Natick climatic testing benefits military, industry
Andy Nichols of ForceProtector Gear, and Sarah Ross of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Mass., take shelter beneath the ThermaShield thermal blanket during recent testing at Natick's Doriot Climatic Chambers.

NATICK, Mass. (March 28, 2013) -- In an era of budgetary uncertainty, the Doriot Climatic Chambers at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center recently conducted tests that not only saved taxpayer money, but generated revenue.

According to Josh Bulotsky, Doriot's manager, a private company came to the chambers to conduct three days of testing on two items, including one being looked at under the Soldier Enhancement Program, or SEP, which seeks to "expedite the fielding of Soldier equipment." In a mutually beneficial arrangement, the company paid to use the chambers for the testing and made the resulting data available to Natick.

"We (used) almost every component of the chamber, environmentally," Bulotsky said. "You've got the heat, you've got the humidity, you have the wind, you have the (solar) lights."

ForceProtector Gear, or FPG, of San Fernando, Calif., was testing its ThermaShield and Survivor Blanket against the standard-issue Army poncho and field tarp to measure the heat-reflective capabilities of each. Tests were run at 80, 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Although the company paid for it, they went to an independent government agency for testing," said Darren Bean, an equipment specialist with Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment at Natick. "Normally, it's the other way around. They came to us, so Josh brought income into the organization and I can rely on those data. We can trust (Doriot), and we can come watch the testing as it happens."

Ironically, Bean was planning to do tests on the FPG ThermaShield as part of the SEP. As he pointed out, more than 6,000 of the items are in the field, bought off the shelf, and Soldiers have already provided positive feedback about them.

"Our goal was to test it to find out if it had any value before we invested the year's worth of effort and money into doing a full-blown program of record," Bean said. "The (SEP) concept's called 'buy, try, decide' -- buy a few, try them out, and decide if it was worth it."

FPG's testing at Doriot helped streamline the SEP process.

"This is great for us, because this is going to save us tons of money and tons of time," Bean said. "They have agreed to share their data with us. Everything they did in there, which they paid for, they're going to share those data with us, which saves us thousands of dollars."

The chambers have always been available to the military services and to private industry. Bulotsky will continue to encourage their use.

"We definitely like to entertain private companies," Bulotsky said. "Especially with the addition of the solar lights, we're going to probably get a lot of private companies that want to come in and do testing that's like this."

Bulotsky referred to the 18 1,500-watt metal halide vapor lamps that are designed to test the effects of solar load on objects in Doriot's Tropic Chamber. At one point, FPG's ThermaShield was reflecting 230 degrees from those lights. The temperature below the 6-by-10-foot, three-layer thermal blanket was 100 degrees cooler.

"That's pretty significant," Bean said. "That's going to reduce the heat strain on (the Soldier), allowing him to work harder, longer, smarter. It was hot enough that we could fry an egg on the top of the tarp. That's how hot it was, literally. But below was tolerable -- hot, but tolerable."

FPG had done the cold-weather portion of its testing last summer at the Cold Regions Test Center at Fort Greely, Alaska. Andy Nichols, FPG's director of Fielding and Integration and a retired Navy master chief, said that the company's decision to do its heat testing at Natick was an easy one.

"Natick is basically the last word in testing," Nichols said. "I couldn't have asked for better service (and) help. The results were fascinating. The investment in these testing centers verifies our internal testing data from opposite ends of the environmental spectrum and culminates our ten years of ThermaShield development."

As Bean noted, the ThermaShield isn't correcting a flaw in the current field tarp.

"This does something we didn't ask the field tarp to do," Bean said. "It could be a replacement for the field tarp, or it could be something completely separate. The field tarp was not designed to necessarily reflect heat. It's more of a waterproof tarp."

If the ThermaShield ultimately does find its way into the Army's inventory, the three days of testing at Doriot will have helped ease the transition.

"We save money and we rapidly transition this item into the field and get an approved capability in the hands of the Soldier, that much cheaper, that much quicker," Bean said. "I don't see how this could have worked out any better, really."

Page last updated Thu March 28th, 2013 at 00:00