Modern military gear provides soldiers with an unprecedented level of protection and abilities, but at the cost of increased weight and heat retention. However, with exoskeletons and the new thermal vest being tested at the University of Portsmouth, neither may be a problem for long.
The vests use a combination of air, liquid and new applications of old technologies such as converting paraffin wax into liquid in chambers within the vests to absorb heat from the body.
The thermal vests – manufactured by an undisclosed United States-based military contractor – are expected to be used within two years by men and women on the frontline of the Iraq war.
Currently, soldiers in Iraq do not wear thermal cooling vests. But temperatures in Iraq can reach as high as 50 degrees Celsius – and troops wearing heavy and dense biological and chemical protection suits are prone to heat-illness. The condition can seriously impair decision-making and judgement. In extreme cases, heat-illness can result in death.
University of Portsmouth thermal physiology scientist Mark Newton said the thermal vests would allow soldiers to perform their tasks better for longer periods of time.
“I can’t reveal too much as we don’t own the vests – they belong to an undisclosed military contractor. But what I can say is that the cooling power generated by these garments will make a difference for soldiers operating in extreme climates such as those experienced in Iraq,” Mr Newton said.
“Heat-illness can be very severe and can kill people. We know that decision-making is also affected and impaired as your core temperature is elevated. This kind of technology and its application is really about how best to utilise and maintain your manpower, so people can perform better and over a longer period of time than what might otherwise be the case given certain extremes of climate.”
The thermal vests are being tested on subjects in full combat fatigues at the newly-opened multi-million pound sports science facility at the University of Portsmouth – the Spinnaker Building.
The Spinnaker Building facilities include leading-edge laboratories, an integrated swimming flume, and two British Olympic Medical Centre accredited climatic chambers. UK Sport will use these facilities to help top athletes acclimatise at temperatures similar to those they will experience at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 where temperatures are expected to soar above 30 degrees Celsius with 70 per cent humidity.