FORT HOOD, Texas -- The latest chemical protective mask earmarked to replace the current mask used by U.S. Army fixed wing aviators was tested here recently.

The Joint Service Aircrew Mask for Strategic Aircraft (JSAM-SA) test is the Army's contribution towards this multi-service operational test (MOT).

"Due to the confined space within the aircraft and the lengthy mission times, there is a definite need to ensure the fixed wing community has the capability to complete its missions while wearing chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) equipment," said Lt. Col. Richard Baylie, chief of the Fixed Wing/Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance test division of the Aviation Test Directorate (AVTD) of the U.S. Army Operational Test Command (USAOTC).

JSAM-SA is equipped with upgrades that conform to the unique operating environment encountered by fixed wing aircrews.

A body-mounted filter configuration reduces head borne weight and a robust communications unit enables crews to communicate effectively in and out of the aircraft.

A test team of Aviators, Army Civilians, Contractors and CBRN subject matter experts partnered with local aircrews from the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command's 15th Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation) to execute the JSAM-SA test.

"Communication is huge!" said Chief Warrant Officer Four Thomas Shellhart, safety officer of Company A, 15th Military Intelligence Battalion. "Having multiple radios that can be operated independently complicates things very quickly, and if the crew can't communicate effectively, then they go from being a key resource to a danger in the air."

"Conducting the test at home station minimizes time away from home for Soldiers, which is very important these days," Baylie added.

Crews flew over 40 hours in the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System (EMARSS) aircraft while wearing the JSAM-SA.

Crews also conducted ground events while masked that simulated a survival and evasion scenario, including a 9mm handgun familiarization live-fire range and a chemical chamber confidence exercise.

"The test has provided training that has made a positive impact on unit readiness," said Chief Warrant Officer Three Jared Zornes, force modernization officer with the 15th MI Bn. "Flight crews and chemical specialists within our formation have been given an outstanding opportunity here to capitalize on CBRN training that improves our readiness posture now and into the future."

The Army is the first agency within the Department of Defense to conduct ground events with the JSAM-SA. These events will provide data to evaluate the system's effectiveness, suitability and survivability and will be leveraged among all services during the MOT.

JSAM-SA test events were designed to test the system under an operationally realistic environment while providing the test unit with training and support to improve overall readiness.

"We designed the test events to include all the potential environments that fixed wing crews may find themselves in, both in the air and on the ground," said Mr. David Rogers, AVTD's JSAM-SA test officer.

The Secretary of the Army recently released a directive stating that units should incorporate CBRN training into Mission Essential Task training.

"We see this as an opportunity to support the Secretary's guidance by providing scenarios that enhance readiness and lethality while also providing us with valuable data from the field to ultimately put a better product in the hands of our Soldiers," Rogers said.

Joint Services will leverage data gathered from the JSAM-SA MOT to support future test events. Additionally, the JSAM-SA MOT will support a fiscal year 2019 fielding decision for the U.S. Army.

As the lead test organization, AVTD will provide data on an improved chemical protective mask designed to equip fixed wing crews with respiratory, ocular and percutaneous protection when operating within CBRN environments.

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About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:

The Aviation Test Directorate at West Fort Hood, Texas, plans and conducts operational tests and reports on manned and unmanned aviation-related equipment to include attack, reconnaissance, cargo and lift helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, tactical trainers, ground support equipment, and aviation countermeasure systems.

As the Army's only independent operational tester, USAOTC tests Army, joint, and multi-service warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. USAOTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer -- the American Soldier.