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Priorities change

My Take | September 9, 2016 | By:

I am writing this while visiting at an army installation; I’ve visited others, as well. I didn’t grow up around the military, so it’s all a little new to me, and it’s impressive. I don’t get to see the inner workings of the Army, but I’ve met quite a few soldiers and I’ve learned a bit—a little bit—about what they do. Some are focused on combat, but all of them are trained for it, regardless of what else they do.

I’ve watched people walking into work with their travel mugs of coffee and lunch, just like at office buildings anywhere. The difference is that these people are in combat uniform—all of them. For those working in air conditioned (or heated) offices on installations across the country, it’s not so significant; for those serving in combat zones far away, that uniform, as well as the gear they would carry into combat, is a very big deal. From the fabric itself to the design, fit and weight of it, there are dozens of considerations that determine comfort and functionality for the wearer.

But at some point, those choices can only go so far, and that’s where smart fabrics and wearable technology pick up the story. Most observers assume that warfighters—or all military personnel, for that matter—will wear whatever they’re told to wear, and I suppose, for the most part, that’s true. But that’s hardly the point. The point is providing warfighters with the best possible garments and gear that will keep them functioning at top efficiency when it matters most—when their lives are on the line.

How to accomplish this goal is the ongoing discussion and the focus of shifting priorities in military procurement. From better armor to self-healing textiles, our industry remains in the heart of the research. Wearables that make necessary technology (particularly for communications) lighter, easier to use and more readily accessible are also of prime importance. These functionalities are highly sophisticated, and they take time to develop, test and implement. But it is happening.

Our feature by wearables expert Marie O’Mahony, “Adjusting the focus in smart materials for the military,” provides an overview of the status of some of the newest technologies and offers some very interesting examples of recent patents. You might want to look at other articles on this site (for example, to get a feel for the direction of new developments and the opportunities that could be a great fit for your business. Check back later this month for another feature on military markets, too.

There’s an old Army saying that goes like this: The General asks, “What does it do?” The Senator asks, “How much does it cost?” The soldier asks, “How much does it weigh?” The bottom line is that “it” has to do what the general expects, cost what the senator will pay, and weigh what it is possible for the soldier to not just carry, but to carry long distances, in harsh weather conditions and terrain, and even to carry while jumping out of an airplane.

While today’s warfighters have an incredible number of tools to help them, all those tools add up to something like half their body weight, or even more. That’s why developments involving advanced textile solutions are so critical right now.

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