Tactical Bump Helmets
Bump helmets are helmets that do not provide ballistic protection but provide head protection to specific civilian standards and which have tactical feature sets such as NVG mounts and picatinny rails. Bump helmets can be certified to a number of standards, with the most common being:
- EN12492:2012 Mountaineering helmet
- PAS028:2002 Marine safety helmet
- BS EN 1385:2012 (Whitewater)
- Blunt impact performance per ACH CO/PD 05-04: 2007
Commercially available protective equipment is tested and certified according to standards set by the NIJ. As the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, the organization oversees performance standards for equipment used by criminal justice agencies. NIJ isn’t a regulatory body; its performance standards are voluntary. Manufacturers engage third-party labs to test their goods to the specs set by the standards, thus allowing them to promote a certain NIJ protective “level.” NIJ guidance has become the industry standard for most commercially available body armor, largely adopted by manufacturers because it reflects best practices. It also makes it easier to compare equipment against a common set of benchmarks. But while NIJ maintains a tested Compliant Armor List, tactical helmets are governed by constantly evolving standards that defy one set of performance specifications.
There are three essential NIJ standards:
1. NIJ Standard 0106.01, Standard for Ballistic Helmets
NIJ helmet standard 0106.01—was published in 1981 and is considered woefully outdated. Further, 0106.01 “only consists of three levels, levels I, IIA and II, and so there is no level IIIa associated with an NIJ standard for helmets.” Thus manufacturers aren’t testing to just this old document, but to this standard combined with other, more modern and relevant NIJ balistic standards.
2. NIJ Standard 0101.06, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor
For now, body armour is tested to NIJ Standard 0101.06, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor, which as published in 2008. This standard’s test protocol identifies five ballistic protection levels determined by the calibre and velocity that enable a bullet to puncture ballistic material and/or cause blunt trauma to the wearer:
3. NIJ Standard 0108.01, Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials
The protection levels outlined by NIJ's Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials Standard (0108.01) can apply to a range of items. These levels can define the ballistic resistance of any piece of equipment, including helmets.
So, when a helmet company advertises “Level IIIA protection,” which standard are they following? When it comes to helmets advertised as “NIJ Level IIIA,” a manufacturer should be testing against NIJ Standard 0108.01, Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials. But some could conceivably be testing against the body armor standard, NIJ 0101.06. Level IIIA protection according to 0108.01 ideally means that a helmet is tested to stop up to the following threats:
• 240 grain (15.55g) .44 Magnum rounds at a nominal velocity of 426m/s (1,400 f/s).
• 124 grain (8.0g) 9 mm Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds at a nominal velocity of 426m/s(1,400 f/s).
However, in reality, a lot of helmets aren't even tested to the .44 Magnum "IIIA" threat—very frequently, those that claim IIIA according to 0108.01 were only tested vs. the 9mm "IIIA" threat. In other words, helmet manufacturers don't always evaluate their stuff against both projectiles.
In addition, there is some debate about whether helmets that are tested to stop a .44 Magnum would fully protect the wearer. The back-face deformation injury from a .44 strike might still be fatal. But as a general rule all helmet purchasers and wearers should assume that a level IIIA helmet truly protects them against 9 mm Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds at a nominal velocity of 1,400 f/s. And unless a manufacturer provides test data showing they’ve evaluated the .44 Magnum, purchasers should not assume they will have that level of protection.
Other ballistic helmets tests
STANAG 2920 (Ballistic test method for personal armour materials and combat clothing) is used to measure materials ability to stop fragments and shrapnel. The measuring technique was originally developed for body armour but now see general use in all situations where fragments are the primary concern.
To keep up with the latest threats and make helmets from lighter, stronger materials, tactical helmet manufacturers also test to specific standards set by large contracts like the U.S. Army’s Advanced Combat Helmet Generation II (ACH GEN II). ACH Blunt Impact Protection requirements (per Purchase Description AR/PD 10-02) stem from a widely used U.S. Army helmet impact test based on the Department of Transportation’s FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) 218 for motorcycle helmets.
Back Face Deformation Test
H.P. White Test Laboratory introduced a test to evaluate back face deformation - HPWTP-0401.01. The purpose of this was to evaluate the ballistic resistance of a helmet to penetration by bulleted ammunition and the resistance of potentially lethal, back face intrusion of the helmet into the protected cavity as a result of non-penetrating bullet impacts.
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