Army testing Dune-like cooling suits

About 500 liquid-filled cooling vests are now being tested by Humvee crews in Iraq and Kuwait.

The vests are worn under body armor and a hose from each vest is plugged into the Humvee’s on-board air-conditioning system. Liquid from the vehicle’s AC system circulates through the vest, cooling its wearer.

The vests were developed by the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center, known as TARDEC, in coordination with the Natick Soldier Center. They were sent to Kuwait this past summer and then forwarded to Iraq.

The Humvees with add-on armor were fitted with air conditioners after TARDEC engineers in Warren, Mich., were given the requirement to figure out how Soldiers in armored vehicles could be kept cool under the desert sun.

Some of the same engineers had designed the add-on armor kits for the M-998 and M-1025 Humvees in theater. But with the extra armor and doors closed, temperatures inside the vehicles could reportedly reach more than 130 degrees.

“It’s like putting somebody in a toaster oven on low heat,” said Charlie Bussee, an engineer at TARDEC.

So the engineers began “backward designing” to fit an air-conditioning system into the rear of the Humvees.

About 21,000 of the air-conditioning systems have been ordered for Humvees in theater and more than 13,750 already have the AC systems installed, Bussee said.

But even with air conditioning, temperatures inside the armored vehicles could still reach 95 degrees in the sun, Bussee said. So something more was needed.

Design of the vests actually began in the spring of 2004 said Brad Laprise of the Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts.

“We learned a lot about physiological conditions and cooling since then,” Laprise said.

Each Humvee cooling kit consists of four water-filled vests known as Air Warrior Microclimatic Cooling Garments or MCGs. Fungicide-treated water is chilled by the AC system in the Humvee and circulated through the garment

A rapid-release system allows Soldiers to quickly disconnect the hoses so they can jump out of the vehicle and keep the vests on.

“All of this was a logical extension of the armor and the heat issue,” Bussee said.

For the collaboration between TARDEC and NATICK in developing the vests, the two commands received the 2005 Research and Development Laboratory Collaborative Team of the Year award by the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition Logistics and Technology. The award was presented at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in October.

Some of the vests are now being used by Soldiers operating ambulances in theater, TARDEC officials said. Others are being used on convoys.

“Since we have had the vests, they have become increasingly popular with the platoon,” said 1st Lt. David J. Dixon Jr., 18th Airborne Corps, who provided feedback via e-mail to TARDEC engineers. “They argue over who gets to wear them. They wanted me to ask for more.”

Operational assessments of the cooling kits are being made to gather Soldier performance evaluations, TARDEC officials said.

From U.S. Army

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