At the beginning of August, the civilian world lapped up a titillating piece of military news: Britain’s elite Special Air Service warfighters are currently experimenting with the Devtac Ronin Kevlar Level IIIA Tactical Ballistic Helmet, a skeletal bulletproof mask enthusiastically dubbed the “Boba Fett” helmet by the British tabloids. A cross between Iron Man’s streamlined helmet and Maximus Decimus Meridius’ ghoulish mask in Gladiator, the Ronin looks designed to make the enemy shit his pants — and according to The Daily Mirror, that was enough for elite Navy SEALs and Delta Force operators reportedly among the first to test the futuristic new kit.
The story quickly went viral, aggregated by tabloids like The Sun, The Daily Mail, and the New York Post — even filtering down to military and tactical outlets. But there’s a big problem: Devtac has no contract with the Department of Defense, and nobody at U.S. Special Operations Command appears to have ever heard of the Ronin in an official capacity.
Yes, the Ronin is very real — and Devtac is no garage operations. Developed in Yokohama, Japan, starting in 2004, the Kevlar-reinforced ballistic helmet was officially NIJ Level 3A-verified in independent trials earlier this year, deemed capable of stopping a .44 Magnum slug. Reinforced with powerful N50 Neodymium magnets and featuring polycarbonate lenses, Picatinny rails, and an instant defogging system of built-in microjet fans, the modular headgear even started showing up at international weapons expos this year, according to Guns.com.
But Devtac owner and designer Wesley Shibata told Task & Purpose that while he could neither “confirm or deny” the purported relationship with the Special Air Service, he asserted that the company currently has no other defense contracts.
“The helmets are marketed to police, SWAT, and special operations, and we are currently working on sending out test samples,” Shibata told Task & Purpose. “The U.S. military has never used , but that is the ultimate goal.”
And as far as U.S. special operations forces are concerned, this helmet isn’t even on their radar yet.
“I cannot confirm that any U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) have tested or used these helmets, and since USSOCOM is not an operational headquarters I can't speak to any possible operational use of a helmet like this,” U.S. Special Operations Command PAO Lt. Cmdr Lara Bollinger told Task & Purpose. “USSOCOM's Acquisitions, Technology, and Logistics directorate has not seen or tested this helmet.”
So how did the Mirror story get the Ronin’s details so wrong? Other than relying on a single unnamed “military source” who gave the Mirror a vague statement, Shibata claims that, other than the BBC and Tech Insider, media outlets didn’t even bother to call and ask Devtac, let alone SOCOM, for details about the futuristic new headgear.
“The info on the New York Post is a bit off on the features of the helmets,” Shibata told Task & Purpose via email. “Nobody ever interviewed us about it, really.”
There is one longshot explanation for the confusion: It's likely that lackluster reporters, perusing the company’s social media accounts for morsels of content, used this July photo from the Devtac Instagram allegedly showing a U.S. special operator in Afghanistan outfitted in a Ronin:
But as Shibata explained to Task & Purpose, Devtac’s current client base consists primarily of “private purchases and sample purchases by law enforcement, special forces, private security personnel, and civilian enthusiasts.” The random photo, if anything, just implies that “SOMEONE in special forces is using it,” Shibata told Task & Purpose. (It’s actually more likely the warfighter in the Instagram photo is a private security contractor, based on his Grunt Style t-shirt.)
SOCOM is certainly in the market for new helmets like the Ronin. In October 2016, defense contractor Revision Military unveiled a tactical multi-purpose helmet developed for the DoD with specialized add-ons for discrete operations, from direct action to HALO insertions. In May of this year, the command issued a pre-solicitation notice for a non-ballistic helmet system with modular ballistic accessories for the coxswains who operate advanced Navy SEAL watercraft. And the years-long tactical assault light operator suit (TALOS) project — you know, the “Iron Man armor” — should yield a fully functional prototype by 2018, including a high-tech helm that rivals the Ronin II in futuristic aesthetics.
Shibata hopes that, in time, the Pentagon and other national military establishments will come calling for the Ronin. But until then, he's just praying that journalists just pick up the phone.
“[There’s] no harm done so far, but has spook away some of our potential investors,” Shibata told Task & Purpose. The Devtac Instagram, on the other hand, carries a simpler, more direct message.