Australia’s Defence Science and Technology develops test to assess the capacity of the protective equipment of soldiers against chemical threats
Defence Science and Technology (DST), a part of Australia’s Department of Defence, is able to provide scientific and technological advice on a selection of ensembles through the Vapour System Test. It is a significant capability that also gives an understanding of the performance of current in-service equipment.
According to the report made by DST, the threat of indiscriminate use of chemical weapons still exists, so being able to prove that the Defence's protective equipment will perform and keep the people safe is of the utmost importance.
DST Researcher Ms Julia Freeman said that developing a system with capability to assess the protective capacity of equipment against chemical threats requires a lot of work. It enables the DST scientists to assess how all of the individual protective equipment works together.
The Environmental Test Facility (ETF) enables full system testing which helps Defence understand the implication of various types of equipment being acquired. The ETF allows any environmental conditions on Earth to be replicated, from dry heat to tropical rainforest. Getting it to produce snow is almost possible, too.
Ms Freeman explained that equipment is often purchased in different cycles and they need to understand how the new piece of equipment integrates into the current system.
She added that the research they do also enlightens them on how other equipment worn by soldiers affects vapour protection. For instance, if a helmet disrupts the respirator or compromises one’s chemical protection.
Ms Freeman discussed that they used to test on small swatches of fabric historically. Although they were able to gather a lot of information about that tiny piece of fabric, the reality is that the soldiers and first responders wear full garments and the whole thing needs to be checked in order to know how they perform.
Collaborations have also been made with other DST teams in order to assess sub-zero degree sleeping bags as well as curing times for adhesives in tropical environments.
Ms Freeman observed that their system has become more refined, especially after many trials involving the use of manikins to replicate human movement. The method that they use can process all the samples from a full manikin test, including validation checks in less than half a day.
She concluded that this investment is really paying off for Defence as the soldiers have become more confident in their equipment. Add to that how this helps enable the Defence to make better acquisition decisions.
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