In an effort to keep soldiers cooler in the heat of battle, the U.S. Army is developing an innovative next-generation protective helmet that incorporates an air-conditioning system. Looking like something from the “Halo” video game, the helmet features a facemask that is designed to filter out potentially harmful chemical and biological contaminants while providing the soldier with cool, fresh air. The new technology has been under development in Maryland at the Army’s Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center since 2013. The center is a subordinate unit of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. The design is a byproduct of the laboratory’s efforts to improve chemical, biological and radioactive respirators.

The futuristic headgear contains a powered air-purifying respirator. The unit is lighter and requires less energy than its heavier, bulkier predecessors. A hose connects the helmet’s facemask to a blower fan. The battery pack is worn on the soldier’s hip or back. The blower fan draws air in through the filters on the side of the mask, which causes airflow across the soldier’s face. Current models require the soldier to physically inhale air through the filter. When the soldier exhales, the inlet valves close. Air is diverted into the eye cavity, which creates an over-pressure inside that mask that stops any outside contaminants from entering the face piece, even if the mask seal is compromised.

Researchers working on the project have tested the technology against a modified version of the service’s current M50 general-purpose mask. Real-time data showed that the new system was able to perform as effectively as the M50 during a variety of military exercises and combat maneuvers, including running, crawling, digging a foxhole and weapons firing. Because discomfort is an issue with any respiration device, army officials tested the high-tech headgear and concluded that it is more comfortable to wear. Scientists and engineers at Edgewood are working to improve the systems communication technology as well as sensors that will turn the blower fan on and off based on the environment and the soldier’s physiology.

The new mask, in the early stages of development, will be combined with the military’s next-generation helmet. Integration testing has not yet started. The military has also not yet determined a date for fielding the new system.