Army researchers design better protective gear

An Apache crew member dons the Joint Service Aircrew Mask during an operations test conducted at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo)

An Apache crew member dons the Joint Service Aircrew Mask during an operations test conducted at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo)

ECBC Communications

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Chemical-biological protective gear worn by Army pilots and aircrews has evolved to improve survivability in flight.

Engineers at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, are putting design at the forefront of new Mission-Oriented Protective Posture gear, known as MOPP, in order to carefully tailor a suit that addresses specific pilot needs during a given air mission.

Army engineers are working on a chemical-biological protective mask that mitigates thermal burden and hydration issues for flight crews that can also fully integrate with specific current and future aircraft.

“With more than 130 different platforms, five different helmets and a variety of aircrew equipment, focusing on one mask design became difficult,” said Don Kilduff, an ECBC engineer who has supported JSAM since its inception. “Over time, the program split into different systems to meet the specific needs across the DOD aviation community.”

The Joint Service Aircrew Mask, known as JSAM, was initiated in 1999 by the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense and the Joint Project Manager for Protection.

The goal of the program is to provide individual respiratory, ocular and percutaneous protection from chemical and biological warfare agents and radiological particulates for pilots and aircrew.

JSAM began as a single program to replace all aviation protective masks for both fixed and rotary wing platforms. But the Services use different platforms and different configurations of support equipment, which presented an integration challenge.

Now there are five JSAM solutions that address platform specific integration and compatibility challenges:

● JSAM Apache: used by the Army on the AH-64 helicopter
● JSAM-JSF: for the multi-service, multi-country Joint Strike Fighter program
● JSAM Rotary Wing: used by all Services on rotary aircraft other than the AH-64
● JSAM for Strategic Aircraft: for heavy, fixed-wing cargo platforms used by the Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard aviation
● JSAM for Tactical Aircraft: for fast-flying aircraft with ejector-seat capability, used by Air Force and Naval aviation

ECBC engineers lead the program management of two JSAM programs: JSAM Apache and JSAM-JSF. Support includes testing, analysis, logistics and systems engineering, as well as program management and lifecycle management.

Kilduff is the product manager for the JSAM Apache. The variant was introduced in 2007 and provided ocular, respiratory and percutaneous protection while addressing the specific needs of the AH-64 aircrew. As PM, Kilduff is responsible for the lifecycle management of the JSAM Apache masks―development, test and evaluation, procurement and sustainment. His team supported test and evaluation through ground evaluation of the mask with cockpit components, ingress, egress, emergency egress, aircraft controls, field of view and night vision compatibility.

Engineers from the ECBC Joint Service Physical Protection Engineering Branch provided test coordination, sizing and fitting assistance, coordination of test events, and recommendations for corrective actions. Kilduff oversees their work and manages program cost, schedule and performance.

When the JSAM was developed, there were some “safe-to-fly” issues with the mask lens that impacted the pilot’s field of view. The development contractor, Avox Systems, made adjustments to the lens to maximize the field of view through the helicopter’s weapon sighting system. Engineers was completed testing in 2009, and the mask was fielded from 2010 to 2012.

The current version of the JSAM Apache has an additional design feature to allow crew members to quickly don and doff the mask in-flight without removing their helmets. ECBC engineers designed a removable face plate that attaches and detaches from the MOPP hood. The Army is fielding this version to more than 19,000 Soldiers worldwide.

For the next version, the team is reengineering the mask to fit the Apache’s new helmet specs. Mask models are being tested with an unfunded request for production. The new helmet is more crash-worthy, Kilduff said.

The JSAM-JSF system has faced a similar integration challenge, but with the added complication of functioning with the Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s foremost stealthy, survivable, and lethal multi-role fighter jet that is still in development.

Placed on contract in 2009, the JSAM-JSF is designed to overcome the limitations of legacy respirators, while being designed specifically for the unique capabilities of the JSF (also known as the F-35 Lightning II).

The mask will be a lightweight, CB protective respirator, worn as above-the-shoulder chemical-biological protection by F-35 pilots. When integrated with the F-35 life support system and pilot flight equipment, it will provide combined chemical-biological and anti-gravity protection.

“One of JSAM-JSF’s unique challenges is developing the system while the rest of the platform is in different stages of development, including key interfaces, such as pilot flight equipment, helmets, spectacles, laser eye protection, communication systems, ejection seats and life support systems,” said Ryan Adams, the JSAM-JSF Product Manager with the ECBC Protection Engineering Division. “Working closely with the JSF Program Office has been critical in maintaining awareness of potential changes that may impact JSAM-JSF, and in solving higher system-level issues that go beyond just JSAM-JSF.”

The system is in developmental testing. Adams said the majority of testing will be completed by spring 2015 while testing the first F-35 flights with JSAM-JSF and the chemical-biological ensemble is projected for late 2015, based on aircraft availability.

“When integrated with aircraft and pilot-mounted equipment, the JSAM-JSF will provide combined chemical-biological, hypoxia and anti-gravity protection to all F-35 pilots, including the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and international partners,” said Adams. “The JSAM-JSF will allow pilots to perform all mission requirements, with minimal operational impacts, in a chemical-biological environment.”

The program is managed by the JPM P, an organization with employees from various service organizations, including ECBC, who have provided systems engineering expertise and product management and test duties. In those roles, they are responsible for managing the overall program, engineering and test activities.

“The aircraft requirements and capabilities are constantly evolving,” Kilduff said. “Our work on the JSAM must keep pace with other equipment changes and be fully integrated with the aircraft to keep Soldiers both safe and comfortable.”

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This article appears in the March/April 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on aviation research. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.

The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.