Many of the projects we complete for clients are pretty straightforward and only have a few components. Today, we are talking about a more complex project completed for the U.S. Military’s Special Forces Command (SOCOM) back in 2001. It had to do with modular integrated communications helmets (MICH helmets, for short). This project consisted of three separate but inter-related tasks and spanned nearly three years.
As military communication technology became more sophisticated, it also became integral to battlefield operations. Military leadership with the U.S. Special Forces wanted to have a new helmet that could accommodate the better earpieces, so they looked on the open market to see if there were existing helmet systems that would meet their needs. If existing helmets were not exactly right, was there a helmet system that was close, and could be perfected for SOCOM’s particular requirements? Whatever helmet system was eventually developed would need to fit the full range of head sizes of Special Forces Operators. That’s where Anthrotech came in. SOCOM came to us wanting help assessing the fit of existing helmets, evaluating candidate helmets and optimizing the system eventually selected.
How Anthrotech Helped
Anthrotech was able to help shape the MICH helmet in a number of ways throughout the projects.
- The Special Forces Command was initially trying to decide if they should use pads in the helmets, or a traditional sling suspension system, pictured below. The straps ensure the hard part of the helmet doesn’t directly touch someone’s head. The government was evaluating seven different helmets and needed help deciding which versions were worth pursuing further.Anthrotech did the fit evaluation on those helmets and determined the ones with pads were able to fit a greater range of head size. We found that the pads provided a better overall fit and were more comfortable than the sling system. The government decided to move ahead with the pad suspension system in the next round of helmet testing.
- There were six configurations of the padded helmet, as it came in two shell sizes with three different thicknesses of pads. Any of the pad thicknesses could be used in either of the helmet shells, so that resulted in, essentially, six different possible sizes. Our next goal was to determine if all six configurations were truly necessary to fit the user population. We measured Special Forces members, Army soldiers and people from the civilian populations. Measurements included: head length, head breadth, head circumference, head height and bizygomatic breadth (face width across the cheekbones).We determined that the two helmet sizes were definitely needed, but that people with especially large heads might need thinner pads than were being tested at that time.
- In the last round of testing, we evaluated four sizes of pads for the sides and five sizes for the pad at the very top of the head to figure out which combinations of pads and helmet size would best fit most Special Forces members.
Although we found that some people preferred each of the four pad thicknesses, most users were able to get an adequate fit in just the one pad size; of course, two helmet shell sizes were still needed. Based on our fit test data, the government eventually decided to ship one size of pad with the helmet and produce one thicker pad that was available by special order. SOCOM stopped purchasing helmets with the sling system and moved forward with padded helmets that met all of their requirements. The helmets were so effective for the Special Forces that the Army adopted them, and they are widely issued today as the Advanced Combat Helmet.