Is it reasonable to have transparent face shields on powered armor or should they be covered with armor?

While there are fairly good arguments for why open helmets were fairly popular historically even for soldiers who otherwise wore full armor, this gets more complicated when you're talking about sealed suits with transparent face shields. The main advantages there were about visibility, breathing, and communication. None of these are really good enough reasons to have transparent faceplates. Visibility would be the obvious advantage, but if you have powered armor you likely have augmented displays a la Iron Man anyway, which lessens the advantage as a tradeoff. Meanwhile, because it is sealed breathing is obviously covered by the suit and communications would have to rely on speakers or radios anyway. There might be a slight advantage for someone like a police officer or soldiers in showing a human face for certain types of missions, but I'm not sure if this would really be enough to justify it.

The only examples I can think of in media double as spacesuits(The Expanse or HALO), so even if it actually is less plausible, it doesn't really feel like it because they're used alongside conventional spacesuits so the contrast isn't as obvious.

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    $\begingroup$ i always wondered why mechwarriors had simple plexiglass faces when shot at with missiles $\endgroup$
    – user59660
    Apr 17, 2022 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't seem to harm a significant minority of Space Marines in Warhammer 40k to have no helmet at all on their otherwise super-duper power armour. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2022 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


A good military design should be as redundant as possible. Although you've pointed out that technology can make up for the downsides of a full-face helmet in some ways, the soldier should ideally not be rendered combat-ineffective by any of those mechanisms failing.

For instance, if you have an Iron Man-style full-face helmet without a visor or eyeslits, do you go completely blind if a wire jogs loose and disconnects your camera from your display? Tony Stark might accept that risk because he's an engineer and has gone over his designs in painstaking detail (and because arrogant confidence in his work is part of his character) but the average soldier wouldn't have the opportunity to do so.

If you're in a firefight and something go wrong with your optics, you would definitely want the ability to just look with your eyes as a backup, and if you could do that while still being protected from incoming gunfire (or hazardous environments) so much the better.

This is the same principle that leads to tanks still having (armored) vision slits even though they can and do use cameras, and naval officers continuing to learn to navigate by maps and stars even though they have GPS.

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    $\begingroup$ "The IR and normal spectrum cameras are all fogged up sir! I don't see. What should I do?" - "Hold..... Orders are - deploy the Mark 1 eyeball, soldier." $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2022 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ Evil Overlord List #1 $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Apr 17, 2022 at 4:55

There's a psychological element at play as well. Humans as a species are highly visually orientated/reliant & also, if not prone to claustrophobia at least generally more comfortable in open spaces. That being the case it doesn't really matter how advanced the electronic systems in a battle suit are. If a soldier has the chance to stop or rest and open their visor to 'speak with a colleague & smell fresh air etc (after external sensors tell him/her it's safe to do so) or at least turn off all the electronics & just peer through his/her visor at the outside world? More often than not they'll take that chance. It's a very human compulsion.


May I offer an alternative?

When you have a full power armor, its likely that adding camera's to your helmet and placing a tv screen attached to the thick piece of armor in front of your face will be relatively cheap. So visors even for cheapness sake wouldnt work that well.

But what if your visor isnt a visor? You just want people to see your face, so the helmet has a non-illuminated real-time display of the wearer's face on the helmet. It lets people see "your" face and have all the recognition of facial features and their meaning without having to have to reveal your face.

Ofcourse if you really want a visor, why not say that this is just a type of armor just as good as the rest of your suit? It means no need for camera's and screens inside the suit, greatly reducing the complexity of the helmet and any maintenance or repairs needed.


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