Injuries of the Head from Backface Deformation of Ballistic Protective Helmets Under Ballistic Impact*

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Abstract

Modern ballistic helmets defeat penetrating bullets by energy transfer from the projectile to the helmet, producing helmet deformation. This deformation may cause severe injuries without completely perforating the helmet, termed “behind armor blunt trauma” (BABT). As helmets become lighter, the likelihood of larger helmet backface deformation under ballistic impact increases. To characterize the potential for BABT, seven postmortem human head/neck specimens wearing a ballistic protective helmet were exposed to nonperforating impact, using a 9 mm, full metal jacket, 124 grain bullet with velocities of 400–460 m/s. An increasing trend of injury severity was observed, ranging from simple linear fractures to combinations of linear and depressed fractures. Overall, the ability to identify skull fractures resulting from BABT can be used in forensic investigations. Our results demonstrate a high risk of skull fracture due to BABT and necessitate the prevention of BABT as a design factor in future generations of protective gear.

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