Next-generation canteen tackles hydration issues
A “next-generation” hydration system specifically adapted for military applications is making major inroads into the enduring logistical difficulty of keeping troops sufficiently hydrated during combat and extended training deployments.
Fluid and electrolyte imbalances and dehydration are among the highest non-adversarial threats to a force’s combat superiority, according to the US Army’s Military Operational Medicine Research Program (MOMRP).
Adequate intake of water from a safe source is essential to the proper conditioning of military personnel. particularly when operating in an arid/humid environment and high terrestrial altitude conditions. In turn, poor hydration can negatively influence the success of a mission.
The limitations of the traditional webbing-borne canteen in terms of sufficiency, ergonomic design, ease of access, weight distribution and, to a lesser extent hut as important, hygiene — become increasingly apparent when one considers the nature of current coalition operations in the Iraqi and Afghan theatres. To make it easier for forces to access sufficient water, military planners are augmenting, and in mans cases dispensing with the traditional canteen in favour of hands—free, backpack hydration systems. most notably those developed by CamelBak Products of Petaluma, California.
“Unlike a canteen, our system doesn’t require a soldier to stop, put down his weapon, take the canteen off his belt and unscrew the cap: that needs two hands and means he takes at least one eye off the ball.” (Chuck Hunter. senior vice president of CamelBak Products military, government and industrial units told JDW.
Hunter points to scientific studies in which endurance athletes posted significantly better performances when they consumed water by consistent sipping from a backpack system rather than gulping from water bottles. “Migrate that to military performance, particularly in a combat situation, and it’s an important factor.” - he said.
In I 995.US armed forces demand to replace outdated canteens spurred the company to establish a Military Division to design military-oriented hydration systems. In 1997 the company unveiled its Maximum Gear range, designed to meet the specific requirements of military use.
“Our systems first saw combat just prior to [1990—91‘s Operation] “Desert Storm” -
When US Special Forces conducted missions in Iraq. Special forces value the hands-free aspect of these systems for obvious reasons, including the need to remain sharp and make split-second life-or- death decisions. These troops have the highest demand for performance. so they have the highest demand for hydration,” - Hunter said.
Increasingly, CamelBak systems are becoming standard equipment for armed forces worldwide. The company currently sells hydration systems to more than 40 countries, representing about 80 per cent of the world’s modern armed forces, and estimates the total number of military personnel worldwide using CamelBak hydration systems to be more than three million.
‘We have seen significantly more interest and shorter sales cycles since CamelBak hydration systems were adopted en masse by the US military. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have raised the profile of hydration systems with international militaries,” Hunter said. “However, we do not sell directly to countries identified as hostile to the US. ”Our largest military customer outside of the US is the UK.” - Hunter said.
The UK ordered over 25.000 ThermoBak three-litre CamelBak systems for the UK deployment to Iraq (Operation ‘Telic’) and 5.000 hydration systems for the new crewman’s vest for the Royal Armoured Corps (ordered through Armour Products UK), Czech, Romanian, Lithuanian, Latvian and Macedonian troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq were also equipped with CamelBak systems.
Hunter pointed out that the company benefits considerably from customer feedback. “In fact, the majority of CamelBak’s product innovations stem from the unique demands and feedback from forces using our systems in combat. For example, we increased the amount of anti-microbial in our military systems because of the constant and intense use of these packs,” he said. “We also focus on different pack configurations — a good example of this was the requested side-zipper originally designed for UK forces, II proved so successful that it’s now part of the entire product line. “Probably the best customization example is the HydroLock, which allows the user to shut off the flow of water front the reservoir. This innovation enabled troops to conserve water by avoiding unintended leakage, even if extreme pressure was placed on the reservoir.”
Such feedback also prompted the development of a modular water filtration system accessory called the HydroLink In-Line MicroFilter: an all—in-one water hydration system that attaches between the reservoir and a drinking tube that extends from the backpack into the mouth. The system allows troops to take water from any source and produce drinking water that is 99.99 per cent free of bacteria. It can treat up to 75 gallons of water. The system is currently in use with US forces in Afghanistan Last year, the company also unveiled its BR 4.0 a three-litre chemical—biological agent—resistant reservoir system designed to supply safe clean water to military units, first responders and law enforcement personnel operating in hazardous chemical and biological.
Field-tested at the US Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana, and in service with US Special Forces, the CBR 4.0 fits into most CamelBak Maximum Gear hydration systems and is compatible with standard protective mask fittings used by military personnel. Hunter said the CBR 4.0 is proven to withstand exposure to hazardous toxins, including sarin nerve and mustard blister agents, and protects against deadly biological microbes such as anthrax.
Three foreign customers are assessing the new reservoir for standard issue with their land forces, while the Belgian Army is the first overseas customer, purchasing 8.(X)0 CBR 4.0 systems in Belgian camouflage material with cleaning kits, in-line microlilters and gas mask adaptors. Delivery is scheduled for the second quarter of 2005.
Future military developments include CamelBak’s Water Beast system, which is approximately 33 per cent stronger than the standard reservoir. Once it goes into production all standard reservoirs will be Water Beast versions. The company is developing a Low Infra-Red Reflective (LIRR backpack system, which it notes, is another example of innovations originating from field feedback. The LIRR material and hardware is designed to maximize stealth in the field. Both products are currently in production and will be available early this year.
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- This article is reprinted from Jane’s Defence Weekly 2 February 2005