Why don't modern military helmets have face guards?

Back in the 17th century, during the time of the Thirty Years’ War, mounted soldiers often wore a helmet called a burgonet. This wasn’t all that different from the helmets that modern day soldiers wear. It enclosed the head, it had a brim which protruded in front, and came down around the sides to protect the ears and the sides of the head. It also frequently had a visor that could be pivoted upwards.

Here’s a picture of one. Sometimes the coverage of the face visor would be even greater, as in this example, at the expense of visibility. But usually the wearer would have the visor up, with the face exposed, for greater visibility. But when he rode into the middle of battle, as the cuirassiers did, he would put down the visor to protect his face from swords or pistol shots. The “close helmet” of classic form was also frequently worn well into the 1600s. The visor would usually be up, but could be swiftly flipped down when needed.

Surely something like this could be incorporated into modern helmets? It wouldn’t be great protection against gunfire, but it would definitely go a long ways in stopping small bits of shrapnel and other debris from explosions, which as I understand are of more of a pressing concern to the military in the Middle East right now? It would protect the eyes, nose and mouth, and when not under fire, could be pivoted upwards, leaving the helmet open as it would normally be.

Has there been any attempt at full-face protection in military helmets in recent years? What’s the big obstacle to incorporating it, if not universally, at least in some units?

WAG: The cost and other issues (weight, comfort, visibility, etc) associated with making a faceplate capable of stopping a bullet are not worth it considering the number of people who get shot in the face is probably on the low side.

Edit I need to learn to read the WHOLE post before I reply. I’m not sure, I’d guess it would still be too expensive and bulky (helmets already weight something like 8 pounds iirc).

One compelling reason is visibility. Aside from the simple fact that a face shield would reduce a soldier’s vision, most clear shields are virtually impossible to reliably keep un-fogged.

A faceplate strong enough to block shrapnel would probably interfere with aiming, so that’s a substantial strike against it. Also, lobstertail helmets and similar 17th century models did away with the fancy faceplate in favour of a simple crossguard to block enemy blades, so it’s not like it was a universal feature even at that point.

The French GIGN (our crack, SWAT-like team) uses helmets fitted with a visor made of very thick, bulletproof glass/lexan.
It served them well during the Marignane Airport airplane hijacking - I remember the post-op pictures in the papers, including one which had caught two pistol bullets at close range. The visor was smashed, but AFAIR the policeman wasn’t seriously hurt.

So it certainly can be done. Why it’s not widely done, I can’t tell you.

  1. Users of the old M1 helmet (c. 1941-1983) would sometimes not wear them on patrol, because they would mess up their hearing. So acoustics are an issue.

  2. During WWII and the Korean War, fragmentation weapons were more of a threat than bullets.

  3. Cite for the above: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/m1-steel-pot.htm

  4. The latest model, the Advanced Combat Helmet, can be assessorized with goggles that resist fragmentary weapons. http://www.gentexcorp.com/default.aspx?pageid=943

IANAsoldier, nor can I reliably answer the OP.

The big thing you want to protect is your eyes. I can wear a pair of pimped out sunglasses and protect that fairly well without having a giant piece of metal (heat-conducting metal) around my face which I might not be able to remove easily enough if I suddenly wanted to. The big technological breakthrough they got running these days is they make sunglasses which can stop a direct bullet.

For my neck, I there’s a weird tube-y cloth thing-like you can wear around that (or a shemagh, if you’re hip) which will protect the neck if a spark or fresh shell casing or something like that lands there. But the eyes are more important. People who are in positions like the guy manning the turret on a humvee are more likely to wear more of the fancy armor and face shielding stuff (since they’re in a bullet-catching job), but generally that means wearing bigger goggles instead of simple shades.

In fact, Oakley makes good money selling to military & law enforcement types. US Standard Issue. Wiley X is another popular brand.

Many recent militarymissions have been more about peacekeeping than combat.

This means winning hearts and minds.

Wearing shades, visoers, goggles etc are not likely to help in your contacts with locals, it makes you more remote and dehumanses you.

This is not a theory, it is a recognised operating practice and was even in some of our army recruiting ads a few years ago.

But a visor like the type I’m talking about has the advantage of being able to quickly move up or down as needed. Most of the time, the visor would be up on troops that would be seen by the civilians; but when they come under enemy fire, or hear an explosion, or are into an area they know as being risky, then they flip the visors down.

If you look at illustrations and paintings of during the Medieval and Renaissance eras you will notice the same thing with the knights and other heavy cavalry. If there is some kind of meeting, truce, or otherwise non-violent confrontation between two opposite sides, or a scenario where an army is gathered but not in combat, most of the knights will have their visors up (faces visible.) See here. In fact, to not have your visor up would have been considered very rude or even hostile - the visor would have immediately been raised upon seeing another knight in a peaceful setting, which was the origin of today’s military salute.

Really? My motorcycle helmet face shield, while not really capable of stopping anything bigger then a small rock, has an anti-fog coating that works just fine. The only issue I have with it is that there’s a bit of chromatic aberration, especially when I have on my polarized sunglasses, but I attribute that to the fact that it was $20. I’d imagine there are higher end anti-fog coatings that don’t have this problem.

I was going to say - people are capable of riding (and even racing) motorcycles - something that requires a high degree of visibility, to say the least, especially in city traffic - with visors over their faces. Of course, these visors can be flipped up or down. Like the helmets I’m proposing.

Former Marine infantry here. Anything that restricts vision or breathing is not good. I could see using a good pair of goggles but no way a full face shield.
Weight is also an issue. Chances are that any face shield strong enough to stop/deflect a bullet or shrapnel is going to weigh at least an additional pound of unwanted weight on your head…ugh.
For me at least, I would prefer that extra pound going towards ammo.

Figure that the in most modern combat, you will probably be hidden behind something, shooting at someone who is also hidden behind something. If that something is a barricade or the lip of a trench, then you will only be lifting out as much of your head as you need to, to see. The entire top of your head will be exposed, plus a very slender region just below for your eyes. The odds of a bullet finding its way through that slender opening is very small. On the other hand, if the something you are hiding behind is a wall or a column, then when you look out for a peak, your head will be at an angle. One eye will peek out along with a whole bunch of the top of your head. That one eye is, again, a very small target and unlikely to be hit.

In both of these cases, you are talking about a very small portion of the total area that is in danger.

In medieval fighting, your entire body was exposed in all of your fights. Having your face protected was almost certainly a fairly wise thing. But with modern fighting you are either hiding behind something or you are running to hide behind something. In both of these cases, the face is such a small portion of everything that it’s not really worth worrying about if the rest of you is being protected.

That’s why these are cool.

WAG here (out of my personal readings of the history of warfare):

One of the most important (if not the most important) aspects of warfare is movement. Moving your army first to the battlefield, entrenching, and taking the superior positions are a function of the speed that you can move your army. The army that arrives second is at a distinct disadvantage.

Before missiles weapons (like the arrow), hand-to-hand combat was paramount, so there was an arms race in terms of body armor: leather, shields, breastplates, chain mail, plate mail, etc. After the invention of the arrow (and then firearms) the importance of hand to hand combat decreased and movement again became of paramount importance. By the time of Ghenghis Khan, body armor was already on the way out, and in the early days of single shot muskets, they didn’t even use helmets (Napoleon, the US Civil War.)

Imho, the introduction of the typical GI helmet is more ornamental rather than functional, given the lethality of conventional arms that can be fired over large distances (e.g. cannons, the howitzer.) The typical way to counteract these were to a) fire back with your own cannons or b) charge (i.e. another function of speed.) In either case, armor would be detrimental.

Nowadays, as armies have to deal with more booby traps and snipers (which counteract the advantages of movement speed) armor is once again being used extensively.

Therefore, the more important speed is to the situation, the less armor will be used. The less important speed is, the more armor is used.

One example that really shows speed vs armor is Hitler’s Blitzkreig strategy during WW2, particularly vs France’s Maginot line. Hitler’s tanks didn’t overrun France’s defenses, they sped around the wall before the defenders could re-entrench, or even move to position. With the invention of the bazooka (which could move as fast or faster than a tank,) tank warfare is nearly inconsequential today.

A more modern example would be bomb squads vs swat teams. Swat teams are only armored to the point where movement is not severely compromised. Bomb squads, conversely, use the heaviest armor they can find, as movement is not as important.

Therefore, to answer your question: the reason why face guards aren’t used is that in general, armor is useless (or at least, less useful) in modern warfare.

This is just not true at all. While armour did decline as guns and ranged weapons became more common, fully-armoured troops definitely co-existed with arquebuses, muskets and pistols well into the age of gunpowder. Even in the 17th century, there were still fully-armoured cavalrymen whose job it was to charge straight into the enemy infantry, as shock troops, and create panic and chaos. They would fire both pistols at close range and then start hacking away with swords. Protected in 80 to 100 pound steel armour, they were virtually invulnerable to swords, pikes and pistols. Well into the 1600s, there would be guys dressed like this on the battlefield, riding into gunfire. Arthur Hasselrig, Parlimentarian commander of the English Civil War, survived being shot in the face with a pistol three times during one battle because he was wearing a fully enclosing helmet. All the men in his regiment wore full armour. A regiment of cuirassiers could rout a regiment of foot several times their size.

Of course, the weight of the armour was negated by the fact that they had horses to carry them. Modern troops, obviously, do not. With the exception, however, of turret gunners. These guys are the modern equivalent of the armored cavalrymen; surely they, if not the run of the mill infantry, would benefit from a face shield?

What you are saying makes some sense, but your conclusions are way off. Modern infantry helmets are highly protective; they are capable of stopping a rifle round under some circumstances, and they provide a lot of protection from bumps and knocks, etc. They also are a good mounting point for things like NVGs, and help keep the solider camouflaged. Also, your head is the most likely part of your body to be exposed during a firefight.

And man portable anti-tank weapons like the bazooka are far less effective than you think. Tanks are still the backbone of any open warfare operation. Air support is handy, but hasn’t come close to eliminating the tank, because aircraft are vulnerable while loitering, especially against a well-armed opponent. Even the updated HEAT rounds for the RPG, etc, aren’t reliable in killing a tank. The systems like the dragon or javelin are decent, but they aren’t quick to set up and carry. I don’t know how you would come up with the idea that tanks are inconsequential on the modern battlefield.

And I’ve never seen an infantryman who can run at 45 miles per hour.

IANATG, I don’t know about all the sort of high speed things they have going on, but in my experience those guys do wear more crap than the rest of us Joe Schmoe riders. Face-wise it’s more like goggles and a neck garter, and a chicken plate (that top thing). YMMV.

Another vote here for “It would get in the way”. I haven’t deployed overseas yet, but all the sergeants who have tell me to get as few accessories as I need to take with me, since fancy scopes, high speed flashlights, tactical witchits and strategic whozamagogs are all extra weight for me to carry with me.

And yeah, infantrymen can carry extra bits to complement the helmets, such as goggles, face masks, neck guards, etc. which give varying degrees of added protection. The Army uniforms have collars which can be flipped up and velcroed shut to keep hot shell casings and bits of flying rock and dirt from going down their collars and burning them (I am told it is nasty unpleasant to have a freshly spent rifle casing sitting between your kevlar and your neck).

As far as fogging the mask, I’ve seen face masks which had a plastic deflector piece inside that went over the mouth and nose (but did not make any kind of seal) which basically kept the vapor from your breath off of the glass. I’ve never seen the inside of a motorcycle helmet, but my girlfriend (who has far more biker cred then I ever intend to gain) informs me that biker helmets which use a full face closure will also have vents that allow air flow inside the helmet (I’m guessing enough to blow the moisture away, but far less then you’d have with no faceplate and just squinting into the wind).

Aren’t battlefields sometimes a bit dirty? I’d expect any kind of visor to become hopelessly smeared with mud and dirt.