The Air Force’s security forces airmen are getting a major upgrade to their helmets.
The next-generation ballistics helmet will replace the older, less-adaptable Advanced Combat Helmet that security forces currently wear, the Air Force said in a Thursday release.
The new helmets will be lighter and cooler than the old model, and come with better padding and built-in railings to easily attach accessories such as night vision goggles and tactical communications equipment, the release said. When security forces, also known as defenders, wanted to modify the Advanced Combat Helmet, which the Army commonly uses in combat, to carry out different missions, they had to attach bulky additions.
The new ballistic helmets also have a different, higher cut around the ear, similar to the helmets worn by special operators. The Advanced Combat Helmet has a mid-cut that partially covers the wearer’s ears.
The Air Force Security Forces Center is rolling out the new helmets to defender units as part of a broader effort to modernize and standardize their equipment. In June, for example, the Air Force awarded a contract for improved body armor for women, designed to better fit their bodies.
Other new or updated equipment being rolled out to security forces airmen include the M18 semi-automatic handgun, M4A1 carbine, M110A1 sniper rifle, M320A1 grenade launcher, and the modular scalable vest body armor.
“Defenders perform a variety of duties around the globe, anything from guarding bases in combat environments to protecting nuclear armament,” said Master Sgt. Markus Nelson, an individual equipment manager for the security forces center. “We had to find a solution to have one standard helmet that would keep all security forces defenders lethal and ready, no matter the task.”
Nelson said his team’s work will get improved equipment to the more than 38,000 security forces airmen across the Air Force over the next five to 10 years.
The first unit to get the new helmets was the 71st Security Forces Squadron at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, the release said. The Air Force quoted airmen from the 71st praising its lightness and comfort.
“It is actually really quick to put on and easily adjustable, allowing me more time to check my airmen and make sure everyone’s gear is on straight,” Senior Airman Craig Smith, a defender from the 71st, said in the release. “The biggest improvement I noticed is, it’s lightweight and if I take a hard turn in a Humvee, I know I’m not going to break my neck.”
“I just got back from a deployment and this helmet is made for hot areas like that," said Master Sgt. Darryl Wright, the logistics and readiness superintendent for the 71st. “Even where it’s not as hot, the mobility and light weight of the helmet makes a significant difference in what you can do.”
Wright, who has been in security forces for 19 years, said this is the most agile helmet he has ever worn.
“Even back here at home when we do readiness exercises, we bring all our fighting gear, including the helmet,” Wright said. "Exercises get you prepared for the fight and having next generation gear like this helmet improves [Vance’s] security readiness.”
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.