SSC-Natick Press Release
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: February 18, 2004
'Fightability' of equipment measured with obstacles
NATICK, Mass. -- Developing the best clothing and individual equipment for the military consists of a multi-pronged approach, with laboratory research of physiology and biomechanics at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., along with off-site field-testing and evaluation.
Constructed in 1998, the Clothing and Individual Equipment Fightability Course has provided another way to assess performance before fielding. Located 15 miles from the installation at the Hudson Annex, the course combines a series of obstacles along with buildings to simulate rural and urban terrain.
"The purpose of the course is to allow developers to do controlled studies in a somewhat realistic laboratory setting to quantify mobility, agility and ability to negotiate MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) obstacles," said John Kirk, Load Bearing and Individual Equipment Team leader, who created and manages the course.
Once the site of various testing in airdrop, clothing and other studies, the fightability course is the last remaining research activity on the property.
Kirk learned about a vacant World War II era barracks scheduled for demolition on the site and thought it would make an ideal place for the course, which led to the salvage of the building and course construction.
Surrounded by several hundred acres of state-owned forest, the 1 1/2 acre rectangular course is bordered by a chain link security fence and contains eight obstacles along with the converted barracks and a smaller "Shoot House," which has catwalks and skylight windows on each side to enable observers to view training inside.
Obstacles allow test subjects to scale over a wooden fence, balance themselves as they walk along a log beam, charge over and down a ramped bridge, step through straddled tires, squirm through the pipe crawl, low and high crawl under wooden decks and jostle through clustered pipes, which represent a thicket of saplings, as quickly as possible.
The entire course from start to finish as well as each individual event are clocked electronically with a light-beam-activated timer.
Adjacent woods with trails or the 500-yard paved road on the perimeter enable researchers to incorporate road marching before sending troops through the course.
That gives engineers the ability to compare pack designs to quantify the negative effects that road marching with that pack has on soldier performance, Kirk said, and having a paved perimeter road is helpful because they can monitor the test subjects closely, which is more complicated on a course on the trails. A timed course gives researchers quantitative measurements of fatigue.
A similar but smaller obstacle course is located at the Biomechanics Lab, a joint facility of the Natick Soldier Center and U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) at the Natick installation.
"(The Hudson course) gives us the ability to work with larger-scale obstacles. The two complement each other nicely," said Peter Frykman, a research physiologist with the Military Performance Division of USARIEM. "The nice thing about (the Hudson course) is the combination of the MOUT obstacles with the standard obstacles. Because both of these courses have road marching venues as part of them, we also get the chance to examine the role of fatigue in negotiating these obstacles."
He added that the course inside the Biomechanics Lab allows quality research to be completed during the inclement weather of winter. Access to these two courses provides the partnership between USARIEM and the Soldier Systems Center unique resources to investigate human performance with and without a load.
Unlike MOUT centers that resemble towns at places such as Fort Benning, Ga. or Fort Polk, La., MOUT at the relatively tiny fightability course is focused on equipment performance rather than tactical training.
The main two-story building has 4,000 square feet of space with rooms of various sizes. Since the building was vacant, conversion was simple, according to Kirk.
Timed MOUT obstacles incorporated into the building consist of stairways, doorways ranging from 24-36 inches wide that include one shaped like a ship's hatch, and windows of various widths and heights to capture as many variables as possible. The "Shoot House" was built new to augment the larger building.
"That's all for urban fighting, which the Army trains extensively for," Kirk said.
Products that can be evaluated span almost anything troops wear or carry, from helmets to boots. Frykman said it's a place that mimics the field without the time and expense to find a quick answer that can determine the direction of a project.
At least six studies with the ALICE, MOLLE, and developmental rucksacks with Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Special Operations SPEAR rucksack with Rangers from Fort Benning have been conducted since the course opened, Kirk said.
"We looked at how the volume of the pack affected performance and had (troops) running with different sized loads to determine their optimal load volume," he said. "Those studies resulted in technical reports on load-bearing equipment that are useful in defining requirements for pack designs. We've been able to make modifications to gear and product improvements."
Other uses for the MOUT building have been training for the Department of Defense police and Installation Defense Force who protect the Soldier Systems Center, as well as local police departments.
"A lot of times police have to use an old warehouse on a city block," Kirk said. "This gives them somewhere discreet in a secluded area."
For more information about the Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at