A prototype steam suit has been tested at the Naval Submarine Base New London in the U.S., with the tests demonstrating it is much quicker to put on that earlier suits.
If pressurized steam lines on board a submarine rupture, they can leak steam at extremely high temperatures, potentially resulting in severe injury or death. To make emergency repairs or rescue crewmates, Sailors must wear protective suits.
Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) TechSolutions Program, the new suit was developed by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility (NCTRF).
Although the current steam suits used Navy-wide have performed well since being introduced a decade ago, NAVSEA regularly receives suggestions from Sailors on how to improve them. So, the command contacted TechSolutions about designing a better suit. TechSolutions is ONR’s rapid-response science and technology program that develops prototype technologies to address problems voiced by Sailors and Marines, usually within 12-18 months.
With TechSolutions’ guidance, NAVSEA partnered with NCTRF to implement several key suit improvements. It’s one piece and nine pounds lighter, cutting donning time while still maintaining protective strength. The air tank and hose for the breathing apparatus are worn on the outside, instead of under a chemical suit, allowing better access to oxygen. And there are gel ice packs to keep cool.
The gloves are a unique development. While the current steam suit has mittens, the new prototype features “lobster claws” with thumbs and two fingers, making it easier to grasp tools, climb ladders and navigate the close confines of a submarine. They also have leathery fabric for wiping the face shield if steam fogs it up.
“In the unlikely event this piece of damage control equipment is needed, time is of the essence to protect not only the individual, but the entire boat,” said ONR Command Master Chief Matt Matteson. “The new steam suit provides enhanced flexibility, maneuverability and ease of donning during such an emergency.”
For the next few months, the prototype suits will be tested during at-sea drills on board the USS Toledo and two other submarines. Afterward, NAVSEA will make suggested improvements and, hopefully, see the suit issued throughout the fleet in the next couple of years.