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  SoldierMod Volume 11 - May 2013
Volume 11 Articles

Country flagNews from USSOCOM – Request for
Fire Resistant Combat Uniforms

US Special Forces Command issues Solicitation for a Fire Resistant Combat Uniform. Soldier Modernisation wonders why?

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FREE Ensemble. Photo courtesy US Army.
FREE Ensemble. Photo courtesy US Army.

In Late April 2013, United States Special Operations Command, (USSOCOM) through its Program Manager-Special Operations Forces Survival, Support & Equipment Systems (PM-SOF SSES) put out a “Sources Sought” Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) for a Fire Resistant Uniform. Specifically the RFI (Solicitation Number: H92258R13CJ04) calls for Fire Resistant (FR) Combat Shirt and Pants as follows:

The Program Manager-Special Operations Forces Survival, Support & Equipment Systems office at the U.S. Army Soldier Research Development, and Engineering Center, Natick, MA is seeking combat uniforms for test and evaluation purposes. This uniform will consist of two garments; pants and combat shirt. Both will be produced with materials which provide fire resistant performance characteristics.

All garments submitted to this solicitation will be reviewed and evaluated for operational efficacy. This uniform is intended for use by USSOCOM Operators, and as such must be effective in all operational environments, and be compatible with all Operator equipment.

The need for such a uniform is undeniable. SOCOM’S RFI comes on the heels of a Fire Resistant ghillie suit that was fielded in 2011 by the Army as the result of a Defense Acquisition Challenge (DAC). That DAC was fast-tracked after two Soldiers from the Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment burned to death when their camouflaged sniper gear caught on fire in Iraq, in 2010. In fact, the Program Manager on that DAC, recently received the Program Manager of the Year Award for 2012, for his work on the ghillie suit. In an Army Press Release about the Award, which was bestowed in March 2013, recipient Neal Nguyen, said, “It’s a privilege to serve the Army and provide much-needed protective equipment to the warfighter. The flame-resistant ghillie suit accessory kit and flame-resistant base uniform will improve the safety of those forward operators and keep the Army on the leading edge of capability and lethality.”

The project was completed in 10 months, a record time. The fire-resistant ghillie suit is now being fielded at the U.S. Army Sniper School at Fort Benning, Ga., at the U.S. Marine Corps Scout Sniper School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., and at the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course at Fort Bragg, N.C.

An Odd Request?

That is what makes the RFI from SOCOM kind of odd. The materials for what they request in the RFI are already in use and readily available. PM-SOF SSES is housed in the same building as Natick Soldier Systems, in Natick Massachusetts. Soldier Systems did all of the testing for the specifically approved combat shirt/uniform of US Special Operations Forces (SOF), the Protective Combat Uniform (PCU) Level 9. Designed by Patagonia, the PCU Level 9 Shirt is currently being fielded by all US SOF users, and was designed to “enhance their combat advantage in the world’s most hostile conditions.”

Solider Systems was also responsible for testing and approving all FR clothing and materials currently in use by the Army and Marines. Theoretically, Program Managers from SOF SSES could just walk down the hall and have designers from Soldier Systems make them an FR version of the PCU Level 9!

In addition to the previously mentioned ghillie suit, both the US Army and Marine Corps already field FR combat uniforms. They are variants of the Army’s Fire Resistant Environmental Ensemble (FREE), first fielded in summer of 2010. According to PEO Soldier, the Program Executive Office responsible for deploying FREE, “With its multiple layers of insulating, fire-resistant clothing, the FREE [was designed to] replace cold-weather clothing currently issued to aviators and combat vehicle crew members. FREE is in addition to the fire-resistant Army Aircrew Combat Uniform (A2CU) and the Improved Combat Vehicle Crewman Coverall (ICVC).”

If none of these garments is suitable for SOF, and there really isn’t anything in the Solicitation that seems to indicate they would not be, as this author suggested, another option is to take the approved PCU level 9 uniform and have it made from one of the many FR materials Solider Systems has already approved.

SOCOM has always been a branch of DoD that wants its “own gear,” and because of the nature of Special Operations, it usually gets what it wants. But in a time, where people across Capitol Hill and the Private Sector are concerned about waste and deep budget cuts, is it really such a good idea to put out RFIs for gear that already exists?

PCU-Level 9. Photo courtesy US Army Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, Natick, MA.
PCU-Level 9. Photo courtesy US Army Soldier
Research Development and Engineering Center, Natick, MA.
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