WL Gore & Assoc

US Army Develops Wool-Centric FR Fabric

Last week, the US Army released a story about a new FR fabric they’ve developed. This is great news. I love to see new materials developed. I also share Army Textile Technologist Carole Winterhalter’s and others’ enthusiasm for the reintroduction of wool into US military uniforms. There are only good things to say about wool, particularly the wool sourced from Rambouillet sheep, which rivals New Zealand’s famed Merino wool. I think it’s going to happen eventually, as well. However, there are a couple of things I want to point out about the article.

First off, the article states that the goal of the development of this new fabric blend is to create a flame-resistant combat uniform made wholly from domestic material, but that’s already been done, by multiple vendors. Although, US Army and Marine Corps FR combat uniforms are made of Tencate’s Defender M, which is milled from a blend of materials that incorporates Austrian Lenzig FR Rayon fibers, a fiber requiring a Berry waiver, there are many domestic FR fabrics. Rather, the goal here, seems to be to figure out ways to use wool, and in particular, wool blends.

Additionally, the US herd of sheep is currently insufficient to support a major DoD procurement. Currently, SOF is way out front of the services on this, and the industry is working hard to support their limited requirements while continuing to sustain its existing commercial business.

Finally, the article seems to overstate the Army’s role in the introduction of our domestic Superwash facility. To be sure, they supported the effort, but it has not sat fallow, awaiting an Army requirement. To the contrary; it is a fully viable commercial entity, currently supporting such brands as Duckworth, Farm to Feet, Point6, XGO and others.

Having said all of that, I urge them to keep up the good work. Wool is awesome and it’s unfortunate the domestic wool industry is currently so limited. Show the ranchers there’s a viable requirement, and they’ll grow to meet it.


Photo: Pvt. Antwan Williams, an Infantryman serving as a Human Research Volunteer Soldier at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, models a prototype uniform developed by NSRDEC’s textile technologists. He is also wearing a MOLLE Medium Pack System and a conceptual load carriage vest system called the Airborne Tactical Assault Panel that is designed specifically for Airborne operations but will also be evaluated for non-Airborne operations, including jungle environments. (Photo Credit: Jeff Sisto, NSRDEC Public Affairs)

Some of you are going to ask about the chest rig in the photo, called the Airborne Tactical Assault Panel. Yes, that’s Tubes which FirstSpear provided to the Army Experimental Load Carrying Facility. I’ve seen prototypes of this design going back several years and Tubes makes a great, low profile, front closure. Hopefully, we’ll see this adopted.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — U.S. Army researchers who are developing a wool-based fabric blend are aiming to improve combat uniforms while also boosting U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The Army has developed a fabric composed of 50 percent wool, 42 percent Nomex, 5 percent Kevlar and 3 percent P140 antistatic fiber. The goal is to create a flame-resistant combat uniform made wholly from domestic materials, said Carole Winterhalter, a textile technologist with the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

“We have a lightweight fabric that is inherently flame resistant. No topical treatments are added to provide [flame resistance],” Winterhalter said. “We are introducing a very environmentally friendly and sustainable fiber to the combat uniform system.

To test prototype uniforms made with the fabric, three Army researchers traveled to Germany in August for Exercise Combined Resolve VII, where they worked with about 100 Soldiers. The exercise drew about 3,500 participants from NATO allies to the region.

There, the researchers joined John Riedener, the field assistance in science and technology advisor assigned to 7th Army Training Command. FAST advisors are a component of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

“We were in the heat of summer here, and it was very warm during the exercise,” Riedener remembered. “The uniforms were lighter weight and breathed better. Soldiers were very happy with the material.”

Soldiers from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division participated in the 21-day testing and completed surveys before and after the exercise, said Brian Scott, NSRDEC equipment specialist, Soldier and Squad Optimization and Integration Team. The R&D team selected Hohenfels, Germany, because the evaluation of a fire-resistant wool undergarment also took place there. 

During testing, each Soldier received three prototype uniforms. Each was made from the same wool-based blend. One was “garment treated” with permethrin, an insecticide, and another was “fabric treated” with permethrin. The third was untreated. 

The Soldiers, who came from a variety of military occupational specialties, wore each of the three uniforms for about seven days in a field environment for a total of 21 days. The testing and survey instructions asked Soldiers not to compare the prototypes with existing uniforms or camouflage patterns.

Their feedback regarding comfort, durability, laundering and shrinkage, insect resistance, and overall performance will help determine whether researchers will continue the development effort, Winterhalter said.

Initial results suggest the majority of the Soldiers liked the fabric because it was lightweight and breathable; however, analysis of the survey data has yet to be completed, said Shalli Sherman, NSRDEC program manager for the Office of Synchronization and Integration.

Winterhalter is optimistic about the prospect of a wool blend being incorporated into combat uniforms because of its environmental, manufacturing and economic benefits. She said the United States has about 80,000 wool growers, and the Army would like to include the material in the clothing system.

“Wool is 100 percent biodegradable. It’s easy to dye and absorbs moisture,” said Winterhalter, who also serves as the federal government’s chief technology officer for the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

“The Army has spent quite a bit of time and money to reintroduce a manufacturing process in this country called Super Wash that allows us to shrink-resist treat the wool. … When blended with other fibers, the fabric does not shrink excessively when washed.”

The new Super Wash process makes wool viable for combat clothing in nearly any application, including jackets, pants, underwear, headwear, gloves and socks, Winterhalter said.

NSRDEC researchers are planning for a larger field study with more users over a longer time period of time, possibly 30 days. More data on comfort and durability will be needed for the Army to move forward, Winterhalter said.

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32 Responses to “US Army Develops Wool-Centric FR Fabric”

  1. Tim says:

    Great article!

  2. WagenCAV says:

    the pattern looks like W2 OCP but there’s a “twig element” in his left sleeve

    • D.B. says:

      I looked at it too, in detail.

      The pants are in OCP (Scortpion W2) and the blouse is in Multicam. So a mish-mash.

      There are few distinctive small camo pattern blobs that tell the difference between the two. I compared them with the stuff I own.

  3. Joe says:

    Side note: “Airborne Tactical Assault Panel.” You mean a split front chest rig? Back to the future we come.

  4. Eddie says:

    As a former civil war reenactor, who has experience with traditional wool in the field, I am very glad to hear that they worked on heat issues. I mean, even the Finnish Army sent their peacekeepers to Egypt during the Suez Crisis in wool uniform, but quickly realized their mistake. My most recent experience with Army wool is with the M1951 Winter clothing system. The frieze liners feel like gritty bath towel and weigh twice as much as one, but I would take them to Siberia. I also am very fond of the 1952 field shirt, which serves as a good shell to keep warm heat in. Wool has served our military well and I am glad to hear it is coming back like this. In spite of the benefits, costs and sustainability goals set may have made this long coming but at least we are not in full blown conventional conflict and trying to figure this out.

    • Eddie says:

      Just to be clear, Korea was WAYYYY before my time. I just recently hunted for components to the M1951 system online and I love it. Lol

      • Mike B. says:

        I remember back in the early 80’s being issued the M51 wool shirt, which I loved, trousers which I couldn’t get over my legs, etc.. loved the stuff. we need to return to these uniforms. much more practical i felt. and that shirt was the best. warm, but dried quickly.

  5. Diddler says:

    I’ve been talking about wool in this capacity for years. I’m glad this is starting to gain traction. I’m not claiming responsibility for this.

  6. Darkhorse says:

    Ibex is one of my favorite brands. They make quality products but not Berry compliant- all Merino from New Zealand.

    Also- people think wool is inherently FR. It won’t melt/drip- true. But it’s not the FR wonder garment that people perceive it to be.

  7. Lasse says:

    As big of a fan that I am of wool, I think 50% might be a bit too much. Simple reason is that wool has a moisture regain of ~28% which means it will get heavy when wet.

    It not my choice for outer layers, but it is as any type of inner and base layer.

  8. Lt M says:

    You know we have to have sheep specs before we can proceed

  9. MED says:

    I was actually distracted by the m4 being cammo.

  10. I hope the private isn’t the only tester. Would be good to have some soldiers with varied experiences to evaluate technology. Not just years of service but varied experience.

    • SSD says:

      Read the article, while it doesn’t break out the test subjects by background, they used more than just that Soldier.

  11. Scott says:

    Is Rochambeau a domestic variety of sheep? I did a quick search, but there’s a lot of chaff from fashion designers named Rochambeau.

  12. jerry says:

    Hey not ba’a’a’a’a’a’a’a’a’a’a’ad!

  13. D.B. says:

    I now live in New Zealand and I’m in-tune with few Merino manufacturers here. They make some top quality garments, that’s for sure.

    While I know this won’t be Berry compliant, if this new FR-Wool initiative ever gets off the ground big time, in case US runs out of Merino wool locally, I’m certain NZ will be there to help if necessary.

    US and NZ military are already partnering on many levels, anyway. If Berry clause gets eased or removed in the future, give the Kiwis a call 😉

  14. Big_Juju says:

    I never want to have “Human Research Volunteer” as my job title …

    • Desert Lizard says:

      There’s probably a special medal for it these days.

    • bloke_from_ohio says:

      Government lab rat makes for a fun resume bullet though!

      Having been both a test subject and the metaphorical man in the white coat during military human testing, I assure you it way more painful for the researchers. The IRB process makes any other bureaucratic hoop jump drill look like a rubber stamp exercise. It really is that obnoxious.

      But, it does keep scientists from doing shockingly shady things like back in the day. You know, like giving folks syphilis just to see what will happen. So there is that.

  15. Clare says:

    My company, Propel LLC, served as a subcontractor on the Small Business Innovation Research grant awarded by the US Army to Sheep Venture Company for the design and testing of the new US located Superwash line to shrink treat wool. While private funds paid for the build of the line itself, this critical capability likely would not have been stood up without the funding and innovation foresight of the US Army. It is most certainly true that this line has been used to treat wool for the commercial market, but it has also allowed for the treatment of tens of thousands of pounds of US wool for socks bought by the Department of Defense, as well as other important products, and will support the future use of US wool for our combat soldiers in years to come.
    The Superwash line has also resulted in more jobs here in the USA as it has become a preferred location for wool treatment for commercial customers who would otherwise be buying wool treated in China. Commercial applications for SBIR funded projects is a Congressional goal – in order to strengthen our domestic security with better products for the US Military and strengthen the non-domestic economy as well. The Superwash line has achieved these goals extremely well. It was a pleasure to work on this project connecting US wool farmers to the men and women who serve to defend us.

  16. Clare says:

    My company, Propel LLC, served as a subcontractor on the Small Business Innovation Research grant awarded by the US Army to Sheep Venture Company for the design and testing of the new US located Superwash line to shrink treat wool. While private funds paid for the build of the line itself, this critical capability likely would not have been stood up without the funding and innovation foresight of the US Army. It is most certainly true that this line has been used to treat wool for the commercial market, but it has also allowed for the treatment of tens of thousands of pounds of US wool for socks bought by the Department of Defense, as well as other important products, and will support the future use of US wool for our combat soldiers in years to come.
    The Superwash line has also resulted in more jobs here in the USA as it has become a preferred location for wool treatment for commercial customers who would otherwise be buying wool treated in China. Commercial applications for SBIR funded projects is a Congressional goal – in order to strengthen our domestic security with better products for the US Military and strengthen the domestic economy as well. The Superwash line has achieved these goals extremely well. It was a pleasure to work on this project connecting US wool farmers to the men and women who serve to defend us.

  17. Clare says:

    My company served as a subcontractor on the Small Business Innovation Research grant awarded by the US Army to Sheep Venture Company for the design and testing of the new US located Superwash line to shrink treat wool. While private funds paid for the build of the line itself, this critical capability likely would not have been stood up without the funding and innovation foresight of the US Army. It is most certainly true that this line has been used to treat wool for the commercial market, but it has also allowed for the treatment of tens of thousands of pounds of US wool for socks bought by the Department of Defense, as well as other important products, and will support the future use of US wool for our combat soldiers in years to come.
    The Superwash line has also resulted in more jobs here in the USA as it has become a preferred location for wool treatment for commercial customers who would otherwise be buying wool treated in China. Commercial applications for SBIR funded projects is a Congressional goal – in order to strengthen our domestic security with better products for the US Military and strengthen the domestic economy as well. The Superwash line has achieved these goals extremely well. It was a pleasure to work on this project connecting US wool farmers to the men and women who serve to defend us.

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