Uncle Sam Wants a New Chemical Warfare Suit

Master Sgt. Anthony Lemos, 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron specialist section, dons his chemical protection suit during a simulated missile attack May 10, 2016, during Exercise Beverly Herd 16-01 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. The Pentagon is exploring ideas for a new chem-bio design. (Photo by Travis Edwards/U.S. Air Force)Master Sgt. Anthony Lemos, 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron specialist section, dons his chemical protection suit during a simulated missile attack May 10, 2016, during Exercise Beverly Herd 16-01 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. The Pentagon is exploring ideas for a new chem-bio design. (Photo by Travis Edwards/U.S. Air Force)

The Defense Department wants to develop a new suit to shield troops from chemical and biological warfare agents — and plans to offer cash to those who come up with winning designs.

The Pentagon’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense is offering a total of $250,000 to finalists — with the winner slated to receive $150,000 — as part of a competition, called Proof Challenge, to design new chem-bio protective suits.

The office has teamed with TandemNSI, a defense consultancy based in Arlington, Virginia, and Sensis Challenges to host an information session about the opportunity Aug. 25 at the Museum of Science in Boston.

The idea of offering cash prizes for potential defense technology is fairly common at the department.

Just this past week, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency awarded millions of dollars in prize money to companies that developed machines to autonomously hunt for software bugs.

In the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear strike, the military requires troops to don various levels of protective clothing, ranging from a simple mask to the six-pound Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) — special clothing worn over the uniform that provides 24-hour protection in a contaminated environment.

The suit, which replaced the old Battle Dress Overgarment (BDO), is almost two decades old. And while it features a longer-lasting and washable chem-bio protective garment, multi-purpose overboots and gloves that have been extensively tested for protection, it’s also heavy, bulky and hot, with disjointed seams restricting a service member’s range of motion.

“We are seeking innovative ideas for solutions that will increase mobility, dexterity and tactility, allowing the Warfighter to complete all relevant tasks (including running, climbing, etc.) in a fast and comfortable manner,” it states.

It’ll be interesting to see whether companies like chemical giant DuPont, which makes chemical protection suits for first responders and military members, responds with novel designs.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.