When the Joint Force conducts missions in a chemically or biologically contaminated operational environment, they wear protective garments, but these garments burden warfighters by increasing heat retention and restricting movement. To reduce burden while maintaining or improving protection, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) Chemical and Biological Technologies Dept., in its role as the Joint Science and Technology Office (JSTO) for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program is investing with the Powerhouse Consulting Group (PCG), a textile provider, to produce a prototype fabric for lightweight protective garments.
The current CB overgarment is a carbon-based protective system that provides full-spectrum protection against chemical warfare agents, but its heat retention and movement burdens impact mission performance. The new garment will be of lighter weight fabric coated with switchable polymers, called an Interpenetrating Polymer Network (IPN) This next-generation, responsive, triggerable chemical-threat overgarment will be more lightweight and flexible, will allow high moisture and heat transfer in uncontaminated environments, and will protect and restrict moisture and heat transfer in the presence of chemical threats.
The IPN has two configurations: an open configuration that allows air and moisture vapor transfer through the fabric making it more breathable, and a protective closed configuration that prevents moisture vapor and chemical warfare agents from passing through. Polymer configurations can be switched using a triggering electrical signal that has the potential to be linked to a chemical agent detector so that protection increases immediately upon detection.
To enrich the CB workforce, part of the PCG staff developing these next-generation protective garments are adults within the autism spectrum. PCG’s Science and Arts for Lifetime Employment Skills (SCALES) program employs an underserved but talented pool of autistic adults who are developing high-tech lab skills in areas aligned with the DTRA/JSTO mission.