Ballistic Face Shields

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You've seen them around in increasing numbers in the past few years. Those spooky Jason-meets-Michael Myers masks being worn by 'operators' from video games to the sandbox. They are the ballistic face shields, and we are taking a closer look.

What are they?

Since the ancient hoplite warriors of Greece and their Corinthian helmets, soldiers have carried protective face armor into combat. This is easily more than 2500 years of ballistic face shields. The hoplite's helmets protected the wearers face from blows by edged weapons and low-velocity missiles like spears and arrows fired from long ranges.

As bronze fell out of fashion, medieval knights wore more up to date iron helms, bascinets, jousting helmets, and close helmets that covered the face and head entirely. These gave the wearer protection from the more modern edged weapons of the day and projectile weapons up to light crossbows. It was these pivoting visored helmets that brought about the modern military tradition of the hand salute, used by passing knights to identify the man inside the can.

The evolution

By the 1700s however, with the firearm taking to the battlefield, the days of face protection was over as the simple musket ball could penetrate even the most elaborate helmet. This did not stop outlaws such as Ned Kelley from using an improvised iron helmet in 1880 to withstand fusillades from Australian police.

(Ned Kelly's 1880s facemask was made from hammered plate, but as you can see from the photo above, it worked)

In World War 1, German snipers brought back ballistic protection and in the 1960s, the US Army experimented with face shields for soldiers. However, it is only today with the modern kevlars, spectra-shields, and other space-age materials that ballistic face shields are light enough to wear while being strong enough to work.

Full shields

These types of shields have been shown on the small screen in programs such as "Criminal Minds" and, more famously, in the video games Army of Two. They typically only have two small slits for eyeholes in the entire front face of the mask, giving the user chin-to forehead protection. Adjustable straps, usually four, or six depending on the maker, customize the front of the padded shield to the user's face.

The Taiwanese military's special operations unit uses these masks for some of its entry team members, and you have to admit, they are about the scariest thing you can imagine coming through the door.

(Used versions like this customized half-shield, often painted, can be found on Armslist, Craigslist, and eBay for as little as $200. Heck, you can always repaint them. Just be sure you arent getting a fake airsoft replica)

These are generally either NIJ IIA or IIIA, which will stop most handgun rounds and shotgun buckshot at point blank range as well as providing resistance to shrapnel. However, high-powered rifle rounds are still a no-go. In addition, these masks do not do much to absorb the energy that comes with being hit by a lead projectile moving very fast. Instead, they just mitigate the penetration of said lead. This can leave the wearer with ruptured blood vessels in the eyes, concussions, whiplash, neck injuries, a broken nose, or cracked jaw. But hey, it beats a .45ACP to the face doesn't it?

They can typically be found new from several vendors starting at around $375 and moving north from there.

One enterprising young DIY prepper built his own mask for about $30 from a repurposed hockey mask covered in Kevlar fabric, coated with snipped sheet aluminum and epoxied together with shocking results.

Half shields

While you would think full face shields would be the bee's knees in regards to keeping the face pretty against incoming rounds. Well the thing is, full-face shields prevent the user from wearing a modern helmet system. As you may think, it is pretty important to wear a helmet when the rounds are flying around to keep your noggin from picking up extra holes. This is where half shields come in handy. They usually run about the same price, just protect less.

The US Army and Airforce are issuing a face shield to helicopter aircrews deployed to combat areas as well.

This maxillofacial shield worn by a US Army UH-60 Blackhawk Crew chief (MOS 15Tango) offers some slight ballistic protection in addition to his ALSE Vest and flight helmet, but is mainly to help keep flying debris at bay. Taking off and landing a whirlybird in the sandbox is bad about that.

Still, we imagine it is only a matter of time before regular ground pounders are equipped with modern ballistic protection for their face. You cannot say it's a new concept.

(The Army of Two series of games, in which the main two anti-heroes don ballistic face masks, have led to an increasing popularity in these items)

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