Although the U.S. Military is drawing down in several areas (Afghanistan for example), the importance of ballistic rated eye protection is not going away and has, in fact, become a mainstay of our armed forces. Also, the use of tactical eyewear has started to trickle down into non-military applications.

What is ballistic & tactical eyewear, & how does it differ from other eyewear?

In basic terms, ballistic refers to a free-moving object, such as a missile or cannon, fired from a fixed site. The term tactical relates to the activity, such as intelligence gathering or combat, that supports military operations. Ballistic and tactical eyewear protects wearers from the dangers associated with these and similar situations.

Also, ballistic and tactical eyewear provides additional protection in harsh military environments, such as the Middle East with its intense heat and frequent dust storms, and it does so at a standard well beyond those found for industrial-rated safety eye protection.

ESS Crossbow Suppressor Ballistic Eyewear

Ballistic Eyewear like the ESS Crossbow provides protection from extreme impact hazards found on the battlefield

While ballistic-rated safety glasses and sunglasses are becoming one of the fastest growing segments of protective eyewear both inside and outside the military, there still seems to be a considerable amount of confusion over what actually classifies eyewear as ballistic rated.  The two terms are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, but not all ballistic eyewear is necessarily intended for tactical use, and not all tactical eyewear is ballistic (though it should be).

The U.S. Military has issued rigorous ballistic tests that safety eyewear and sunglasses worn by military personnel have to pass. These tests, conducted in a field environment, include subjecting eyewear to projectiles at over four times the velocity of standard ANSI Z87.1 testing, the standard for industrial safety eyewear. ANSI (American National Standards Institute) tests projectiles at 150 fps, while the military requires testing projectiles at 650 (+/- 10) fps for spectacles and 550 fps for goggles.

Smith Elite Ballistic Eyewear Chart

Smith Elite Eyewear provided this chart to quickly show the differences between ANSI Z87.1 and the Military Ballistic Standards.

According to The Army Vision and Conservation Readiness Program, in addition to impact safety requirements, the U.S. Army also wants eyewear to be functional, reasonably comfortable, to not have bright colors or distracting design, and to be able to be disinfected.

The military’s standards are outlined in the MCEP (Military Combat Eye Protection) Program, created by the Army’s PEO (Program Executive Office) Soldier authority, and the two key Military Ballistic Standards used for testing are MIL-PRF-31013 (spectacles) and MIL-DTL-43511D (goggles).

The Advanced Planning Briefing for Industry describes MCEP as the umbrella program for the purpose of:

  • Protecting eyes from external hazards including fragmentation, electromagnetic radiation, the wind, sand, and dust.
  • Providing vision correction to accommodate those needing corrective lenses.
  • Encouraging use in the field by providing variety in choices of sizes and styles.
  • Encouraging feedback to promote improved design.
Oakley SI Ballistic M Frame 3.0

Oakley Tactical eyewear like the Ballistic M Frame 3.0 fits under communication headsets used by today’s modern soldiers.

This briefing also details the requirements for submitting the product to be considered for APEL (Authorized Protective Eyewear List), which is modified yearly as models improve and new models are introduced. For more information on MCEP Standards, see Understanding U.S. Military Eye Protection (MCEP) Standards.

(Note: In the European military, standards are set up a bit differently with the European EN166 standard identifying four levels of ballistic protection.)

The Advanced Planning Briefing for Industry also states that all APEL eyewear must bear the APEL logo, which is the single-best way to know eyewear is approved for military standards.

The military insists that personnel only wear approved eye protection not simply to have another regulation on its books, but because there is a significant need for a protection standard beyond what typically works for the civilian population.

How great is the need for ballistic and tactical eyewear in the military?

The Official Homepage of the United States Army recently published an article titled Eye doctors teach combat trauma management that illustrated the tremendous need for ballistic and tactical eyewear protection for individuals in the armed forces.

ess goggles with shrapnel in lens

Congress increased battlefield eye injury research to $10 million this year.

Consider the following information presented by these doctors:

  • Combat ocular trauma has stabilized due to widely implemented eye protection in the military.
  • The vast majority of combat eye injuries are due to explosion from high energy projectiles and improvised explosive devices rather than from gunshots or explosions.
  • Combat ocular trauma is more complicated and more likely to involve more than one body system than is civilian ocular trauma.

And the U.S. Congress apparently agrees with the importance of better eye care for our nation’s military since it has budgeted $10M for research.

The article Congress Budgets $10M for Eye-Injury Research, says that Defense Department statistics show the following startling data:

  • About 15% of injuries from battlefield trauma are to the eyes.
  • In just the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there were more than 200,000 eye-related injuries to military personnel.
  • About 75% of military personnel suffering traumatic brain injury also have eyesight problems.
  • Approximately 70% of our total sensory awareness comes from sight, making vision the most critical of the five senses, especially in combat conditions.

These statistics show the necessity of this funding and stress the importance of research for treating an eye injury. They also serve to emphasize the importance of prevention through ballistic and tactical eyewear.

The need for ballistic and tactical eye protection extends well beyond military application, though, and into many areas of civilian life as well.  We’ll explore this in the next segment.  To be continued.

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