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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

U.S. Army Seeking Custom Textile Prototype Fabricator

A pre-solicitation has gone out for supplemental private industry prototype fabrication to go hand in hand with the work coming out of  Natick laboratories.

This is for small scale one off test samples as well as medium size production runs for what one can presume would be related to field testing as they give a high number of 200 items for some orders. 

A vague textile tag is given in the solicitation, so one could wonder if this is related to clothing items that they want to tweak using feedback from soldiers or if it is a wide range of tactical gear that they plan on doing test production runs. They also note that the companies that are awarded with the subsequent contract will be responsible for working face to face with Natick designers in order to understand exactly what is needed for the end product. 

This particular development with private industry production working with the government designers is not a new concept, but it certainly brings to mind recent developments covered in other sources related to the possible duplication of private tactical gear manufacturers.  TYR Tactical's MICO was covered by Soldier Systems and Kitup! in relation to its striking similarities to the Army's "new" High-Capacity Ammunition Carriage System. To what ends are they trying to get at by outsourcing production of prototypes, but at the same time requiring a collaborative process along the way. It also clearly notes claim to property rights on everything that is produced.

You could think that if mere fabrication is all that would be needed, they could pass off the required designs, materials required, and have it produced. Perhaps some instruction is required for specific manufacturing requirements. Then again this may be all that is covered in those face to face pow wows. It also brings to task the needs for private ingenuity. Why would a company strive to create new tactical products and uniforms that soldiers need, when they know the Army is pushing for their own research and design, while only handing off the labor. 

Maybe Natick can come up with better options by focusing less on the production end and more on churning out test gear, but does this mean they are trying to compete with private industry in engineering the best equipment for the troops? Are they trying to edge out the competition and essentially eliminating any middle man costs? 

Many of the private companies that product new innovative tactical gear are former military servicemen who know what is needed and also gain insight from those that are still active. They also have the ability to gain investment in their concept to get what is inspired rather than what meets budget. Then again without that middle man cost, perhaps the Army is looking to get more high end designs without paying the premium for outside sourcing. Also if they can pick up some new concepts in their collaborations, maybe this is an added bonus from this private industry production strategy.

Perhaps the U.S. Army knows what is best and can take soldier feedback to determine what is needed for their final product. However, one can wonder if Groupthink, budget concerns, or outside interests could sway the quality line. After all the Universal Camouflage Pattern was an Army solution that seemed to balk at the need for prior testing and consideration for function. You also have the ABU provided by the Air Force which needs new incarnations to improve on its more obvious failing when put to use. Maybe these are mistakes that will disappear with this new strategy.


Mr. Beck from Tyr Tactical said it best, "...if the guys are getting the right gear then honestly in the long run, that is really all that matters"

The full pre-solicitation is available at FBO.gov

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