SSD recently had an opportunity to check the latest prototypes from USSOCOM’s Protective Combat Uniform Block 2.
Designed to be worn in temperatures ranging from 40 deg to -50 deg F, PCU is a 8 level environmental clothing system consisting of a variety of performance clothing items that can be configured based on conditions. For PCU, moisture management is a key feature driving its development. Keeping Operators dry, keeps them in the fight.
The original Block 0 configuration was fielded beginning in 2003 based on gear selections from PEPSE (Personal Environmental Protective Survival Equipment) and espousing wear principles from Mark Twight‘s seminal work on climbing, “Extreme Alpinism“. In 2006, USSOCOM charged their support office at Natick to make incremental improvements to the system based on user feedback and streamline the production process, facilitating a partnership between major outdoor manufacturers and National Industries for the Severely Handicapped.
Recently, to further modernize the system for the evolving needs of the SOF Operator and to insert the latest outdoor technologies, Natick’s PM-SOF sat down with representatives from the various stakeholders and went through Block 1 level by level. Based on these meetings, and some field trials of the new designs by 10th SFG(A) and NSW Det-Kodiak, the upcoming Block 2 system will feature a few changes.
It remains a PolarTec product, but the optional short sleeve T and boxers will probably go away as they are redundant to systems already in use by several of SOCOM’s components. The top’s collar will change from 1/4 zip to crew to decrease bulk around the neck. Additionally, both the pants and top will assume a new, athletic fit so that they will work better with the body.
These garments are also considered next to skin and will receive a material change to a new high efficiency gridded fleece made by Polartec which will compresses to half its current size.
The Level 3 fleece jacket we all know and love for garrison wear is going to be joined by two completely new jackets. Both are more appropriate for wear as outer garments and in the case of the 3b it may well be used in place of Levels 4 and 6. The original Level 3 Fleece will still be available but with the advent of these two new garments program officials don’t expect much demand for it.
The 3a jacket is made with a new fleece fabric called Polartec Alpha and provides additional insulation than the jacket it replaces. Its sleek design is meant to be worn under body armor but retains two slash handwarmer pockets for when worn as an outergarment.
Utilizing Primaloft Fusion along with a proprietary Gore military fabric shell, the 3b offers increased wind and water resistance. Additionally, the new shell offers an interesting characteristic; Fast Pack Technology. It is very resistant to low volume air movement to block out wind but can rapidly move high volumes of air like when you are trying to quickly stow the jacket in a pack. This will prevent that balloon-like jacket sleeve protruding from a zipper as you move out down a trail.
Level 4 continues to feature a full length zip but the hood has been removed completely. Additionally, the piece is transitioning from a 70D NexTec fabric to a 40D fabric. This garment will pack smaller and weigh less.
Adopting the Level 9 Combat Uniform’s pocket configuration and manufactured from Nextec EPIC Glacier fabric, the Level 5 is now even more of an extreme weather combat suit. One welcome change to the pants is the removal of the side zips. Additionally, PCU incorporates Propel’s QuietLoop.
The command is investigating four way stretch fabrics but thus far they have encountered too much shrinkage. Additionally, they investigated convertible sleeve systems similar to those found on several commercial offerings and the overwhelming response for testers is that the Nextec Glacier fabric is more than breathable for the task at hand.
Notice that the trouser pockets feature zippers. As it is intended for extreme weather, they had to dispense with buttons which can be cumbersome while wearing gloves and with Velcro which freezes with snow and ice and stops working.
While the Level 6 hardshell won’t see any major design changes (if you don’t consider moving to a waterproof zipper major), they are seeking new material solutions. The goal isn’t to replace the current Gore-tex two-layer fabric, but to identify additional, alternative authorized fabrics.
Once again, they have transitioned to the new 40d face fabric. Additionally, they are moving to either Climashield Apex or PrimaLoft Fusion insulation. They have gone back to the original streamlined fit and permanently attached the hood. As you can see, it continues to integrate a zippered chest pocket as well as interior mesh pockets for water bottles for other sensitive items that need to stay warm.
There currently is no Level 8 and it is reserved for future requirements.
The Combat Uniform continues to be fielded and its features have influenced Level 5.
One additional planned change is to the program itself. Rather than being fielded in full kits, the components will now be able to build their own kits based on need. The team is evaluating final prototypes with systems available for purchase by authorized organizations this year.