How The US Military is Improving Individual Protective Equipment

The U.S. military is the most advanced and elite fighting force in the world. Soldiers are continually training and using new equipment in climates they are unfamiliar with, such as extreme heat during rotations at the National Training Center (NTC), which can reach a record 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C). While outdoor temperatures are high, soldiers can absorb additional heat by wearing multiple layers of protective gear, such as combat camouflage (OCP) uniforms, body armor, advanced combat helmets (ACH), gloves and goggles. Keep in mind that these do not include the weight a soldier will bear while wearing all protective layers (like weapons, backpacks, hydration systems, radios, etc.). The number of layers and the extra weight factor of the uniforms were overwhelming for the fighters. The added body temperature pressure and the inability to regulate temperature due to the number of layers and weight of protection make it difficult for soldiers to perform their duties in combat. In addition, traveling to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) for training during the winter in Germany poses an additional risk that is the exact opposite of the heat. In this case, the U.S. Army released a seven-layer system to keep warm; however, it actually slowed soldiers down. In addition to resisting extreme temperatures, monitoring a soldier’s vital signs in a combat environment is key to analyzing the effort and duration of a soldier’s mission. Monitoring vital signs becomes critical in the triage phase when medical professionals and combat lifesavers (CLS) are prioritized for treatment and soldiers are able to eliminate many steps before receiving treatment. The Combat Training Center (CTC) repeatedly tests the Soldier’s ability to perform direct action (DA) against an equivalent adversary. So, what can the U.S. Army do to gain a tactical advantage against an adversary in a combined armed conflict? Improving military protective gear to regulate the body’s core body temperature and monitor vital signs could enable soldiers to move faster and fight better in extreme temperature environments. Over the long term, this is critical to gaining a tactical advantage in the operational environment. In addition, speeding up medical treatment can also enhance this tactical advantage.

How the US military is improving individual protective equipment

1. Regulate core body temperature

The body’s core temperature is critical to a soldier’s physical function, especially when working in extreme conditions. The body’s natural ability to regulate core temperature is activated when the temperature changes by plus or minus 0.2 degrees Celsius. This natural ability of the body works well under normal conditions that are not harsh combat. When most people start to sweat in hot conditions or shiver in cold conditions, we can notice that the body naturally regulates its core temperature. The body has a natural ability to cool or heat itself, depending on the environment. In the process, the body also releases energy while trying to avoid damage to vital organs in extreme conditions, and can have an impact on how the body retains water under long-term constant conditions of natural temperature regulation. Hydration is essential to the functioning of the body, for example, in extremely hot weather, soldiers need to drink water to reduce the risk of heat stroke. But what if there was a way to regulate core temperature outside of normal conditions? Under normal operating conditions in a high temperature environment, soldiers use ice sheets as a means of lowering the body’s core temperature before heatstroke. Placing ice caps on the inside of the armpits and groin is one way to lower the body’s core temperature before soldiers experience fatal heatstroke. This often leaves the soldier in shock, which has various other symptoms that require treatment, but are not as severe. Additionally, in extremely cold environments, soldiers learn a variety of techniques to mitigate frostbite and reduce the risk of several other cold weather injuries. Many times soldiers injured by hot or cold weather are more likely to reoccur these injuries and often must wear identification tags so that medical professionals can inquire about the situation before continuing treatment. Finally, Soldiers who receive treatment for hot and cold weather injuries will withdraw from combat, which will reduce the number of troops in their units and thus affect the readiness of the organization. While managing core body temperature is not easy, applying innovation and using critical and creative thinking measures to solve the problems Soldiers are constantly dealing with today will effectively improve the combat capability of the force.

2. Improve military protective equipment in extreme high temperature environments

Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke can cause injuries to Army soldiers more often than commanders are willing to accept. These injuries are mainly due to lower hydration levels in the body when the body is constantly sweating to cool down. As mentioned earlier, during prolonged combat, it is difficult for soldiers to regulate their core body temperature by drinking water alone. The body is overworked to stay cool, so drinking lots of water is counterproductive because it doesn’t address the loss of energy over time. Continued sweating in hot climates can quickly deplete the body of key nutrients, so much so that when soldiers are overworked, drinking water can only replace some of the elements that are critical to bodily function. In addition, consistent drinking of large amounts of water results in the rapid excretion of nutrients needed for bodily functions from the body. Maintaining nutrition should be the main way to restore bodily function. When the body is not overworked or stressed, the key is for the body to store nutrients for use. But it’s nearly impossible to do that under extreme conditions. To that end, let’s look at the core problem, which is regulating core body temperature. Integrating a layer of pressurized gel into the interior of the body armor, exterior of the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) pad, under the armpits, and around the hump water bladder, the gel is activated when it recognizes sweating in an area of ​​the body, providing that area Instant cooling. But at temperatures over 37.8 degrees Celsius, this cooling system doesn’t seem to be enough. At this point, a small refrigerant pack with a small amount of coolant can be used, which can pressurize the gel layer under extreme conditions while also cooling the water in the hump water bladder. This refrigerant pack is usually placed on the outside of the armor layer between the hump water bladder and the body armor. Not only is the amount of coolant sufficient, but it is also flat enough that it will not interfere with any movement of the soldier in the personnel carrier. In most cases, some power is required to power the rig. However, when soldiers move or shoot, body vibrations can pressurize the gel compound and force coolant in and out of the refrigerant pack. In this case, immediate cooling will reduce body water intake by keeping soldiers cool, thereby reducing the excretion of energy substances from the body. Soldiers will be able to fight harder and longer before getting tired, giving them an edge on the battlefield.

3. Monitor vital signs (vital)

When a casualty is taken to a doctor’s office, a hospital, or even an Army primary and secondary care facility, one of the first things medical professionals do is check your vitals. This is especially important because it measures the vital performance that the body is continually making in order to sustain life. According to data from Johns Hopkins University (last updated March 2020), the four main signs that matter most to medical professionals are blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature. Having already mentioned the importance of body temperature, this section will continue to discuss “why monitoring the other three signs is equally important for soldiers in the operational environment”. Nothing is more important than human vital signs, as the term “vital” refers to key elements of human functioning. Technology in today’s world has advanced so quickly that something as simple as monitoring heart rate is becoming more and more important to people. Most people can see their steps and even their heart rate simply by looking down at their watch. Where is this technology that can serve soldiers, and how does the U.S. Army provide rapid medical care to soldiers wounded in combat? The fewer steps and procedures soldiers take on the front lines during “prime time,” the fewer casualties there will be because time is of the essence. The “golden hour” resets when wounded soldiers reach the next ladder of care, illustrating how important it is to monitor vital signs when soldiers leave the field with injuries. Most vital sign detection devices are just sensors, whether they are pressure sensors or infrared sensors that measure vital functions of the body. If so, how hard would it be to incorporate it into a soldier’s protective gear?

4. Wireless sensor integration

Previously, the authors identified an innovative approach to controlling the body’s core temperature. However, the technology also requires monitoring of vital signs, including core temperature. In this case, wireless transmission is key, as sensors need to be properly placed throughout the body to accurately depict vital signs. First, a central receiver is placed on the soldier’s body armor with an easy-to-read digital screen that uses red letters at night and white letters during the day, while also relying on solar power to power the equipment. The receiver is dedicated to soldiers and has a Quick Response (QR) code that medical personnel can scan to extract basic medical data about soldiers such as blood type, age, next of kin and allergies. The receiver will also be equipped with Bluetooth to receive sensor signals from the rest of the body. Second, gloves are already an integral part of soldiers in combat, so integrating an inferred sensor into both index fingers sends a signal to a central receiver. The sensor will transmit the soldier’s average heart rate, oxygen saturation and breathing rate, while still functioning independently if the soldier unfortunately loses a hand. Third, two temperature probes are integrated into the soldier’s armpit body armor. This temperature is taken as the average of the two sensors, taking into account the increments of -0.3 to -0.4 degrees, respectively, because the temperature is measured using an auxiliary method. Finally, a pressurized sensor is placed on the bottom of the soldier’s glove, which sends the soldier’s blood pressure to the receiver as he moves. Since an accurate reading requires many steps, such as sitting still for at least 5 minutes before the measurement, this step is less stable compared to other steps for real-time monitoring. It’s more of a detection tool activated from a receiver by combat medics, who measure the blood pressure of the wounded soldier’s wrist by activating the glove’s pressure sensor.

5. Integrate two systems

First, the technology is only a small upgrade to a soldier’s existing equipment. These upgrades only affect soldiers’ gloves, body armor, and hump water bladders. These improvements are very cost-effective in terms of comfort and effectiveness for our nation’s most capable ground combat force. The integration of technology must be miniaturized because carrying extra weight puts soldiers at risk. The digital display only needs a small 3 volt battery, like the kind you see in watches. Additionally, integration will require the technology to be waterproof and shock absorbing. Because soldiers have to perform strenuous exercises such as climbing walls or wading through water to achieve their goals. Next, the displays that display all core vital signs need to be small enough not to interfere with the soldier’s movements, yet large enough for medical professionals to clearly identify the vital signs.

6. Force Management Model

Combatant commanders are always looking for ways to incorporate technology into battlefield missions. Therefore, the body armor upgrade will increase the capabilities of frontline troops. The Force Management Model (FMM) specifies how the Army develops products based on the combatant commander’s overall product needs. Funding, fielding, and testing are necessary to eliminate as many defects as possible before end-users can upgrade the product and put it into battle before it can be used by frontline troops. Since the product is more of an upgrade to an existing product, and the fielding of the product is only focused on the ability to regulate body temperature and accurately monitor vital signs, the overall time frame is shortened. Finally, the force management model requires dedicated personnel to maintain equipment. In this case, it would require a contract-based agreement with an integrated technology company to issue an implementation of the equipment following a final assessment of the equipment’s capabilities by either the first or second combatant command (in a non-hostile situation). upgrade. The final assessment also requires surveys and polls among soldiers, testing the equipment to measure its effectiveness. After the initial deployment of the equipment was complete and the Army began integrating the technology into body armor, the DoD hired experts to perform equipment upgrades at each Central Distribution Facility (CIF). The CIF will be the primary location for upgrading equipment, as Soldiers move in and out of different positions based on PCS orders. When soldiers move out of a facility on PCS orders, CIF uses the gap to upgrade body armor before issuing them to recruits receiving at the facility. The method of using CIF to upgrade existing body armor does not require mass production of new body armor, thus remaining as cost-effective as possible. However, due to the Modified Defense (PCS) upgrade approach, it will take more time for all units to be fully upgraded. On the other hand, facility commanders will prioritize units ready to deploy to hostile territory to upgrade their equipment in their respective CIF facilities under direct replacement orders. A direct replacement order will quickly equip a unit with the latest body armor technology, allowing it to move faster and fight longer in harsh combat conditions.

7. Conclusion

Upgrading our military protective gear to regulate core body temperature and monitor vital signs will allow soldiers to move faster and fight longer in extreme temperature environments. At the same time, expediting medical care is critical to gaining a tactical advantage in the operational environment. This paper points out how technology can improve soldier functionality by enabling soldiers to perform at their maximum capabilities for longer periods of time. The paper also highlights the ability to integrate such technologies as quickly as possible, as innovations are not far from enabling integration capabilities. Physicians rely on vital signs to prioritize patients, and the technology enables civilian and military care teams to treat more soldiers at any given time, depending on the situation.

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