Chemical, biological protective suit ready for issue to units
New chemical and biological agent protective suits will soon be issued to soldiers, replacing the current clothing no longer in production.
Procurement of the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) overgarment began in 1997 and will be released from the war reserve to Army units as the Battledress Overgarment (BDO) supply is being depleted. Fielding will continue through 2005.
The JSLIST resulted from a joint program led by the Marine Corps to develop an overgarment to be worn in all environments when under imminent threat of a chemical or biological attack and after these operations have started. It replaces three types of chemical and biological protective suits used by the services.
The project followed as a result of a congressional mandate that all future research and development, and procurement for all chemical items be jointly managed.
“The military wanted to make a joint program for the sake of economy,” said George Costas, project engineer for Product Manager-Soldier Equipment at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick). “Commonality will save money through the economy of scale.”
Some of the features of the JSLIST should also further cut costs. The wear life is 45 days for the JSLIST compared to 22 days for the JSLIST compared to 22 days for the BDO. Service life extends from 30 days for the BDO to 120 days for the JSLIST. Both provide 24 hours of protection after exposure to a chemical agent, and it’s expected that the JSLIST will have at least the same shelf life as the BDO.
Servicemembers will find many reasons to like the JSLIST.
The JSLIST is about one pound lighter and when packaged is 60 percent less bulky than the BDO. JSLIST suits feel cooler and can be washed six times while the BDO cannot be washed.
“You sweat like crazy in these things,” Costas said. “It can be a pretty miserable existence to wear it until the end of its wear life.”
Another major improvement is the charcoal liner. The BDO liner is a charcoal-impregnated polyurethane foam and nylon tricot laminate. The JSLIST liner consists of a non-woven front laminated to activated carbon spheres and bonded to a knitted back that absorbs chemical agents. The BDO foam deteriorated as the wearer rubbed against the foam, and it could become messy.
“Black carbon dust would come out of the foam and get on you and your uniform. The JSLIST carbon is bonded in the liner,” Costas said. “No matter how much or hard you rub against it, when you remove the suit, you’re nice and clean.”
Depending on the temperature and mission, the overgarment may be worn over the standard duty uniform, underwear, or over or under cold weather garments.
The JSLIST consists of a coat and trousers. The pants have expandable pockets, adjustable suspenders and adjustable waistband. They also have a front zipper opening with a protective flap, and a bellows pocket with flap located on each thigh. Each leg opening has Velcro ankle adjustment tabs.
The waist-length coat has an integral hood, a zipper covered by a flap that’s fastened with Velcro, enclosed extendable elastic drawcord hem with jacket retention cord, full-length sleeves with Velcro wrist closure adjustment tabs, and an outside expandable pocket with flap on the left sleeve. The outer shell of both pieces is a 50 percent cotton and 50 percent nylon poplin ripstop fabric with a durable water-repellent finish. The material is more flexible and can breathe without losing any protection, Costas said. The suits are available in woodland and desert camouflage patterns.
“It’s tailored much better. We’ve done many studies and field tests to make sure it fits well,” Costas said.
JSLIST suits are stored in vacuum-sealed packages. They are offered in seven sizes and have the advantage of being split-issue, allowing servicemembers to, for instance, mix a large coat with extra large pants.
“With all the body types, you get a more comfortable fit and better chemical protection because it fits them properly,” Costas said.
Although the Department of Defense is in the process of destroying their chemical weapon stockpiles, other countries and terrorists have the potential to use chemical weapons, which is why the chemical protective suit remains an important item in the inventory, Costas said. With an improved pattern established, advances to the suit will focus on making the material lighter, cooler and safer.