There was a time when helmets were only worn by SOF for airborne operations. Now, it’s standard practice to wear both helmet and body armor in both live-fire training as well as operations. Similarly, when I joined the Army in the mid-80s, the only eye pro were crappy Sun, Wind and Dust Goggles. By the late-90s, effective eye protective glasses and goggles were standard issue and wear in garrison, as well as deployed. The same can be said for active hearing protection. While it’s still not universal, most service members have access to hearing protection with active noise reduction features in addition to their ear plugs. We’ve adapted to the realities of the threat environment and driven technology solutions to the point of protecting head, eyes and ears. Now it’s time to get serious about protecting our service members’ respiratory system.
I first saw the Special Operations Tactical Respirator in the Gentex booth at Warrior West and was immediately impressed. There is no active requirement for this product. Gentex saw an unstated need and spent internal R&D Dollars to create a solution. I have a lot of friends with heavy metal poisoning from years of operating in threat environments as well as training in shoot houses. You’ll pick up a lot of lead just breathing during training, but being deployed exposes folks to a lot of residual, environmental threats as well. In the case of heavy metals, they collect in your body and left untreated, poison for the rest of your life. Naturally, it’s best to avoid altogether, or at least mitigate exposure. That’s where the SOTR comes in.
Adapted from technology created for use in the F-35 Lightning II Program (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter Program) and leveraging over 35 years of other experience in the development of oxygen masks and CBRN equipment for aircrew and aircraft maintainers, Gentex Corporation designed its first respirator for ground applications, the Ops-Core Special Operations Tactical Respirator (SOTR). The new half-mask respirator will provide protection against a wide range of oil and non-oil based particulate contaminants encountered by Special Operations Forces, tactical operators or specialized law enforcement officers.
The half-mask respirator filter offers at least 99.7% filtration efficiency against airborne particulates including lead, asbestos, lubricant mist, and explosive gunfire residue. If it catches on, I can see future development of a filter for use against riot control agents and even CBRN threats for in-extremis use.
Key customer input driving the development of the respirator was that existing respiratory masks were excessive for the current threats they faced and that they did not integrate well with helmets or weapons systems. Employing their streamlined systems approach to design, Ops-Core developed the new respirator to provide protection without interfering with operator’s tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), and to seamlessly interface with weapon systems for optimal effectiveness.
Other key features of the low profile half-mask respirator include a microphone, compatibility with standard ground communications headsets, two exhalation valves for easier breathing, easy-to-adjust suspension straps for both helmet worn and helmetless wear, a flexible and lightweight silicone face piece to enable fit to a large variety of facial types, front mounted inhalation valve and cartridge ports for enhanced field-of-vision, and a quick, one-handed filter change. In addition to the strap seen here for stand-alone use, the SOTR will also attach to the FAST helmet in a similar fashion to the O2 mask used for MFF parachuting operations.
Available in early 2017, the Ops-Core Special Operations Tactical Respirator was developed at the company’s facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California, which is dedicated to the research, development, and manufacture of respiratory protective products for military and law enforcement professionals.