes (small, medium, and large) to accommodate most male soldiers.

PASGT combat damage
The original sizing plan was soon changed because of pressure from Congress to provide helmets for the large number of women (theoretically non-combantants) entering service in the Army and Marines during the 1980's. Since women, on average, have smaller heads than men, this required the creation of the extra-small size helmet.
The original sizing plan was further distorted during the Persian Gulf War when a extra-large size was manufactured. Supposedly, the extra-large size was created to accommodate the unusually large cranium of an individual senior Army commander. A special production run of one thousand extra-large helmets was made at the Unicor (Federal Prison Industries) factory. At present, there are no plans to produce the extra-large again, making it an extremely rare variant.

PASGT & German M35 WW2,  (US Army Natick Labs photo)
Although the contour of the PASGT helmet is frequently compared to that of the NAZI helmet by casual observers, it was not modeled after the German M-35. The slight similarity in contour is the result of the fact that the Germans designers and Natick Lab personnel used similar methods to determine the shape of the helmet. Both countries' researchers relied on wound probabilities, equipment interaction studies, and the anthropometric data to establish the contours. The people at Natick do not like to hear their helmet compared to the German M-35. US helmet designers have been very sensitive about comparisons to German helmets ever since one of their best designs, the Slade #5, was rejected during WW I for looking too much like a German M-16.

PASGT ptototype
The first prototype PASGT helmets were made in two materials, fiberglass and kevlar. The ballistic-resistance performance of the two materials was about the same; however, fiberglass didn't hold up as well in the durability tests as kevlar. Two hundred helmets of each type were made for testing. These prototypes are easily identified because have the woodland camo pattern painted directly on the shell. This was done to enhance the marketability of the helmet to the U.S.Army - no one at Natick ever intended to field a helmet with the camo painted directly on the shell. The prototypes were made by a small marine fiberglass molding shop in Mass. called Geonautic, Inc.
Once the helmet was adopted, there was some controversy about what to call it. Some at Natick wanted to call it the Duramac since Durand and McManus were the two fellows primarily involved with the project; however, it was eventually decided to call it the Personal Armor System, Ground Troops (PASGT) Helmet. The term "armor system" refers to the fact that the kevlar vest is usually worn with the helmet. The current kevlar PASGT vest was designed by the same team that designed the PASGT helmet.
Shortly after the PASGT was issued to the army, one of the primary manufacturers, Gentex, Inc of Carbondale, Pa., developed a variation on the helmet that was intended as an industrial hardhat. One thousand of these were purchased by Keydril, Inc., an international oilwell drilling contractor. The hardhat version of the PASGT was not successful due to its high cost, excessive weight, and unusually looks. Consequently, Gentex withdrew it from production after the Keydril purchase.
The PASGT helmet has been widely imitated by other countries. PASGT-style helmets are currently used in Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Serbia, Estonia, Croatia, Australia, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia and China.
Since being first issued, the PASGT helmet has undergone several refinements.
The Kevlar originally used in the dome of the PASGT helmet has been replaced with new materials. Helmets made for the U.S. Army are now fabricated from Kevlar II, a material with a noticeably tighter weave than the old Kevlar. The soon-to-be-issued helmets made for the U.S. Marines will be fabricated from Spectra. Spectra helmets are readily identified since Spectra is not a woven material. It remains to be seen if the Spectra PASGT helmets will be successful since this material is much more difficult to mold than kevlar. Unless the manufacturing process is carefully controlled, past experiments have shown that the Spectra helmets tend to delaminate very easily under field conditions.
The PASGT liner has also been modified from the original design. The leather portion of the liner has been widened, and the design of the clips that attach the sweatband to the webbing has been changed. A special, disposable, shock-absorbing liner insert has also been issued to paratroopers to provide more "bump" protection during jumps.
A modified chinstrap, using a three point system, has been issued on an experimental basis. The U.S. Army used some of these helmets during the peacekeeping mission in Haiti. The current thinking is three point chinstrap will not be adopted due to some interoperability problems with certain equipment.
A highly modified PAGST variant, the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH), providing improved protection, utility and comfort, will be issued to the Special Operations Forces in 2001. The MICH is shallower than the PASGT and uses a different version of Kevlar combined with different bonding techniques. This helmet has been specifically designed to defeat a 9 mm round.
The MICH uses a new seven-pad suspension system. The suspension pads are composed partly of comfort foam and "slow-memory" impact foam. The suspension is attached to the dome of the helmet by a series of glued-on strips of Velcro.
The MICH uses a four-point chinstrap and in only made in medium and large, with different sized pads used to account for the vast majority of sizes in between.
If the MICH proves successful, it may become the helmet of the Army's Land Warrior Program.
 
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