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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Jerry Whitaker -- Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: December 20, 2004
No: 04-50

Police tactical uniform takes LEAP

NATICK, Mass. -- In seconds, a special operations police officer could be protected against chemical or biological agents with the Law Enforcement Advanced Protection (LEAP) uniform ensemble in development at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center here.

First unveiled as the Law Enforcement/Corrections Tactical Uniform System (LECTUS) in 2002, the project, renamed LEAP last year, has revamped its prototype ensemble that portrays what researchers envision as potential relevant military technology to the law enforcement community.

"The LECTUS was an overall demonstration. It was our first vision of a prototype," said Jonathan Rich, project manager at the National Protection Center. "We're looking at the chemical-biological piece now to see if they work and eventually demonstrate a functional ensemble."

LEAP leverages concepts from the Army's Future Force Warrior (FFW) combat ensemble. Just as FFW represents the future in an integrated and modular systems approach to equipping Soldiers, LEAP represents a new level of capability for law enforcement officers on a special operations team.

"This is the civilian version of FFW. When we're displaying the LEAP ensemble, we like to show it next to FFW because they directly relate to each other," Rich said. "Operators that have had a chance to see it think it's a great concept. Law enforcement currently has big plastic hazmat suits that make it tough to perform tactical operations."

Project LEAP is a Department of Homeland Security-Office of Science and Technology-sponsored multi-agency effort. The Materials and System Integration Team at Natick oversees and executes all technical aspects with support from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, National Institute of Justice, Center for Technology Commercialization and Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization.

LEAP focuses on standards and certification gaps that affect the emergency responder's ability to access grants and procure equipment, said Rita Gonzalez, National Protection Center director.

"Without standards it's difficult to define what emergency responders can buy," she said. "With the push for military-type technologies and integrated systems, the impact on standards and equipment certification becomes more challenging."

Rich said the plan, after dealing with the chemical-biological protective alternatives and standards phase of LEAP, is to work progressively on a suite of capabilities including ballistic protection, load bearing, electronics and other integrated components.

Chemical-biological agent protection has top emphasis as the entire emergency response community has been seeking upgrades in their equipment since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, according to Gonzalez.

In this latest effort, engineers adopted an "over-under" hybrid concept. What appears to be an officer's "spare tire" just above the waist is actually the top part of what would be a chemical-biological protective material connected to a non-permeable bottom.

When the need arises, the officer dons the mask, unfastens and drops the load-carriage vest, and slips into the rolled out top half with built-in gloves and a hood that fits over a mask. The officer then can don the vest over the protective top.

"We hope to integrate the mask into the hood or into the helmet, but it depends how technology advances," Rich said. "(The type of material) below the waist may be too hot, but it may not matter since most of the heat is released at the top half."

For instance, heat wouldn't matter much in a 20-minute mission, but sometimes they're in situations that last for hours, such as guarding attendees at a political convention, according to Rich.

Besides protecting the head against ballistic and blunt trauma, the LEAP ensemble's modular helmet will incorporate a global positioning system, radio antenna suite, flashlight, drop-down visor with heads-up display, and a detachable mandible to cover the face and neck.

Electronics are mostly contained in the helmet, and he said it's probably the most complicated part of the LEAP system and furthest away from reality. The LEAP Team is tracking the progress of FFW, and other DoD programs, in this area.

"Everything's modular, so you can replace a piece if something breaks or improved technology becomes available, but integrated so you can reduce bulk and weight," Rich said.

On the torso, LEAP adopts FFW's stand-off body armor plating front and rear in a quick don and doff load-carriage vest. A new body armor design reduces the need for soft armor and lessens the blow by giving space for bullet deformation, Rich said. Soft armor covers the shoulders and upper arm.

Attachment loops along the vest enable any combination of items to be easily carried, including a hydration pouch and extra ammunition. "It's up to whoever is wearing it how it is configured," he said.

An ergonomic load-bearing belt holds a drop-down holster for a pistol and cases for a radio, magazines, handcuffs, flash bangs and other police equipment. Rich said the Massachusetts State Trooper who wears the outfit for display reported that it's much more comfortable because of its improved weight distribution.

Knee and elbow pads are integrated into the black cotton/nylon blend fabric uniform, complete with the FFW's waste management zipper, that's worn with commercially-available gloves and boots.

The Massachusetts State Police, U.S. Capitol Police and Mount Weather Police Department in Virginia are assisting in evaluating the LEAP because they have different specialized missions, Rich said.

"We're looking to mesh everything together to look at the commonalities so that when it is available for purchase, it will fit most users," he said.

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This page last updated on 23 January 2004.