Science says yes!
We have all been there before. We spend money on the latest and greatest technological marvel only to realize that maybe the latest doesn’t necessarily mean greatest.
Look at your smartphone. Yeah, you can watch non-stop cat videos and get swiped left on by all the loves of your life, but the battery drops to 50 percent by 10 a.m., and a slight fall will result in a shattered screen. It makes you think back to that trusty Nokia phone that you could literally talk on for three days straight and throw full force at your idiot friend’s head without worrying about it breaking.
Well, the same thing can be said about helmets.
As we learn more about traumatic brain injuries and the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on the human brain and behavior, scientists started to look at if the helmets used by the American military actually gave the protection that they should be giving. There is no doubt that helmets (regardless of which era) provide protection. While initially designed to protect from bullets and shrapnel, there is an increasing need to protect military members from shockwaves and concussions.
Biomedical researchers at Duke University decided to test out the modern military helmet to see how it held up. They also decided to use older helmets as well to see how they stacked up.The results, as they say in clickbait headlines, were shocking.
The older helmets performed just as well as modern counterparts when it came to shockwave protection.
One though, the French Adrian helmet, actually did a better job of protection.
Before we go into why, we need to understand the evolution of the modern combat helmet.
In ancient times all the way to the Middle Ages, metallic helmets were a necessity. The Romans had their Gallic helmet, the Greeks the Corinthian helmet, the knights of the Middle ages had jousting helmets and the Samurai of Japan had their kabuto headgear (Darth Vader’s helmet was based on the samurai style).
These helmets protected from swords, javelins, lances and clubs. But a new invention made them rapidly obsolete: Gunpowder. Bullets could penetrate helmets with ease, and headgear became mostly stylish and ceremonial. The Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire had a long flowing bork, Americans in the Revolution had the trifold, and the British wore bearskins and busbys. Military headgear was tall, decorative, and not really practical.
This all changed with World War I. While artillery and mortars were not new to the battlefield, advances in the types of shells used were. The military brass on both sides rapidly saw that artillery that exploded in the air (airburst) was causing horrific injuries that had not been seen before. It became quite clear that the headgear of the time (like the famous German pickelhaube) was not suited at all for trench warfare. Almost immediately, a call went out for helmets that would deflect shrapnel.
The British had the Brodie, the French produced the Adrian and the Germans came out with the Stahlhelm. While the carnage of World War I was still horrific, helmets did provide protection and were here to stay.
Their future designs were based on protecting the wearer from shrapnel and projectiles. Every helmet designed since, including the Kevlar helmets worn in Iraq and Afghanistan have had that purpose.
While they might have become lighter and sturdier, the intent was the same.
However, scientists have recently discovered that it’s not just projectiles that cause damage. The shockwave that comes from an explosion is just as harmful. Back in World War I, troops would come off the lines in a state of confusion and in a stupor. Doctors would examine the soldier to find no physical damage. The term shell shock was coined to describe men that were rendered combat ineffective while not sustaining wounds. In some circles, this was not considered a medical issue, but a sign of weakness.
Nowadays, we know that the shockwaves from a blast can cause brain damage and trauma, which can cause a soldier to be rendered out of action.
During the Global War on Terror, medical officers noticed a dramatic drop in pulmonary trauma. The body armor worn by troops clearly did protect not just from shrapnel, but shockwaves as well.
Now, scientists are looking to see if there is a way to design a helmet that can protect the brain from those shockwaves.
The researchers at Duke wanted to see how the American Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) protected servicemembers from those shockwaves. They decided to test out World War I helmets too to see how much better the helmet did when compared to those primitive models.
The ACH pretty much offered the same protection from shockwaves as a World War I helmet worn by a British or German soldier. The French Adrian helmet, on the other hand, performed better as far as protection. Why is that? The researchers say it is simple geometry.
The French Adrian helmet has a crest on top and a brim that reflects more outward than the other helmets. The design was to deflect shrapnel, but researchers now know that it does a better job of dissipating shockwaves than other helmets, including the ACH.
Now before you ditch your Kevlar or think it’s worthless, know this. Every helmet offers five to tenfold protection than not wearing one.
Now there will be a rush to design a new helmet that not only deflects shrapnel but also shockwaves.
Who knows, maybe someone reading this will be the one to do so.