American commandos will soon be going into combat protected by a new, high-tech helmet. According to a statement by the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Gentex Corporation has been awarded a contract worth $95 million to supply SOCOM with its Ops-Core FAST SF Super High Cut Helmet.
Gentex manufactures a number of different models of protective headgear. The Ops-Core FAST SF Super High Cut Helmet, however, is the most advanced. According to a company description, the helmet has a “revolutionary ergonomic shell geometry…providing the highest level of ballistic protection at the lightest weight. Designed for combat operations, these shells provide different ballistic protection levels and cuts to suit the range of mission and comms needs.”
The high-cut specification allows for more communications and hearing protection systems. That does, however, come at the cost of less protection on the side of the helmet.
The Army’s current combat helmet is also manufactured by Gentex and is a mid-cut model, meaning that it offers more ear protection but is also heavier and less accommodating of communications and hearing protection systems.
SOCOM first announced its intent to procure a new helmet for its operators back in March 2017. The initial call for proposals stated that the minimum value of the contract would be $150,000 and the maximum would be $95 million. Gentex was awarded the maximum possible contract for an unspecified number of helmets. Note: On the retail market, the Ops-Core FAST SF Super High Cut Helmet currently costs $1,690.
Interestingly, some special operations units have already been using the Ops-Core FAST SF Super High Cut Helmet. The Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC), for instance, has been fielding the helmet, alongside other models, to its Marine Raiders for some time now. In May 2018, a representative from the Marine Corps Systems Command (SYSCOM) told the Marine Corps Times, “The Marine Corps is buying a small quantity of mid-cut and high-cut helmets to conduct ballistic testing and limited user evaluations to develop a better understanding of the trade-offs between ballistic protection, situational awareness, and hearing system integration. For now, this is only a research and development effort.”
The balance between ballistic protection, weight, and comfort is always a precarious one. If the helmet doesn’t provide sufficient protection to the operator, then it’s worthless. If, on the other hand, the helmet is too heavy, the operator will be less effective on operations.
One thing is certain: SOCOM and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which commands Delta Force and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU)—also known as SEAL Team 6—among other tier-one units, have come a long way since the hockey-style helmets operators once used in combat operations.