New Mask Design Offers Better Protection

WASHINGTON, February, 10, 2000 (GulfLINK) - Lightweight, comfortable and improved protection may sound like a Madison Avenue pitch for athletic shoes, but if you're in the military, think mask. These three attributes are just a few of the design goals set for the new Joint Service General Purpose Mask under development at the Army's Soldier and Biological Chemical Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

The new mask - intended to replace five different models currently used by soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - will be less bulky, provide lower breathing resistance and features an improved field of view. When approved, the Defense Department is expected to buy 3.5 million of the new masks.

A common mask for all the armed services is a sensible choice because they all experience the same type of environment when it comes to chemical and biological warfare. It also eliminates a logistics challenge that was highlighted during the Gulf War: the need to maintain a different parts inventory and separate service support for each type of mask in use. The single mask approach dramatically simplifies logistical planning and helps to reduce cost.

"An important goal in any procurement is to have a product that is sustainable and cost-effective," said Rick Decker, the project manager. "And considering that operational sustainment costs are estimated at five times the procurement cost for each item, it can get very expensive."

The joint-service mask will simplify logistics, reduce costs and protect wearers from chemical and biological warfare agents on the battlefield and toxic industrial chemicals as well. It will feature a single eyepiece instead of the binocular aspect of older designs. This opens up the field of view. The new design is being tested for compatibility with night vision gear and weapons sighting systems.

New technologies are also being applied to the filter components. The goal is to reduce the effort of breathing through the mask by up to 50 percent. This should make working in the mask for extended periods far easier on the wearer.

Recent studies by the National Research Council have shown that combat effectiveness is significantly affected by wearing protective gear. Soldiers tested took up to three times longer to perform manual tasks, including firing weapons, than when unencumbered. Designers of the joint service mask believe that the reduced weight, ease of breathing and enhanced vision attributes of the new mask will reduce the difficulties of performing in protective gear.

Designers are testing the new mask with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Tests are planned aboard an Aegis cruiser; at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; during a Marine Corps amphibious exercise at Camp Lejune, N.C.; and at Fort Polk, La. To learn more about the joint service general purpose mask and other equipment being developed for the future, go to the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Command web site at