JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Defenders at installations across the Department of the Air Force are set to don the Security Forces NextGen Helmet 2.0 later this year.
Following a recent contract award by the Air Force Security Forces Center (AFSFC), Helmet 2.0 includes the ability to mount a wider variety of accessories, features bolt-on accessory rails and a night vision goggle mount that’s easy to adjust or replace, and a chinstrap extender for gas masks.
The 2.0 effort is part of AFSFC’s “replacement through attrition program,” and builds on the functionality of the SF NextGen 1.0 helmet released in 2020, said Master Sgt. John Sutherland, individual protective equipment (IPE) program manager at the center.
“In modern society, we’re all familiar with the urge to update our phones to the latest and greatest model, but this hasn’t translated to some of the most important things in our profession, like ballistic helmets,” the master sergeant said.
“The rate of technological advancements today is astounding, and produces emerging threats and requirements rapidly,” Sutherland said. “As the world’s preeminent air power, we make great strides to update and upgrade airframes and other operational technologies, so it only makes sense to modernize the equipment used by those that defend them.”
Part of that modernization includes listening to and implementing, where possible, feedback from Defenders across the enterprise.
“Feedback from the field is critical and is actually the reason that some of the characteristics for the 2.0 helmet were developed.,” Sutherland said. “No amount of testing or technical evaluations will cover everything because at the end of the day, only Defenders know what Defenders need.”
“The field has multiple avenues of approach from surveys, direct visits to installations and open lines of communication like quarterly teleconferences and emails,” said Master Sgt. Raymond Santiago, AFSFC’s security forces individual equipment manager.
The AFSFC’s S-4 Individual Equipment section is a customer service entity and relies on the enterprise to provide feedback and submit issues, Santiago added.
"We can't grow, if we don’t know," he said.
“The best way to get feedback from the field is by putting our equipment through real-life practical scenarios that a Defender might face in every part of their career from year one all the way through retirement,” said Defender Instructor Supervisor Tech. Sgt. Travis Hillard with the 343rd Training Squadron’s Security Forces Apprentice course in San Antonio.
Hillard, other instructors and students were instrumental in testing functionality before AFSFC gave the modified helmet the thumbs up.
The Defenders put the helmets through “rigorous testing” conducted during field training which included mounted and dismounted operations, low crawl/high crawl and a variety of other air base defense training objectives, Sutherland said.
“These helmets were soaked in sweat and caked in sand, and after hours of use each tester was fitted with a gas mask and jacket to ensure compatibility with the helmet,” he added.
Participants also completed an extensive survey on the equipment and its functionality.
The NextGen helmet program is just one part of the greater AFSFC’s individual protective equipment effort to standardize and modernize Defender equipment across the Air and Space Forces.
“Helmet 2.0 is only one aspect of the initiative,” Sutherland said. “The Modular Scalable Vest and Female Body Armor … Model Defender which will provide equipment such as pouches, holsters, duty belts and more for each and every member. These efforts ensure that Defenders can expect technologically relevant and high-quality gear no matter where they are performing their mission.”
“The need to innovate gear is important for the protection of our Airmen and Guardians,” said Santiago.
Hilliard echoed those sentiments.
“It’s incredibly important to constantly update our equipment to meet both modern threats, and to best utilize the constantly upgrading technology available to security forces protecting installations around the globe,” he said.
Consistently rolling out new and updated equipment across the enterprise “helps create the elite weapon systems Defenders need to be in the modern operating environment.”
“Threats are increasing and evolving so it’s critical our team provides the enterprise with the latest technology to ensure mission capabilities aren’t hindered and our greatest of asset are protected,” Santiago said. “At AFSFC, we continue to collect feedback and upgrade Defender gear to defeat or deter any enemies that threaten our installations.”
“Helmet 2.0 is a big win for security forces but it only plays a part in bigger things to come for our Defenders,” he said. “We’ll continue these efforts with an agile approach while keeping an eye on emerging requirements and new technologies.”
“In five years’ time, we may be fielding IPE solutions that we’ve only seen in science fiction a few years ago.”