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Archive for June, 2008

Team Soldier Certified Gear

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

PEO-Soldier mentioned this item at the APBI in May, but didn’t have any details on implementation. However, they have just made a formal announcement of the Team Soldier Certification program. The reasoning behind the program is sound. The point is to help Soldiers identify soldier systems items that meet certifications for issue. This will help both individual Soldiers as well as units to avoid purchasing substandard equipment. Certification has already been implemented for Protective Eyewear, FR Gloves, and the Family of Flashlights.

PEO Soldier is developing Authorized Products Lists (APLs) for certain types of gear. When an item is authorized, it is placed on the APL. The APLs are published on the PEO Website, furnished to the Army/Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), and communicated to Army commands. Eventually every commercial item authorized for use by Soldiers will have this certification.

One VERY interesting piece of information on the program has surfaced. Vendors selling authorized items in commercial retail stores may use the logo on the item and in their advertising. The logo will be the way Soldiers can verify that the item is authorized. Vendors using the logo for commercial retail sale of authorized items will require a License and Royalty Agreement with the US Army. And as a warning to those who might counterfeit the new logo, the PEO-Soldier website says this, “PEO Soldier, working with Army Legal Services, will take action to ensure that only actual authorized items have the logo. A range and series of actions will be taken against any fraudulent use of the logo.”

Each item will be identified with a tag similar to this one.
Team Soldier Certified Gear Tag

Both the USMC and USAF have indicated that they will follow suit.

USMC Combat Desert Jacket

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

USMC Combat Desert Jacket

If you have ever heard the term “scarce as hen’s teeth”, then you can aptly describe the Marine Corps issue Combat Desert Jacket. Designed by 180s, an innovator in the outdoor industry, and manufactured by Tennessee Apparel, the CDJ has seen limited fielding. The concept actually goes back to the early 90s when Raven Industries, the first full-scale contractor for ECWCS, developed prototypes of a lightweight Gore-tex 3-color desert shell for MARCORSYSCOM.

Naturally as the CDJ was designed specifically for desert operations, it is available only in Marine Desert Pattern Camouflage. Since the CDJ utilizes a complex print, the design’s strength has caused a bit of a technical challenge. As you can see from the photo, the sleeves are slightly discolored compared to the body. This is because the CDJ is made from various fabrics which are strategically placed in the design to provide diverse forms of protection and these fabrics all absorb dyes differently. For example, the lower back and shoulder area of the jacket are made from Freedom-Plus, a lightweight Gore-tex fabric in order to keep the wearer dry while the middle of the back, which requires more breathability when wearing a pack is made from a lined, knit fabric. The sleeves are crafted from a four way stretch material. Rather than pit zips, from the waist to the sleeve, along the entire length of the underarm, the CDJ features a stretchy wind resistant nylon material. Lined with coyote gridded fleece, it also features color matched waterproof zippers throughout. The pockets include handwarmer, chest, and sleeve as well as a rank tab. The sleeves are capped with a monkey paw design and the Marines hope to incorporate FR technology into the sleeves in future versions unless the winter FROG shirt is developed. The CDJ also has a roll up neck gaiter incorporated into the collar. To top it all off, the entire jacket is treated with silver to suppress the growth of odor causing fungus.

Combat Desert Jacket Improved Sleeve

*UPDATE: A reader has sent me an update and a new version is being issued. They have solved the shade issues on the sleeves and dropped the monkey cuffs.

Photo Courtesy Eric Chevalier

For those who need a CDJ, the early version with shade differences on the sleeve is available from AFMO.

Vickers Tactical Gloves

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Vicker Tactical Glove

About a year ago, the Larry Vickers signature glove line hit the market and made an instant splash but seemed to fall off just as quickly as it appeared. But the gloves didn’t go away, and during the lull have been in use by a variety of personnel. Some of the delay was due to the distributor, Backyard Outfitter cutting their ties with Woolrich and reforming as a new company; Elite Operator Tactical. EOTAC is back and ready to hit the market with an improved line of clothing and accessories for the armed professional.

Obviously, based on the name, the gloves were designed by Larry Vickers. Many of you probably already know LAV so he should need no introduction, but for those of you who don’t know Larry, he is a retired career Army Special Forces Soldier and noted firearms expert and tactical trainer. Check out his website at the link below to learn more about him.

A few things about these gloves really stick out. When LAV was designing the gloves he didn’t want to just be another version of the same old flight glove copies everyone else was making so he worked with a well known glove maker from the outdoor industry to incorporate the latest in hand wear technology. Naturally, they are fire retardant and utilize a 9 oz Nomex knit on the gauntlet as well as on the back of the fingers and hand. Additionally, they have an ergonomic design found in few tactical offerings. What is really great about these gloves is that in addition to standard sizes (XS-3XL), they also come in Cadet sizes for those with shorter fingers. Finally, they are available in both OD and Coyote.

Based on price point and features, you really need to check these out.

For more information contact Vickers Tactical.

Be on the lookout for more information on EOTAC’s new line.

Brace for It…

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Because here it comes. We’ve all seen prices skyrocketing. It seems that price hikes are impacting every facet of our lives from hamburgers to hot dogs and the Soldier Systems market isn’t any different. Several cause factors are resulting in an increase in manufacturing costs:

– The raw materials are made from petroleum products and their prices are on the rise

– Fuel surcharges on shipping of raw and finished goods

– The weak dollar

– The increase in the Federal Minimum Wage

One company has reported to me a 25% increase in materials costs. A technique to mitigate these rising costs is to stockpile materials but this is only a short-term solution if it is even possible in the first place. Tighter credit terms as well as material availability may not make this an option. Another point for manufacturers to consider is their designs. I recommend that they look at each design and eliminate excess material and processes as well as considering lower cost, alternative materials. Shipping costs will continue to rise so consolidating raw materials as well as finished goods into fewer shipments may help alleviate costs.

There is a little bit of light at the end of this tunnel. The weak dollar has made American products even more attractive to foreign buyers. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is mitigated to a slight degree by spiraling shipping costs. Additionally, as the cost of foreign products increase, the pricing edge they have long held over American made items will begin to diminish. I believe this factor will help US based manufacturers increase their domestic market share.

Make no mistake, tough times are ahead. Some companies may need to eliminate poor performing SKUs or reevaluate profit margins. Consumers will most likely avoid purchasing “nice-to-have” products and concentrate on more critical items. Military consumers will begin to rely more on issue items. Smaller manufacturers may want to consider tapping new ways to sell to the Government. I see room in the market for several small firms similar to the outdoor industry’s factory rep system that can interact with a network of vendors to facilitate micro purchases of Soldier Systems items for deployed units using contingency funds. While there are already companies doing this, including the prime vendors, someone with the right connections both within DoD down to the unit level as well as in industry could become very successful if they can control their overhead.

Those hit hardest by this high energy cost environment are companies providing equipment to the Government on firm fixed price contracts. This includes not only contracts with DSCP but also companies with products on GSA. While production costs climb, profit margins for these vendors will decrease. In some cases this will be disastrous as margins are usually tight to begin with in order to win solicitations.

Dual use companies, or companies that serve both Government as well as commercial clients will face little choice other than to raise the price point on their commercial products in order to recoup any losses they may face supporting Government firm fixed prices.

In addition to rising manufacturing costs there are two more factors that will affect the Soldier Systems industry.

– Tightening of the military budget

– Recent Soldier Systems items have been paid for primarily with supplemental dollars

Airplanes cost a lot more than boots and consequently get more attention from the military’s funding source; Congress. An aircraft manufacturer can afford a lobbyist and employ more people in a congressional district so naturally, when we are in a resource constrained environment, those items will get more emphasis. Except to the Infantryman who’s survival depends on his feet, boots just aren’t very sexy.

Although the military has done an outstanding job of improving the American Warrior’s personal equipment, it has been done with supplemental dollars and outside of the regular military budget. This means that when the supplementals go away, so do extra dollars for boots. Funding will eventually return to pre-war levels.

I do not believe that there is a single solution to these problems. Manufacturers and military outfitters will need to do a top to bottom evaluation of their operation and implement several solutions. If this environment lasts, and I believe it will, we will see a “culling of the herd”. Many companies who have prospered in the current environment may not be able to adapt.

BAE Corona – Back by Popular Demand

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

BAE authorized me to release the following information on the Corona system several weeks ago. Due to some administrative issues the information was removed for a short period of time. Since I posted some info on TRON yesterday, I have received several requests to repost what information I can on BAE’s exciting new CORONA system.

The CORONA System is an add-on accessory for ballistic helmets designed to integrate the many different mission-specific components that Special Operation Forces utilize on their helmets. The main system consists of four lightweight-reinforced, ballistically inert polymer parts that form the ‘corona’ around the helmet.

These user-configurable parts are the Front VAS Section, Rear-Section, a Left and Right Earcup-Section, and the elastomer SPINE. The Front and Rear sections can be utilized independently, simultaneously, or in conjunction with the Earcup sections. All of the components mount to any ACH or MICH ballistic shell via the suspension and NVG mounting holes already on the helmet and do not require any additional modifications.

The Front VAS Section provides a significantly more stable NVG mount than current designs and the configuration of the lightweight alloy interface plate accepts both Norotos as well as Wilcox NVG mounts. Also integrated are: NVG lanyards, name/blood-type/allergy plates, and LED light/accessory clips. The Rear-Section is designed to hold a counter-balance (such as an MBITR battery) or any other component the Operator chooses. All components are mounted to the system via elastomer T-Bone straps that are easy to attach and break-away under load to mitigate snag hazards (critical for airborne operations). The Earcup-Sections attach over the CORONA’s Front and Rear sections and have several innovative features: Goggle-Pivots, MIL-STD-1913 (Mini-Pic) Rail-Interface, Cable-Management, and Plug-In O2 Mask Receptacles. The shock-cord goggle interfaces are attached to the Operators goggles and pivot on the Earcup-Sections eliminating the strap around the helmet, Mini-Pic Rails can be attached to accept various rail-mounted COTS devices, and the Plug-In O2 Mask Receptacles allow the Operator to utilize his ballistic helmet for HALO/HAHO operations without the need for a separate jump-helmet. The SPINE is an elastomeric strap that fits over the top of the helmet and allows the Operator to mount various Strobes/Markers/Reflectors currently in use. Alternatively, the new TRON IR Combat-ID device hooks into the CORONA System in place of the SPINE section.

The CORONA System will be sold as a complete upgrade kit including all parts of the outer architecture. It will be available in Foliage Green, Desert Tan, and Flat Dark Earth to blend in with current kits. The system will be commercially available under the BAE Systems “ECLiPSE” brand and should go into production by the end of 2008.

AFRL’s TRON

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

TRON

My first exposure to TRON was at SOFIC in conjunction with BAE’s Corona system. Since then I have been doing some research on this revolutionary Combat ID system. I post the article from February of this year from Associated Press as a backgrounder.

Originally published by Associated Press February 20, 2008

DAYTON, Ohio – When Taliban forces attacked a police checkpoint in central Afghanistan under dark of night in late 2006, special-operations Master Sgt. Andrew Martin called in air support and then slapped a high-tech cloth-like device on his helmet for protection.

Fresh from labs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the device transmitted light from a powerful light-emitting diode, or LED, that pulsed through a fiber optic bundle, giving off infrared signals visible to pilots wearing night-vision goggles.

“The pilots were able to very quickly pick it up,” recalled Martin, who has since retired from the Air Force. “What didn’t happen was additional questions from the pilots asking me my location.”

The new technology – called Target Recognition Operator Notification system – was designed to easily identify friendly forces and avoid casualties from friendly fire.

Martin liked the equipment so much he used it on about 35 missions over six months. He said it is better than strobe lights, which can be mistaken for machine-gun fire, or reflective tape, which is difficult to see from the air.

“U.S. forces have been dogged by the difficulty of finding each other in the fog of battle,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. “What this new innovation allows is easy identification of friendly forces without helping the enemy do the same thing.”

Brian Hunt, an engineer with the Air Force Research Lab, said he and his team were approached in 2004 and asked to develop such a system. Working with Lumitex Inc. of Strongsville, the effort was part of a rapid-reaction program where researchers were given up to $100,000 and one year to come up with a product.

“A lot of different units saw the need for something like this, to be able to clearly determine friend or foe,” Hunt said.

The group produced 108 prototypes in six months. Each unit costs about $100.

Built in to the nylon-like cloth is a circuit board and a battery pack. The woven nature of the cloth emits light in a controlled way, creating a uniform surface.

The system can run 200 hours on two double-A batteries and weighs less than three ounces. It can be worn on tactical vests, around an arm or mounted to a helmet.

“You can put it anywhere,” Hunt said. “It’s got Velcro on the back. It sticks to everything.”

The circuitry also allows the system to flash at different speeds. That enables pilots to identify different groups of friendly forces and see which group is under attack, which group is trying to circle the enemy, and who the reinforcements are, among other things.

Mike Sedillo, support contractor at the research lab, said he would like to see the system in the hands of all U.S. forces in the battlefield and become standard equipment in air-crew survival kits.

Sedillo said researchers are working to upgrade the system so it will transmit light in other parts of the spectrum, making it more difficult for enemy forces to detect with conventional night vision technology.

“Friendly fire incidents in general are declining, but in counterinsurgency or counter-terror warfare it’s much harder to sort out our people from the other side because there are no front lines,” Thompson said. “This invention is well-suited to a world in which all the old features of battlefield like secure areas and front lines are missing.”

Copyright AP 2008, Photo Copyright AP 2008

Dead On Tools

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Dead On Tools Annihilator

Touted as “the ultimate wrecking bar”, the Dead On Tools Annihilator, is quite simply…tough. This lightweight, multi-purpose demolition tool wasn’t intended for breaching operations but with these features, you’d be foolish not to try it:

1. Demolition hammer
2. Nail puller/tile ripper
3. Board straightener
4. Demolition axe
5. Multi-purpose wrench and nail puller
6. Chisel

A member at Usual Suspects Network forum also noted that the jaws on the business end can also be used to open “jammed” door knobs.

Although lightweight, it has taken plenty of abuse here. Additionally, its short enough to not get in the way.

Besides, it just looks cool.

Dead On Tools Annihilator

Get it at Dead On Tools or from Home Depot.

Arc’teryx Gen II Combat Jacket in Multicam (Egad!)

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Arc’teryx Gen II Combat Jacket in Multicam

The market’s appetite for anything in Multicam is voracious but there hasn’t been much in the way of performance garments to satisfy the connoisseur’s sweet tooth. High end products are slowly trickling out and the next one to hit the street is the Multicam version of Arc’teryx’s Combat Jacket. Arc’teryx has built on their already successful Combat Jacket which received a design overhaul last season by offering it in Multicam. Unlike its big brother, the Bravo Jacket, the Combat Jacket features pit zips to enhance venting during intense physical activity and the cuffs feature die cut velcro stays. The jacket also has two hand warmer pockets and two sleeve pockets. Although not depicted in the photo the production version will have velcro on the sleeves like the current versions.

The Combat Jacket is made from Durastretch, a comfortable 4-way stretch woven fabric. To further enhance performance, the jacket has a durable DWR treated outer face to shed moisture.

The Combat Jacket is currently available in Crocodile and Black but the new Multicam version will be hitting retailers in July. Start looking soon because this one promises to sell out quickly.

Qualified personnel can purchase them here.