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Tropical uniform prototypes fail to deliver

Marine officials ask industry to try again

Jan. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Off the ship, welcome to the jungle
Marines with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, navigate through a river under the cover of smoke during the Jungle Warfare Training Center's jungle operations course at Camp Gonsalves, Okinawa, Japan, on Sept. 30. In a test of four tropical uniform prototypes at the training center this summer, none of the uniforms met expectations, according to officials with Marine Corps Systems Command. (Sgt. Jonathan Wright / Marine Corps)
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Marine procurement officials, who want to develop quick-drying cammies for tropical environments, are heading back to the drawing board after several prototypes tested this summer didn't stand up to the rigors of jungle warfare.

Marine procurement officials, who want to develop quick-drying cammies for tropical environments, are heading back to the drawing board after several prototypes tested this summer didn't stand up to the rigors of jungle warfare.

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Marine procurement officials, who want to develop quick-drying cammies for tropical environments, are heading back to the drawing board after several prototypes tested this summer didn’t stand up to the rigors of jungle warfare.

Three of fourquick drying uniforms that were tested in June at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan, weren’t sufficiently durable, despite being among “the most promising fabrics” provided by industry. They were pitted against the standard issue Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform and the Enhanced Flame Resistant Combat Ensemble, which are now worn by Marines in combat.

“While the non-[fire resistant] tropical uniforms dried out much faster, they provided significantly less protection from the environment (e.g., bugs, plants and the ground),” according to a Request for Information released to industry in late December. “The non-FR tropical uniforms had an unacceptable failure rate; the most common failures being yarn snags, tears and holes.”

It was not immediately clear how the fourth trial uniform fared, but Marine Corps Systems Command is turning back to industry for more prototypes, which would suggest it, too, did not meet expectations.

The Corps’ utility and flame-resistant uniforms provided ample protection and durability, but had unacceptable drying times.

Procurement officials are challenging industry to combine the attributes of the newly tested fabrics with the durability of current uniforms in a single ensemble. They must be durable but dry in no more than 40 minutes, preferably in 20, according to documents released in conjunction with the RFI.

Systems Command is now “conducting additional market research to identify fabrics and end items that provide sufficient durability and protection, improved moisture management, and reduced dry time suitable for a tropical environment,” the RFI reads.

The initiative to develop quick drying uniforms stems from the service’s plans to refocus on the Asia Pacific region as combat operations in Afghanistan wind down. Uniforms and personal protective equipment have grown too heavy during the last decade of combat in the mostly dry climates of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Tell me Marines are going to be able to wear the kind of stuff they wore in Iraq or Afghanistan in the really hot, wet places. They are going to last 10 to 15 minutes, then half your people are going to be down as heat casualties,” Brig. Gen. William Mullen, director of the Capabilities Development Directorate at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., told Marine Corps Times in October.

A blouse and trousers are just two of the main components of a new uniform ensemble that will outfit Marines with lighter equipment from head to toe. Marine officials plan to field them with quick-drying socks and briefs, and a tropical under layer. One tested this summer showed promise.

Marine officials also developed a modified, faster drying version of the hot weather Rugged All Terrain boot which is being fielded to Marines beginning this year. It was lightened by removing extra foam padding, which retained water, from upper areas of the boot. To accompany them Marines may also receive reusable boot inserts to place in their footwear during down time to speed drying.

The time line for development and procurement of quick-dring cammies was not immediately clear.

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