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Army selects new winter gear to give troops edge in combat.

With winter winds now blowing full force in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is preparing to supply its combat troops with a new generation of cold-weather clothing.

The improved gear is designed to make them more comfortable--and better able to fight--in frigid temperatures.

This wardrobe, called generation III of the extended cold-weather system or Gen III ECWCS, includes 12 components from underwear to parka and trousers, all intended to protect battlefield soldiers from cold, snow and ice.

"If all goes well, we will begin fielding it this winter," Lt. Col. John Lemondes, the Army's product manager for clothing and individual equipment at Fort Belvoir, Va., told National Defense

The current line of clothing, known as Gen II, is still too heavy and bulky, said Maj. Rob Helms, assistant product manager.

Gen III reduces that bulk "significantly," Helms said. "I can fit all 12 components into an assault pack." Clothing in the system uses multiple layers of Polartec polyester velour fabric, which is one third lighter in weight than traditional clothing material.

Another difference: The current gear includes a jacket with a permanently attached hood that "funneled rain water down the back of the wearer's neck," Helms said. Gen III's jacket has a folding hood, which stows beneath the collar.

The Army set out in December 2003 to "redesign the cold weather system, using new materials and concepts, from the skin out," he said. It began by looking at what kind of cold-weather gear was already available in the commercial market.

"We started by going to the outdoor tradeshows," Helms said. "We asked ourselves, 'How do the guys who climb mountain peaks for a living dress?'"

The new gear includes:

* Two lightweight, long-sleeve undershirts with long-legged drawers that are constructed with silk--weight, moisture-wicking polyester. The fabric aids in the movement of moisture from the skin to the outer layers of clothing, whether the wearer is moving or stationary.

* A mid-weight outer shirt with drawers built of polyester, grid-patterned fleece. It provides light insulation for use in mild cold and serves as a layer for more frigid temperatures.

* A zippered fleece jacket, with a fabric mimicking animal fur, acts as the primary insulation layer that provides an increased warmth-to-weight ratio and reduced volume when packed.

* A lightweight, waterproof windbreaker, which acts as a low-volume shell layer for use in mild or transitional environments, such as desert days or evenings.

* A water-resistant, wind-proof soft-shell jacket with trousers that increase moisture vapor permeability. This set is lighter, less bulky and quieter when the wearer moves than its predecessors.

* A waterproof extreme cold and wet-weather jacket with trousers for use in prolonged or hard rain.

* A water-resistant and windproof extreme cold-weather parka with trousers to provide warmth, and low weight and volume.

The extreme cold-weather trousers "have zippers that rtm all the way up the legs to allow for rapid donning and doffing over soft-shell trousers," Helms said.

The entire set is designed to be compatible with body armor. Everything fits underneath the armor with the exception of the parka set, which is worn over it.

By mixing and matching from this wardrobe, soldiers can protect themselves from weather as mild as 40 degrees Fahrenheit and as frigid as 60 degrees below zero, he said.

The whole system is intended to let moisture escape into the air, rather than being trapped inside the clothing, Helms said. "It allows your body to breathe. At the same time, it keeps you dry."

It is also stealthier than older versions, he said. "Older versions made a swishing sound when you moved. In some circumstances, that could give your presence away to an enemy. Gen III doesn't have that signature."

Gen III was designed for use in particular by troops operating in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, where temperatures can drop to minus 50 degrees and snowfalls can reach depths of 177 inches, Lemondes said. Snow can fall as early as August and as late as June.

However, it is useful also in Iraq, Lemondes said. That country's mild climate is dominated by the Persian Gulf and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Still, the mountains in the north and northeast can receive heavy snowfalls, and even the south can see temperatures near freezing.

"I was in southern Iraq in the winter," Lemondes said. "It was cold and nasty."

Some of the toughest combat of the current conflicts has taken place during the winter, especially in Afghanistan. In the winter, U.S. officers count on their troops' superior clothing to give them an edge over the ragtag al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

"During Operation Mountain Lion, I found myself praying for bad weather," said Lt. Col. Christopher Cavoli, commander of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y. The 10th is especially trained and equipped to fight in high elevations and wintry conditions.

"It was the first time in my military career I was actually begging for a cold front to come through," Cavoli said in a statement provided by the Army. "I knew my soldiers could handle it, and the enemy couldn't.

"ECWCS allowed my men to outlast the enemy on their own terrain," he said. "When the enemy was forced out of the mountains--to take shelter, due to the bitter cold--that's when we got them."

Up to 80 Taliban died in three separate engagements as part of Operation Mountain Lion, Army Brig. Gen. Carter E Ham, deputy director of regional operations for the joint staff, told Pentagon reporters.

The Army began testing Gen III in 2004. "The feedback from the troops has been double thumbs up," Helms said.

Since then, the system has been issued to elements of the 10th Mountain Division, including Cavoli's battalion, and the 82nd Airborne Division, which is headquartered at Fort Bragg, N.C. Initially, the plan is to issue the clothing, first, to soldiers deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations with cold weather, such as Bosnia and Kosovo. Eventually, however, Helms said, the clothing will go to every soldier in the Army.

In addition to the extended cold weather clothing system, the Army is providing accessories to provide further protection from the elements, Helms said.

A fur ruff can be attached to the parka to help protect the full head from cold, high winds. An extreme cold weather mask prevents wind, cold and blowing snow from reaching the face. It has an adjustable insulation face piece, and removable mouth, nose and throat coverings.

A neck gaiter can be worn six ways, as a neck warmer, hood, balaclava, hat, ski band or headband. It comes in a standard brown, one-size-fits-all model that is compatible with battle-dress uniforms.

Intermediate cold-wet gloves protect hands from a relatively mild 40 degrees to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Each glove consists of two parts, a leather shell and an acrylic, wool and polyester blend insert.

Cold-weather trigger-finger mitten shells can be worn without trigger-finger inserts to make it easier for soldiers to shoot or with them to keep the fingers warm. Extreme cold-weather mittens encase entire hands, rather than individual fingers. This provides increased warmth for really low temperatures, but limits dexterity.

An intermediate cold-wet boot with two insulated, removable booties, is provided for temperatures between 32 and minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. A mountain ski boot is issued for use in climbing steep grades or cross-country skiing in temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. An extreme cold weather boot has an all-rubber upper construction, with three layers of insulation for protection down to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Title Annotation:UPFRONT
Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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