Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Natick Looking to FR Wool Combat Clothing

In the office today, after seeing some of the new FR Uniform products to soon be released, we were discussing the importance that flame resistant clothing will play in protecting our troops. The game changing use of IED by enemy combatants and the subsequent move to outfit those on the front line with uniforms that feature FR  properties in the fabric is a trip of no return.

The 21st Century battlefield has presented weaponry that is readily available to insurgents. Even as we exit Iraq and Afghanistan the advent of the IED, and other weapons that are cheap and easy to manufacture using simple technology, will be a contention faced in any future incursion where the enemy has free movement.

One of the simple defenses against these explosive devices can be as simple as the clothes on your back. U.S. companies like Darn Tough have taken the sheep's natural bounty and put it to good use for military socks. The inherent properties of wool provide for a flame resistant, anti-microbial, and comfort in reacting to the body's natural cooling system. 

For all of those cynics that think the only concern faced by the US Army is to find the most Gucci camouflage for the ACU, you should be happy to know that they have announced that the Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center is working with heavy hitters in the wool industry to create new wool based fabrics for flame resistant combat clothing. This in addition to an effective concealment system are just some of the ways that the Army is looking for continual improvements in their uniforms worn by their soldiers, which could carry over to  

At the moment many flame resistant military clothing are created with materials including Nomex, Rayon, and related materials like Lenzing that have their own failings including lack of long term durability or inability to properly wick moisture. 

Some of the top FR material manufacturers are foreign companies, which has certainly left a bad taste in the mouth of many who only want Made in America fabrics worn by our country's military. This has led to congressional oversight and a waiver for continued use in military uniforms. Obviously this is the right move if this is the only product that will provide the ultimate protection for our troops, even if there has been some complaints as to how well it holds up over the long haul in combat. 

Clearly Natick sees the ability for wool to fill the gaps where these other fibers may not be cutting it for the Army Combat Uniform and other clothing worn by soldiers. It is noted that with wools shrinking properties, they are making strides in providing a wearable product that is shrink resistant and have incorporated US made Kevlar and Nomex to add additional durability. Interestingly they also state that 65% of our country's wool production is exported.

An increased utilization of this domestic supply could possibly counter any need for foreign necessity and also the reliance on cotton, polyesther, and nylon which have recently had skyrocketing  prices. The three year contract awarded to the Sheep Venture Company is a step forward in the initiative to provide the best military fabrics possible. Whether it will gain the proper traction and result in an ultimate solution is certainly yet to be seen.