US Navy SEALs may be able to engage in daring operations with a greater degree of safety and comfort thanks to a new amphibious ‘smart’ suit developed by the US Army’s Soldier and Biological Chemical Command lab.
Currently, SEALs must wear one suit for sea missions and another for land missions and, when travelling from sea to land, they must change into a mission suit and hide their wet suit.
The new suit, which is lightweight and can be worn on land and water, is said to perform like a dry suit, keeping the wearer warm by preventing water from reaching the skin.
‘The suit protects users in a wide variety of environments,’ said Quoc Truong, a research, development, test and evaluation program manager at the Natick Soldier Centre at the US Army Soldier Systems Centre. ‘The suit contains a shape memory polymer membrane along with special insulation material that is designed to keep users warm in the sea water, but not hinder the perspiration process.’
He said the membrane adapts to the change in the water or air temperature, opening or closing its molecular pores to cool or slow down the heat loss of the user. The transition temperature of the polymer membrane is said to be predetermined and has a dense molecular structure between 13 and 18°C. This stops water molecules from passing through the suit.
When the temperature rises between 18 and 27°C, the material softens and becomes more amorphous, which allows sweat to pass through the suit.
Truong added that the fabric system has a low-drag outer-shell fabric for more efficient movement in the water. Those who need to make the transition from water to land or land to water can easily adapt to different environments with the same suit.
The fabric has so far been tested by the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine on a thermal manikin and a limited test with SEALs is planned later this year. Truong estimates that the suit will be available in two to three years.
In the future, Truong and his team hope to include other capabilities to the suit, such as protection from industrial chemicals and chemical-biological warfare agents, deadly toxins, dangerous bacteria and viruses.