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Posts Tagged ‘Natick’

US Army Seeks Lightweight Tropical Uniform

Monday, May 5th, 2014

From the outset, I have to say that technically, the Army is just looking for a new fabric, as there has been no talk (at least publicly) about developing a specialized uniform layout for tropical environments. However, in addition to a new jungle boot that we talked about last week, Natick has released a Sources Sought Notice entitled, “Light Weight Tropical Uniform“. This is excellent news.

To read the meat and potatoes of what the Army is looking for, see it here at RFITropWeight.

This is an interesting move as it is an admission that the current fabric used in the ACU, a 50/50 NYCO or nylon/cotton blend adopted for the Enhanced Hot Weather Battle Dress Uniform in the early 90s isn’t really much of a tropical weight fabric. Prior to this, Hot Weather BDUs were made from a 100% ripstop cotton fabric. This came about as the Army “rediscovered” the need for a tropical weight version of the BDU during the invasion of Grenada in 1983. The Army had begun fielding the Woodland camouflaged BDU, made from a heavy, 50/50 nylon/cotton twill in 1981. Designed for use in central Europe, they were too hot for hot weather use. However, the comfortable, quick drying, 50/50 NYCO poplin fabric of the HWBDU was to be replaced within a decade.

Grenada BDU and ERDL

By the early 90s, a serious garrison mentality had taken hold in the US Army. Soldier were starching their HWBDUs and the process was wearing them out rather quickly, with fraying at the cuffs and collars in as little as six months. Instead of telling Soldiers to stop starching a uniform fabric optimized for tropical environments, the Army introduced a new fabric that would be more durable when starched and pressed under high heat. Unfortunately, this 50/50 NYCO fabric compromise fabric isn’t so great in the hot weather environments the uniform was intended for. The nylon content lowers breathability, making the fabric feel warmer. Operational capability was abandoned in favor of looking good in garrison. When the ACU came along, the Army incorporated that same 50/50 NYCO poplin fabric. Now that the Pacific Pivot is in, and the Army is scrambling to recreate capabilities like the jungle boot that it had abandoned years ago, it has dawned on somebody that they can find a better fabric solution and I am glad.

Granted, the Universal Camouflage Pattern is an issue in the jungle and Woodland EHWBDUs are will in use by some Army SOF and students at the new US Army Jungle School in Hawaii. Hopefully, the Army will work out a solution for this dilemma. But, we can always look back to a simple solution fielded during the Viet Nam War.

VN Jungle Fatigue

I’ve called it “The Greatest Uniform Ever Fielded By The US Army” and in my opinion, the OG-107 Jungle Fatigue in 100% ripstop cotton remains just that.

DA-ST-86-02617

In fact, this uniform, as well as the ERDL camouflaged variant, continued to be worn well into the late 80s by Special operations Forces.

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Rightfully so, the Army is looking, at a minimum (threshold), for a no-drip, no-melt solution fabric story. Naturally, if the star’s aligned (object) they’d like a full FR solution, although this is probably overkill considering the operational environment.

If you’ve got something that you think will work, the Army needs to hear from you by 1200EST on 08 May 2014. They’ll also need 5 yards of fabric (any color) and a the usual slew of technical data. Make sure you read the details in the amendments. The Army is going to use this data to help scope an actual requirement, making this is a very important part if the process.

With so much development in the textile industry over the past 10 years, here’s to hoping that the Army identifies a fabric optimized for use in hot-wet environments.

US Army Seeking Digital Printing Capability

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Natick has issued a Sources Sought Synopsis looking for companies that are capable of digitally printing on a variety of substrates (fabrics). Additionally, they must be capable of NIR and SWIR compliance. Specifically:

Natick Soldier Systems Center requires rapid printed fabrics for field/lab testing of camouflage patterns for use in woodland, transitional and arid environments that conform to visual, NIR and SWIR requirements.

The Army is interested in prints on 50/50 Nylon/Cotton Ripstop Fabric, 500D Cordura and Rayon/Para-Aramid/Nylon Ripstop Fabric.

Notice in the documentation they reference Woodland, Transitional and Arid patterns? They go on and on about this, repeating it four times which tells me that, despite the contractual machinations currently (not) underway with Crye Precision for OCP (MultiCam), Natick is committed to working with a family of camouflage consisting of a Transitional pattern combined with Bookend Woodland and Arid patterns. Perhaps someone has realized that they actually own the Scorpion pattern (seen below), a precursor to MultiCam developed for the Objective Force Warrior program and can do pretty much anything they want with it. Then again, maybe not.

OFW

At this point, the Army is in a bit of quandry, having banked on a soft transition to OCP. Now, no one seems sure if the Army will be capable of moving away from the UCP camouflage. If a friend asked me in October if I knew what was happening I’d say “yes.” If they asked me now, I’d tell a story that sounds like a plot to an episode of “Three’s Company” and say “Not so much.”

As for trying to keep up; the Army is getting pretty savvy on releasing solicitation notices that deal with developmental camouflage issues on FedBizOpps. Looks like they’ve figured out that folks are keeping an eye on them so they are issuing them without any discussion of camouflage on the actual notice. Take for instance this one. It is titled “Fabric Printing BPAs.” You have to get down into the attachments to see what is really going on. Sneaky, Sneaky. But don’t worry Army, we will keep an eye out for you to help keep you honest. Since the Army likes to alter the public record by deleting postings once they’ve been brought to light on SSD, we’ve included the meat of what the Army is looking for below.

Click to download: CAMO_BPA2_Spec23Jan2014

If you’re interested in answering up, you’ve got until February 4th.

For the full Sources Sought Synopsis visit Fabric Printing BPAs.

US Army Seeks Flame Resistant and Non-Melting, Next-to-Skin Fabrics

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Yesterday, the Army Contracting Command issued a Request for Information (RFI) / Market Survey on behalf of Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment (PM-SCIE) and the US Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Command, (NSRDEC) in Natick, MA for Flame Resistant and Non-Melting, Next-to-Skin Fabrics.

In particular, the wish “to identify domestic products, suppliers and manufacturers as potential sources of knitted fabrics suitable for use in three next-to-skin garment types. These garment categories include:
A. Base layer underwear
B. Base layer underwear capable of maintaining a snug fit when soft ballistic protection is added.
C. Flame resistant shirts capable of maintaining fit and positioning of integrated ballistic protection.
1. Sleeve and side panel fabric (must have capability to be printed in IR compliant camouflage patterns)
2. Torso fabric”

In addition to basic information on any company that submits, the Government also needs:
-A fact sheet or white paper, detailing properties of the submitted fabrics, technical parameters, manufacturing location, relevant company background/experience and documented test/analysis information that would indicate performance properties against the required physical properties listed above.
-Five yards of each submitted fabric.
-Pricing for each submitted fabric in dollars per linear yard.

The RFI goes on to state that, “the Government may purchase up to 100 yards from one or more respondents for prototype development. ”

Most important, companies must review this document for salient performance characteristics.

Perspective companies have until November 29th, 2013 to respond. Full details are at the FBO posting.

As always, I will remind SSD readers that this is NOT a solicitation but rather a means to gather information from industry on the current state of the art. I encourage participation as these exercises influence future requirements.

Olympus Has Fallen

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

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Natick Labs Featured on History Channel’s “Only in America”

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

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Last fall we told you that Larry the Cable Guy visited Natick Labs for his History Channel show “Only in America.” The episode which features the Thermal Test Facility, Doriot Climatic Chamber and Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate as well as the Experimental Load Carrying Facility seen above, premiers Wednesday night at 9 PM (EDT). Check local listings for encore show times.

The Army’s New Modular Backpack Panel

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

I knew Rich Landry before he was cool. Before he had that awesome mustache. But even then that guy knew load carriage. Today, if you say ‘Army’ and ‘load carriage’ in the same sentence, you’d better add ‘Rich Landry’ to it.

Landry is an individual equipment designer with the Load Carriage Prototype Lab, Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, at Natick Soldier Systems Center. Recently, Landry and another cool guy, but of the grey beard variety, Murray Hamlet began work on a device that would give Soldiers access to a packboard type of a platform. They took the frame and suspension from the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, or MOLLE, Medium rucksack and came up with a removable PALS panel.

“This is just a pack board, or a foundation for an entire range of tactical equipment beyond that of what we call the Soldier’s fighting load,” Landry said. “Anything that is MOLLE compatible, you’re going to have the ability to have a suspension system that’s designed to support upwards of 60 pounds that you can truly tailor specific to what your tactical mission is.”

The answer is the Modular Backpack Panel, or MBP, which increases the versatility of the MOLLE Medium. As it is, MOLLE Medium was developed to give the Soldier carriage for up to 60 pounds of essential gear for 72 hours.

“We’ve had calls from various organizations that carry all kinds of odd loads,” said Landry, adding that the rucksack sometimes was in the way. “Anybody who’s carrying large, crew-served weapons would find this application useful, the mortar guys, who are carrying a base plate, the tube, the various rounds, etcetera. They could utilize a modular setup to support those unusual loads.”

“It’s very basic load carriage capability,” Landry said. “They still need to carry their basic, critical individual equipment. So we will provide a set of larger pouches, which will attach to the panel but still allow the larger items to be carried.”

I saw a prototype months ago and look forward to hearing how the fielding goes and how Soldiers use it in the field.

Rich Landry Talks Improved IFAK

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Natick Soldier Systems Center employee Rich Landry talks about the proposed replacement for the Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) we wrote about last month.

US Army Anthropometric Survey at Camp Shelby

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Over the last couple of years the US Army has been collecting anthropomorphic data on its Soldiers to improve models for clothing patterning and size tariffing for uniforms and other sized equipment as part of the ANSUR II program. This anthropomorphic data is also used by engineers who develop cockpits and crew stations on vehicles and aircraft. Anthropometry is the study of physical dimensions in people, including the measurement of human body characteristics such as heights, breadths, girths, and reaches.

Not only are Soldiers built differently now than they were when the currently used info was collected in 1988 from active-duty personnel, but Americans in general are bigger. Consequently, this time around the Army wanted to collect info on the from about 13,000 troops representing the total force including Reservists and Guardsmen.

They have been making the rounds to various installations and recently visited Camp Shelby where this video was taken. In addition to the 95 traditional body measurements taken, 3D whole body, head/face and foot scans were be collected as part of this $9.5 Million program.

Natick Developing New IFAK Pouch

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

At last week’s Military Mountain and Cold Weather Symposium I had an opportunity to check out several creations from Natick’s Load Carriage Prototype Lab. One of those items was a much needed facelift for the Individual First Aid Kit pouch which was rushed into service not long after Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

The current issue item is a modified SAW ammo pouch and it really isn’t well executed for what it needs to do. It’s kind of like attaching a brick to the armor vest. PM Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment’s Rich Landry worked with the Army’s medical community to determine the latest and greatest contents list and then set about redesigning the pouch. One big change is that the Soldier is now issued two Combat Application Tourniquets so the new insert accommodates that.

The biggest change is the pouch’s basic shape. It is now a horizontal envelope-style with PALS webbing along its face and openings on either end to accept the insert. I was able to try the pouch out and it is easy to access the insert and restage. The insert is still attached to the pouch via an elastic coil bungee which can be detached via Velcro if needed. Both ends of the insert feature pull loops so it can be deployed left or right depending on the preference of the Soldier and mounting location. Additionally, its flat format allow it to be mounted on the lower back or under other pouches on either side of the cummerbund.

In a Natick press release, Landry commented, “We designed it literally about three or four months ago, the medical community said, ‘Awesome idea. Let’s move out with it.’ Overwhelmingly, they thought this was a huge improvement over the current IFAK.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure when it will become a general issue item but recent testing at Ft Polk was very promising.

SOTech developed a similar pouch in 2010 based on the contents of the SOF IFAK. It completed testing and was released for sale late last year.

Army Seriously Looking at Wool

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

While this isn’t exactly breaking news, the fact that the Army is publicly acknowledging their efforts regarding wool is. Wool was long a mainstay of Soldier clothing. Take for example this Soldier circa 1941. He is essentially wearing the same clothing that his forebears wore in the trenches of World War I. This same gear served us well through World War II, Korea and on. Wool pieces remained in the cold weather bag up into the 90s. And then, beginning in the 60s with selected items up through early 90s, the services began to turn away from wool in favor of synthetics such as polypropylene and acrylic. As operations in Afghanistan and Iraq ramped up, the flame threat associated with Improvised Explosive Devices caused a shift to a new generation of FR performance fabrics.

In recent years there has been a move to investigate the possibility of reintroducing nature’s performance fabric into the Soldier’s kit bag. Wool’s advantages, particularly of the Merino variety, are myriad.

-Warm even when wet
-Comfortable in a wide range of temperatures as well as against the skin
-Antimicrobial
-Inherently FR (No Melt, No Drip)
-Grown Naturally

Now, according to an Army press release, Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center has contracted for several efforts with the American Sheep Industry Association and its subsidiary, Sheep Venture Company, to develop, test and evaluate wool fabrics for combat clothing. The ASI is no slouch, with over 45 state sheep associations, all told it represents more than 82,000 sheep producers.

“We can enhance wool’s inherent properties by engineering high-performance fiber blends and fabric structures. It all begins with the wool fiber fineness, where some breeds of sheep and what they are fed directly affect the wool fiber diameter and flexibility,” said Carole Winterhalter, textile technologist for NSRDEC.

“In the military world, Natick is recognized as working on cutting-edge technologies in support of all Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Work done at Natick is thorough and credible,” said Mitchell Driggers, program manager for Sheep Venture Company, or SVC, and government contracting consultant of the American Sheep Industry, known as ASI.

“Natick provides the expertise of textile technologists to engineer optimized individual clothing for the field,” Winterhalter said.

In 2009 NSRDEC selected three organizations for Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contracts specifically calling for shrink-resistant treatments for wool and our friends at Propel LLC were involved in these efforts. SVC received the Phase II contract and created different wool shrink-resist techniques through chemical and enzyme-based technologies. Subsequently, the sheep and wool industry spent its own funds to install a manufacturing line with energy-efficient equipment to run the shrink treatments.

This line accommodates multiple shrink treatment methods. SVC’s washable wool line exceeded its production by more than 40 percent in the first year, and the company expects to double its production this year.

“The work done with Natick Labs is important because ASI is able to better understand the needs of all of the military services,” said Rita Samuelson, wool marketing director for ASI. “Together, we can develop products that are functional and valuable to our servicemen and women.”

There has been an impression that there isn’t enough domestic wool to go around, but the facts belie the myth. The US wool industry exports approximately 65 percent of American-grown raw and semi-processed wool to overseas markets, and 10-15 percent is used by the domestic textile industry. The rest is consumed by the US military.

The next step is engineering better performing wool blends. For example, spinning long-staple (four-inch) wool into worsted yarns with Nomex and Kevlar fibers from DuPont was done through NSRDEC and SVC for flame resistance and durability purposes.

“We believe we’ll be able to make a fabric that is much stronger with the long-staple worsted yarns,” Winterhalter said. “We’ve already demonstrated a 20 percent increase in yarn strength over the previous short-staple yarns.”

On the other hand, New Balance is out in front of this concept as well with their FR wool blend featuring FR Rayon.

“Through these different parameters, we can engineer high-tech protective clothing made from environmentally friendly natural means,” Winterhalter said. “We hope these fabrics will be used across the board for FR applications, just as the nylon/cotton blend has been the all-purpose combat uniform fabric.”

To further refine the technology, SVC was awarded a three-year contract to develop FR fabrics for the future.

“Wool does not melt or drip and has significant fire-resistant qualities, both of which can help protect Soldiers from IEDs,” Samuelson said.

The advantages of wool for the Soldier are obvious. It is truly nature’s performance fabric and when combined with other technologies, performance is further enhanced. For the Army and by extension the taxpayer, wool offers a cost advantage. Expect to see more and more companies enter the domestic wool game as they eye military business.