U.S. troops battle the heat with new personal cooling systems
The Army is working towards an “Iron Man” suit for its troops but for now they will just have to accept armor with personal air conditioning. A new system called the Light-Weight Environmental Control System (LWECS) is worn directly against soldiers’ bodies and underneath their gear to provide them with relief from the heat.
Fox News provided insight from Brad Laprise, a mechanical engineer at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. “It’s the same technology that’s in your air conditioner or in your refrigerator, except instead of conditioning air, it chills a fluid,” he said. “And then it pumps that fluid through a tube-lined cooling vest.”
Military aircrews already had the choice to use an aircraft-mounted system but many had to choose whether to stay safe or stay cool because the system was inconvenient to use. It required them to attach themselves to tethers which proved difficult in the confined space of a helicopter.
With LWECS, the cooling system is worn underneath body armor and is powered by a small battery that fits inside the armor. According to Fox News, it works by circulating cooled fluid through 110 feet of tubing coiled inside a vest. Even though the unit is small, it provides about the same cooling power as a small refrigerator. At only 3.5 inches across, it is convenient and lightweight.
Research is being conducted to see if the new system improves troop’s performance. The NSRDEC and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine are leading the study.
Five volunteers were dressed in full gear including an over-garment, mask, hood, footwear covers and gloves. They were split up and worked in pairs, with one soldier wearing the LWECS system. They participated in drills that simulated air missions in hot conditions like a desert environment.
Fox News reported that researched monitored the soldiers’ core and skin temperatures as they performed simulated work tasks. They also recorded their heart rates, fluid intakes, and body excretions.
“Physiologically, we’re seeing that their body core temperatures are lower, their heart rates are lower,” said Bruce Cadarette, a research psychologist at the U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine. “The results suggest that the cooling systems does what it was designed to do.”
Cadarette shared that researchers created the LWECS system with other military personnel in mind as well. For example, aircrew chiefs who are responsible for loading and unloading cargo will greatly benefit from the system. Also consider were medics. They have to work with soldiers out in the heat and on the field. They also have to load them on stretchers and into helicopters. All very tasking work, especially in hot environments like a jungle.
It is expected that all U.S. air troops in both desert and tropical climates will use the lightweight cooling system, no longer have to choose safety over comfort.