The Well-Dressed Aviator

Many of you may be familiar with the DOD's current chem-bio protective garnment, the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Technology (JSLIST) suit. This suit, which DOD began buying around 1998, uses carbon spheres sprayed on the inside of the suit instead of activated charcoal embedded in a foam layer. The procurement of these suits was deliberately slow, due to "business logic," which resulted in troops in the Gulf getting only two JSLIST suits per instead of the stated basis-of-issue of four per. Oops - good thing there weren't any WMDs in Iraq. But the aviators had it worse, in that their modern protective suit wasn't even in production.IP_JSAM-2.jpgThe Joint Protective Aircrew Ensemble (JPACE) came into advanced development in 2000. This Air Force-led project focused on developing an aviator suit that would protect against chem-bio hazards, be fire resistant, and launderable (while uncontaminated). There's nothing like wearing a suit of carbon when your jet fuel is on fire, so the fire resistance was important, but the launderable was too - the pilots had to look good and smell good in their one-piece outfits (another requirement - the JSLIST was a frumpy two-piece outfit). Also, the JPACE had to have pockets that would hold those pens, notebooks, and aviator glasses (kidding). Initial plans were to have this suit out to the field by 2005, but, unrealistic plans and technology not cooperating, this date was extended past 2007.Now the Army and Marine Corps also have the modern M40A1 protective masks to replace the older M17A3 masks. The Air Force and Navy are still hanging onto their old (1980s era) MCU-2/P masks for their ground/ship personnel, waiting until the next generation ground mask is fielded. The Joint Service General Purpose Mask (JSGPM) should begin fielding in 2007, but... the aviators need something special. Right now, each service has unique aviator masks for their rotary wing and fixed wing pilots. At least this time they have good logic - the fixed wing pilots need a mask that has oxygen hoses and that can stand high-G performances, and the rotary wing pilots need to go to a standard mask that's compatible with their comms and optical requirements. Enter the Joint Service Aviator Mask (JSAM), a Navy-led program that will eventually come up with a standard fixed wing mask (possibly with two modifications - one for high performance pilots and one for "normal" performance pilots) and a standard rotary wing mask. Initial plans were to have this mask out by 2006, but it too has slipped cost, performance and schedule to a more comfortable 2008 fielding date.You'd think that this lack of modern capability would have a good many influential fighter pilots up in arms, but they're not really that concerned. You see, many Air Force analysts believe that their air bases are only threatened by a few ballistic missiles (as far as chem-bio threats are concerned), since they'll shoot down or intercept anything else (counting on the troops to keep those pesky artillery systems away). Also, some Air Force analysts believe the issue of persistent contamination to be overblown by the Army and others. If you just wait about 8 hours, they reason, all the life-threatening agent will be largely gone. It's kind of a "What, me worry?" attitude that I certainly don't share. But then I'm a biased Army guy...One of the debates going on within the DOD CB Defense Program is whether the aviator masks and suits should be tested and evaluated together, as a system. Problem there is, does one penalize the aviators by delaying the JPACE to match the later JSAM schedule, possibly risking those troops in future combat operations? Or will the tests and evaluations be less effective if the two items are not jointly evaluated? Odds are on the bureaucrats winning this one...-- Armchair Generalist

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