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US Army's next-gen protective mask to help soldiers keep their cool


May 13, 2014

Army researchers envision a fan embedded within the mask's filtration system that uses less power, is lighter and is far less bulky than conventional respirators (Image: U.S. Army illustration)

Army researchers envision a fan embedded within the mask's filtration system that uses less power, is lighter and is far less bulky than conventional respirators (Image: U.S. Army illustration)

As well as protecting soldiers from impacts, modern helmets and masks are also designed to provide protection against chemical and biological agents. Such gear requires a powered air purifying respirator to supply air, but these traditionally rely on a separate battery pack and blower unit that is connected to the mask via a hose. The US Army is developing technology for a compact self-contained mask that is not only lighter and less cumbersome, but also helps keep soldiers cool.

With an eye towards technologies that could be integrated into a next-gen mask, scientists at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center developed a fan that is embedded within a mask's filtration system. The team says this consumes less power and is also lighter and less bulky than conventional respirators, helping to lighten the load for soldiers already burdened with heavy equipment.

Instead of a blower unit hanging off the hip or back, the new system pulls air through a filtration system on the side of the mask by a mini-blower before being directed across the nose cup, providing an even flow of cool, clean air across the face. When the user exhales, the air valve closes and the clean filtered air is diverted into the mask's eye cavity. This over-pressurizes the face piece to prevent outside contaminants entering the mask if the seal is broken.

The Army says that test studies using a modified, commercial version of the M50 joint service general purpose mask, which replaced the M40 Field Protective Mask in the US armed forces in December 2009, was found to be more comfortable for soldiers, while maintaining equal or higher levels of effectiveness when doing things that soldiers do, such as crawling, running, firing rifles and combat maneuvers.

The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center's Respiratory Protection Branch says it plans to develop a number of technologies that have the potential to be integrated into next-gen helmet and communication systems. Amongst these is a mask that uses physiological monitoring to sense when the fan needs to activate and deactivate, or a mode that lets the user control various settings, such as turning the fan on or off, turning the fan on with airflow just to the eye cavity, or turning the fan on with airflow to both the eye cavity and the nose cup.

Source: US Army

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I agree with slowburn that I am not sure how they power it but I can say I definitely hated doing physical activity in NBC gear. I did a land nav course in Kentucky in July once in full (MOPP 4) gear and it was pretty brutal. I probably lost a gallon of water in sweat and getting a lot of oxygen through the particle filter is definitely not easy to do.

I don't know how all the claims they are making are possible though without an external power source but even having an option to hook up to external power for airflow isn't a terrible idea as long its able to operate independently as well without being useless.

Per energy used it's probably the most efficient way to air condition people.


Welcome Starwars ! (Whites or blacks ?)


Hello Stormtroopers lol, heading towards Star Wars more and more each day... Now where did I leave my blaster?


The real question is how do they power it.


Having a fan motor near your head dulls the senses a lot.

Looks like a useful piece of kit in any harsh work conditions, not just military.

Dirk Scott

Interesting enough if you look at the murals at the Denver International Airport you will see that this mask was long-before predicted. Perhaps it is not a prediction but a foreshadow of what will be. There is more to uncover looking at the murals at the airport...perhaps will be the one to solve the mystery behind the paintings there.

Gilligan Gilligan

The only thing missing is the Cobra insignia.

Awesome looking and even better if it alleviates some of the discomfort of working in full MOPP gear.


How's the cheekweld? It's already a PIA to fire infantry arms in any kind of NBC gear, and I think we're ready for a redesigned shoulder stock to accommodate changes in protective stance. Powering it during long-term ops is an issue as well. Too much reliance on in-and-out missions and tech/logistic support leads to exploitable weakness, always.

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