Police officers and prison guards may reach ground-breaking levels of performance with the...
Law Enforcement/Corrections Tactical Uniform System
Not quite turning them into Robocops, the Law Enforcement/Corrections Tactical Uniform System may nevertheless reshape special operations law enforcement and corrections officers’ ability to perform their jobs.
A prototype uniform designed by the National Protection Center (NPC) at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., is demonstrating how the current and future wave of warfighting research and development applies to crimefighting and prisoner control.
Drawing from the many resources at the Soldier Systems Center, the NPC has taken existing and potential future military technology and transferred it to the law enforcement and corrections community.
“We’re transforming their capabilities by bringing them into the next century of technology,” said David Querim, project engineer for the new uniform. Just as important as technology is integration of the components.
“We’re engineers who think of all these things and bring it to the civilian first responder,” Querim said. “Nobody has done this before for them. That’s our advantage—to integrate the equipment into one usable item.”
Still, the Law Enforcement/Corrections Tactical Uniform System leaves room to adapt to the individual or group user. Querim said he envisions a base model that can be fitted with different options for police officers on a special operations team or corrections officers called to disperse riots or extract an uncooperative inmate from his cell.
“I could almost guarantee you that this suit could save a life within its first year of use,” said Trooper Craig McGary, with the Massachusetts State Police. An 11-year veteran, the last five as a member of the Special Tactical Operations team, McGary has been picked to model the uniform system.
“A lot of the technology we have right now is 20-year-old Army surplus,” he said. “This condenses everything into one suit that could take 20 guys to carry. Each man can be self-sufficient, carrying compact, cutting-edge technology.”
The prototype uniform lays the groundwork and offers a vision of the future.
The uniform system will adopt the Army’s Objective Force Warrior helmet design for fragmentation and impact protection. It incorporates an illuminator, global positioning system and radio antenna suite, image intensifier and infrared imaging device that will send the information into an adjustable head-ups display.
“Everyone on the team could have (an imaging device) instead of just one person, and it would be with them at all times,” Querim said.
Laser detectors will identify the wearer as friendly while drop down eyewear guards against laser beams and debris. Forced-air cooling from an electric blower is planned to prevent the eye protection from fogging.
A detachable mask will protect against thrown objects or punches during a riot. Another mask will protect against chemical and biological agents while enabling the user to communicate, drink water and breathe filtered air or compressed air from a tank.
Active hearing protection will detect loud noises, suppress them and restore natural hearing. Gel sensor technology will enable users to communicate without a radio or microphone, yet still pick up differences in voices. The same acoustic sensor can monitor physiological conditions, such as heart rate and breathing, to keep a leader informed of the condition of his team members.
Physiological status monitors also find their way into the suit. In the first layer, lightweight fabric underwear will incorporate monitors for system redundancy in case other sensors are disabled. Querim said he expects sensor technology to mature in the next five years and allow communication between the user and team chief for locating position and determining the health condition.
The second or main layer is a one-piece suit made of blended nylon and cotton with 3 percent Lycra for stretch comfort. Cordura nylon reinforces the elbows, seat and knees for durability, and plastic guards are located on the elbows, forearms and knees. A finish will also be available for flash-flame protection. Zippers are designed for easy donning and doffing, and slanted utility pockets are sewn on the upper arm area of each sleeve.
An optional third layer of the suit, either manufactured as a separate component or integrated into the main layer, is intended for protection from the weather and chemical or biological agents.
The uniform system’s vest protects against projectiles and fragmentation with freedom to move. Snaps and Velcro fasteners ease donning and doffing.
“They’d rather have the ability to move quickly than be completely covered,” Querim said. “We’ve designed it for maximum movement.”
Outer pockets hold plate inserts to stop 9 mm rounds and fragmentation. An interior pocket can hold a hands-free hydration system. Stab protection may be developed later, according to Querim, but an articulated armor will line the back of the vest to guard against blunt trauma to the spine. Similar to the Army’s MOLLE vest, officers will have webbing in front to attach various items, such as handcuffs and ammunition cases, according to their preference.
“We’re focusing on what the users want and need because we know it’s not a combat uniform,” Querim said. “We’re giving them options based on what they think is important.”
A pistol holster not yet available is expected to be similar to the tactical holsters that drop down from the belt and attach to the thigh. Around the waist, a computer belt will hold a battery and small computer processor to run a variety of software, such as language translation, mapping and face recognition. It also will track the physiological data measured on the suit and helmet sensors.
Leather pat/search gloves offer high tactility and dexterity with cut-resistance but no puncture protection. The leather riot control glove lined with para-aramid fiber has padding consisting of fire-resistant foam on the back of the hand and fire-resistant wool for the fingers.
Boots are adopted from the Special Operation Forces. The black leather upper comes with blunt trauma protection for the ankles and abrasive-resistant toe. Nomex laces provide flash-flame protection, and a high traction sole keeps officers on their feet. Shock absorption is found in the cushioned mid-sole and ankle support strap.
The initial working version of the uniform system is expected to be ready by 2005. The uniform’s modularity will enable designers to make upgrades as technology improves, Querim said.