By CW5 Eli Mayers: We live in a day and age where advances in aviation technology come so fast that it’s hard to keep up. From state-of-the-art flight control systems, efficient and powerful engines, to advances in communication and navigation, the landscape of Army Aviation is ever evolving in complexity and capability.
ALL GRAPHICS/PHOTOS COURTESY U.S. ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS AVIATION COMMAND
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (SOAR(A)) is always at the forefront of these endeavors, attempting to create the most lethal and efficient flying machines possible. Over the past three years, the 160th Aviation Life Support Equipment (ALSE) Office, in conjunction with the Systems Integration Management Office (SIMO) has been working tirelessly to apply the same approach to the individual flight crew member’s ALSE ensemble.
After much research and many conversations across the 160th enterprise, it was concluded that the biggest issue with current ALSE involves bulk, weight, clutter and reduced mobility in the cockpit. Furthermore, the Regiment maintained outdated legacy survival and medical equipment. Our efforts resulted in a modernized individual ALSE suite that has streamlined survival and medical equipment as well as providing a lighter, more functional flight vest. Let’s take a look at a few of the advances made and some of the gaps we still hope to address in the future.
The greatest single advancement the Regiment made is the implementation of a new Aviation Ballistic Armor Vest (ABAV). The ABAV contract was awarded in February 2018 and fielding should begin during the summer of 2018. The ABAV is built around a basic plate carrier concept with enough adaptability to tailor the minimum survival, medical and tactical equipment for each individual air crew member. This design reduces bulk and allows much greater cockpit and cabin mobility than previous vests used by the Regiment. The ABAV also uses a new vest closure method, removing the traditional bulky hook and pile cummerbund and replacing it with a simple tubular fastener system.
The extraction capability of the ABAV is accomplished using a simple belt system. Since all the hoist equipped aircraft in the Regiment have self-contained extraction capabilities, the belt system is provided as a backup extraction system. By designing this extraction capability into a belt, the traditional bulk associated with a vest integrated extraction harness has been eliminated. The belt also has the capability of being configured to hold the minimum equipment required for flight by 160th pilots and crew chiefs. There is also an additional modular chest strap that can be integrated into the vest for crew chief retention, fall prevention and extraction operations.
The vest is designed to hold a new swimmer-cut, stand-alone, ballistic plate. This plate removes the need for soft armor while providing more arm and shoulder mobility. Finally, the LPU-34 low profile flotation collar is removed and replaced with a modular under-arm tactical flotation system that can easily be installed or removed in less than one minute. This allows for better head mobility in the cockpit as well as increased swimming capability in a ditching scenario The ABAV has been well received by the pilots and non-rated crew members as they anxiously await a full fielding across the Regiment.
Redesigned Medical Kit
The next improvement to ALSE came in the form of a redesigned medical kit. The tropical survival kit has been traditionally used as the individual medical kit/survival kit for aviation operations. This kit was filled with general first aid items, but provided very little capability for trauma related medical care. Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) items were regularly used to fill in the gaps for situations such as major bleeding and obstructed airways, but the kit was too bulky to be carried as issued. The new individual medical kit is fully equipped with trauma related supplies. It is also vacuum sealed to reduce exposure to environmental conditions and decrease the risk of damaging the individual items through day-to-day operations.
The kit‘s contents were chosen to compliment the aircraft first aid trauma kits which the Regiment led the Army in fielding five years ago. A smaller individual kit with greater capability has been a huge win for the Regiment.
Significant improvements have also been made to individual survival items. A redesigned, self-contained survival kit is now issued to each crew member. It consists of two vacuum sealed modules. One contains all of the expiration items while the other one holds the non-expirable items. When the expirable items are no longer usable, that part of the kit is replaced with a new vacuum sealed expiration module, while the non-expiration module remains intact. This has dramatically cut down the time that ALSE technicians need to complete semi-annual flight gear inspections. The contents still meet the minimum required item list for individual crew, but also cover the minimum survival kit requirement for U.S. Army Special Operations Command Supplement to Army Regulation 95-1.
The overall bulk of the kit has been reduced in size by using as many modernized, micro survival items as possible, and can easily be stored on the utility belt. By creating a way for the survival and medical kit to be stored on a belt, it opens up many more options for individual tailoring of the vest for communications and war-fighting items such as ammunition and weapon storage. Any additional survival needs are accomplished through an additional survival kit available for issue from ALSE shops.
The ABAV and improved survival/medical kits have begun the process of redefining ALSE in the ever evolving spectrum of Army Aviation. The products currently being implemented have also simplified the entire ALSE suite and helped the Regiment achieve its desired goal of improving comfort and performance for crew members during primary flight duties. This also includes improvements for most of the capabilities related to medical and survival contingencies.
As money, technology and resources become available, the Regiment hopes to pursue initiatives in other areas that need to be addressed. We hope to someday lead the way in developing a modernized, state of the art, lightweight flight helmet with removable communications equipment, better head mobility, a more customizable fit and ballistic protection. We also hope to improve cold weather protection for crew members and develop a more versatile and ruggedized flight uniform. These initiatives are likely many years away, but the more we can identify the capability gaps and work towards those goals, the better the product. We also hope to continue sharing information with product developers across Army Aviation as well as other Service Components. Our goal is to lead the way in improvements that can eventually help all pilots, non-rated crew members, and flight medics do their job more effectively and efficiently while helping them remain healthy, functional, mobile, and combat effective for their entire military careers.
CW5 Eli Mayers is assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) at Fort Campbell, KY.