3M Co. will equip U.S. Army soldiers with hearing protective devices under a new $1.6 million supply contract.

Maplewood-based 3M announced Thursday that its Personal Safety Division received initial orders from the Army for 6,500 3M protective headsets that fall under the brand names Peltor TEP-100 Tactical Earplug Kits and Peltor Comtac III ACH Communications. The contract also includes spare parts and accessories.

The products will soon be deployed to soldiers by the supply management entity known as PEO Soldier.

"3M supports PEO Soldier's objective to maintain hearing protection and prevent hearing loss," said Shawn Gregg, 3M Personal Safety's U.S. business director. "These products will help soldiers be more effective in combat and will help allow them to return home with their hearing intact."

Gregg noted that 3M has a long history with U.S. Special Forces, and has collaborated for years with the military audiologists.

The U.S. military and various police departments first began using 3M protective headsets in the early 2000s. Now in the fourth generation of devices, more than 600,000 systems have been delivered to military forces worldwide.

The company's Peltor TEP-100 earplug was introduced to the market in 2014 when demand for rugged and electronic "in the ear" hearing protection devices surfaced.

3M's research and development team worked with the military to develop a low-cost and easy-to-use system for a wide range of applications, including use by soldiers in remote locations.

The products protect from hazardous noises without affecting "auditory situational awareness," the company said. While the devices screen out high-decibel noises, they also are programmed to amplify weak sounds to an audible level, a critical feature that can help service members with existing hearing loss.

3M is expanding its hearing protection arsenal in other ways.

In January, 3M introduced a similar "smart" hearing-protection headset for hunters and shooters — also under the Peltor brand — that automatically measures and cancels out specific gun noises while simultaneously amplifying voices and phone conversations.

Global Industry Analysts Inc. predicts that U.S. hearing-protection sales will grow on average 6 percent a year and reach $714 million by 2020.

It's also a competitive market with players such as Honeywell, SensGard, Westone, Moldex Metrics and David Clark Co. Inc.

3M greatly expanded its line of personal safety and workplace safety products with two big acquisitions, Bloomington-based Capital Safety and Scott Safety. The hearing and safety businesses are part of 3M's $5.7 billion Safety and Graphics unit, which is the second largest of five 3M businesses. 3M generated $30 billion in total revenue in 2016.