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Military matters

Features | October 23, 2017 | By:

Understanding the opportunities in dealing with the U.S. Department of Defense.

U.S. Marine Corps PFC. James Fish conducts training in a Level A Vapor Protection suit A course at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in June 2017. The purpose of the training was to provide familiarization on the new equipment. Photo: U.S. Marine Corps, by Gunnery Sgt. Evan Ahlin.

Military sessions at IFAI’s Advanced Textiles Conference sought to help attendees make sense of DoD budgets and priorities. One presenter, however, altered his title to read “Making some sense of the DoD budget,” underscoring how complicated it can be. Ron Houle, president of Pivot Step Consultants, said that the 2018 budget request for the DoD is close to $640 billion, but huge portions of that are, basically, spoken for. This dynamic has a profound affect on vendor opportunities.

The biggest weapons program ever in the U.S., the Joint strike fighter (F35) is at the top of the list in terms of allotment at $10.8 billion. The next most expensive program is $3.1 billion. “So in relative terms, the F35 sucks out budget flexibility, and it’s not going to get cut. It’s going to grow,” Houle says.

The DoD, in fact, has an “alphabet soup” of budgets and departments, he explained, which are not necessarily governed by the same set of rules for discretionary funding. O&M (Office and Maintenance) is “what runs the ‘company,’ including infrastructure and training.” If O&M and Military Personnel need to be preserved (virtually fixed), Procurement and RDT&E (Research, Development Test and Evaluation) are the only places you can go—”and those two appropriation departments represent just about one third of the total budget. A closer look suggests that it, from a practical standpoint, comes down to just the Procurement budget.

Among the themes in 2018 budgeting, cyber, space capabilities and ships at sea will eat a large portion of the budget. A cyber branch was created in the Army last year. “It’s very expensive,” Houle said, “And very difficult to measure success.”

Additional new directions include wearables/telemetry, sensors and imagery, robots, autonomous and situational awareness capabilities, and portable power. The Army is fielding a new “Iron Man Suit” next spring, but, “They’re looking for some new ideas,” Houle said. He also recommended looking into the Rapid Innovation Fund, as a way to “enter into the partnership” and “get  your foot in the door.”

Improving chem/bio protection

One of the opportunities can be found in offering better chem/bio protection materials, said Charles Bass, Ph.D., Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), U.S. Dept. of Defense. He spoke on the topic, “Developing Advanced Materials for Chem/Bio Protection.” 

The U.S. military puts chemical/biological (chem/bio or CB) protection in three levels: light weight, medium weight and full encapsulation. Light weight protection is a “general purpose” garment designed for open-air battlefield use. It follows DoD specific requirements. Medium weight garments are compatible with civil response needs and for higher CB agent concentrations. It meets NFPA 1994 class 2/3 and ISO 16604-2004. Full encapsulation is, as you would expect, for high hazard response to be used in an interior or otherwise confined space. It is NFPA 1991/1994 class 1 compliant.

New materials and designs are in development for all three levels. The long-term objective is to produce materials and systems that detoxify and destroy toxic agents and can be integrated into the uniform. The “integrated protective fabric system” for low-threat and short-term use is optimized for protection, thermal comfort and mission performance but allows for “trade-space” between protection and burden. It addresses liquid, aerosol and vapor threats.

Soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, learn how to use a chemical agent detector kit at Camp Casey, South Korea. Photo: U.S. Army, Staff Sgt. Warren W. Wright Jr.

One of the main goals for fully encapsulated protection is to be at least as effective, while reducing weight and bulk and increasing the mission duration potential.

Bass also noted the differences between military or tactical systems and commercial ones. Military ensembles may have less protection in order to be more tactical. The goal is to make a tactical solution with stretchable barriers, better closures and seams, a closed-circuit SCBA and helmet integration.

The design process includes a series of redesigns, field trials and human factor evaluations for thermal comfort, vapor protection and other considerations.

Possible future directions include custom fitting for better protection. This could potentially be accomplished using robots that would scan a soldier and robotically make the garments, too. But the emphasis in this area right now is still on materials, Bass said—particularly multifunctional materials used in mixed matrixes. There is progress in using carbon nanotube (CNT) technology to create responsive materials that can be “on” or “off” to allow moisture regulation or block CB agents.

The military is also interested in self-healing systems and self-reporting systems, according to Bass. All these point to the high-tech end of textile product and technology development.

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source.

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