Academic, research and industry teams join forces to improve uniform materials.
New fabrics now under development will one day relieve troops from the burden of wearing additional garments to protect from chemical and biological attack. The effort, dubbed Second Skin, is being led by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department. The goal is to weave a new generation of multifunctional materials that can be manufactured into everyday military uniforms but use molecular-level technologies to protect against such attacks as soon as the wearer enters a contaminated area. The program is budgeted for $30 million over the next five years.
Hooded, heavy and cumbersome suits in hot desert climates worn in anticipation of possible chemical attacks and the accompanying discomfort would become a thing of the past if the Second Skin program is successful, according to Tracee Harris, science and technology manager for Novel Materials, Chemical and Biological (CB) Technologies Department, at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. “The vision of dynamic multifunctional materials for Second Skin technology is to enable the manufacture of autonomous protective garments—in other words, garments that can respond to a CB threat by optimizing the balance between the CB protection that the garment can offer and thermal comfort for the wearer,” she explains.
Harris cites studies performed by the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine that show a physiological effect that current suits have on soldiers’ abilities to perform their mission. “They’re performing moderate work, marching under those conditions, under high relative humidity, and high temperatures,” she says, adding that in normal use, soldiers usually must rest after wearing the suit for one hour. Generally, suits are issued to troops for use only in situations where they may be marching into a known threat.