US Army targets wool for sustainable fire-resistant combat uniforms

Sheep Central December 5, 2016
US Army Private Antwan Williams wearing the wool-blend fabric uniform.

US Army Private Antwan Williams wearing the wool-blend fabric uniform.

U.S. Army researchers are developing a light wool-based fire-resistant fabric to improve combat uniforms.

The Army has developed a fabric composed of 50 percent wool, 42pc Nomex, 5pc Kevlar and 3pc P140 anti-static fibre.

Textile technologist with the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center Carole Winterhalter said one goal of the textile research and development work is to create a flame-resistant combat uniform made wholly from domestic materials. She is also the federal government’s chief technology officer for the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

“We have a lightweight fabric that is inherently flame resistant.

No topical treatments are added to provide fire resistance,” she said.

“We are introducing a very environmentally friendly and sustainable fibre to the combat uniform system.

“We don’t have other wool-based fabrics in the system right now,” Ms Winterhalter said.

“This is a brand new material.”

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Ms 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 this material in the clothing system.

“Wool is 100pc biodegradable.

“It’s easy to dye and absorbs moisture,” she said.

“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.

“It’s been very successful,” Ms Winterhalter said.

“When blended with other fibres, the fabric does not shrink excessively when washed.

“The Super Wash line at Chargeurs in Jamestown, South Carolina, has exceeded its business estimates.”

Ms Winterhalter said the Super Wash line at Chargeurs has revitalized wool manufacturing in the United States.

“Something we initiated for the Army has resulted in economic benefits and new jobs for U.S. citizens.”

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

Soldiers tested fabric in Germany

Three Army researchers travelled to Germany in Aug and September this year for Exercise Combined Resolve VII to work with about 100 Soldiers in testing and evaluating prototype uniforms composed of the new fabric.

The scientists joined John Riedener, the Field Assistance in Science and Technology advisor assigned to 7th Army Training Command. The exercise brings about 3500 participants from NATO allies to the region. 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.

The uniforms were lighter weight and breathed better; soldiers were very happy with the material,” Mr Riedener said.

Soldiers liked the light breathable fabric

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

Each soldier received three prototypes of the new wool-based fabric. One was “garment treated” with permethrin, an insecticide, and another “fabric treated” with permethrin. The third was untreated.

Soldiers 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. Participating Soldiers came from multiple military occupational specialties.

Their feedback regarding comfort, durability, laundering and shrinkage, insect resistance, and overall performance will help determine whether researchers continue this development effort, Ms 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 is not complete, NSRDEC program manager for the Office of Synchronization and Integration Shalli Sherman said.

NSRDEC researchers plan a larger field study with more users over a longer time period of possibly 30 days. More data on comfort and durability is needed as the Army moves forward with this R&D effort, Ms Winterhalter said.

Source: US Army


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