Friday, August 27, 2010

ECWCS-III: Dressed for the Cold

“During Operation Mountain Lion I found myself praying for bad weather, the first time in my military career I was actually begging for a cold front to come through. I knew my soldiers could handle it and the enemy couldn’t. ECWCS allowed my men to outlast the enemy on their own terrain. When the enemy was forced out of the mountains due to the bitter cold to take shelter, that’s when we got them.”
—LTC Christopher Cavoli, US Army 10th Mountain Division, Afghanistan

This third generation of the Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS-III) is a radical re-design of the cold weather clothing system for the U.S. Army. So, exactly what’s in the ECWCS-III…?

In 2007, Atlantic Diving Supply, Inc. (ADS), who has won other significant soldiers’ equipment contracts from the US military, announced an ECWCS-III contract whose value could exceed $1.1 billion. As the lead integrator, ADS will lead a team of over 10 American technical garment manufacturers and technical textile companies to produce and supply the versatile 7-layer, 12-component system for fielding to Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by the winter of 2008. 

The Army’s PEO-CIE sought significant feedback from industry and Soldiers to develop this fully integrated cold weather layering system.

Based on layering systems currently utilized by mountaineering professionals, the Generation III ECWCS system incorporates 7 layers of clothing, including light-weight and mid-weight Polartec Powerdry moisture wicking shirt and briefs, a Polartec Thermal Pro fleece jacket, a nylon/ spandex wind jacket, a soft shell jacket and trousers using Nextec fabric, a Gore-Tex wet weather jacket and trousers, and a Primaloft insulated loft parka and trousers for extreme cold weather conditions. Wool socks and a fleece cap are also included. Each piece fits and functions either alone or together as a system to provide the most options for the Soldier.

As an improvement upon previous generations, the new Generation III ECWCS is 33% more compressible, 25% lighter, and is rated as more comfortable. It is also more versatile and includes functional features that allow the Soldier to adapt to varying mission requirements and environmental conditions ranging between -40 to +60 degrees Fahrenheit. The U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division field tested 18,000 of the ECWCS-III systems in Afghanistan in fall 2006, and as one can see above, they gave the system a very strong review. 

Components include:
LVL 1: Base layer shirt and long underwear
LVL 2: Base layer shirt and long underwear, heavier
LVL 3: High-loft Polartec fleece jacket
LVL 4: Jacket shell, camo. Designed for wear under body armor
LVL 5: Long Jacket and Trousers soft shell layer, camo
LVL 6: Long Jacket and Trousers waterproof shell layer, camo
LVL 7: Parka and Trousers

In truth, ECWS-III was an effort to catch up with the rapidly-evolving civilian technologies in this area. Hopefully, the circle will come back around and mail-order versions of ECWS-III spin-offs and sub-sets for civilians won’t be too far behind.

You can learn about contract awards for ECWCS-III here.

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