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UPDATED: SEALs Wearing New High-Speed Fighting Threads

by Ward Carroll on October 28, 2008

With extended deployments to tough combat zones like Afghanistan and Iraq, the Marine Corps — and more recently the Army — (and the Navy and Air Force, though those are not as “combat” driven as the others) have revamped their uniforms used in everyday operations.

The rugged terrain, urban operations, weather extremes and austere conditions of current combat zones have prompted uniform designers to take a much closer look at other industries to find user-friendly options, materials and design innovations for their forces. Love it or hate it, the camouflage of the Army’s ACU might be off track, but it would be hard to argue that the uniform isn’t packed with useful features that help a Soldier get at stuff he needs to do his job. Sure, there have been some durability issues with the stitching, but when’s the last time the Army went as far as to put gusseted crotches in their BDUs?

Well, there’s also another market for this technology that’s bubbling up from the same folks who helped put more modern gear in the hands of specialized forces like SEALs, SF troops, Delta guys and Recon Marines — among others. As the regular forces adopt shoulder pockets and chest rigs, for example, the spec ops community is pushing the envelope even further with new designs that will gradually trickle down to the regular Joes as the technology becomes more available.

One of the products I was introduced to at Blackhawk last week was their High Performance Fighting Uniform, or HPFU. They’re pretty proud of this new product and it basically takes all the best whistles and bells, pockets and pouches, low-drag designs and modern materials available in the industry and packs them into a pretty innovative set of duds. Gusseted crotch, dual cargo pockets, articulated knees, a high-backed waist, padding pockets — and that’s just the pants. The HPFU also has a just-as-feature-packed jacket, and comes with a combat shirt that combines an FR-material in the chest and functional sleeves like the jacket. And there’s even a nifty vest that can go over the combat shirt so it looks like you’ve got a full-on cammie jacket on when you go to the chow hall after a patrol — it’s Blackhawk’s way of keeping gunny, first sergeant or master chief off your back.

But the high tech is more than skin deep.

Embedded within the uniform is Blackhawk’s proprietary “Integrated Tourniquet System” — a series of blood stanching bands that can lock off arterial bleeding in the arms, legs and ankles. It’s a bit creepy, to be sure, but Blackhawk’s clearly trying to put hardware into their software to save lives.


Pictures of the Blackhawk HPFU
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Company officials say the SEALs, with whom Blackhawk shares a close relationship, are wearing about 1,100 of the over $500 ensembles in combat right now. It’s unclear what their feedback has been, but I’ll throw in my $.02.

First, I pressed Blackhawk designers about the incorporation of fire resistant materials — or lack thereof — into the HPFU. Though their promotional materials state the uniform is made from “no-drip, no-melt” fibers –the arms and legs of the uniform are 70% cotton, 30% Nylon which they claim are woven in such a way as to make them flame resistant — company officials were at pains to say whether their pricey HPFU was made with flame resistance in mind. Ironically, they touted the torso of the combat shirt’s FR qualities, but that’s going to be under body armor which incorporates its own flame and flash resistance.

Also, I can see that Blackhawk’s heart is in the right place with the invention of its integrated tourniquet system and its incorporation into the HPFU, but my first impression with the thing is that it’s not nearly as “Marine proof” as it needs to be. This is added weight and complication for a piece of kit that’s supposed to be the epitome of simplicity.

Would I take the HPFU on my next embed? Maybe if I could be convinced of its FR qualities. It’s a pretty sweet piece of gear and borrows heavily from the performance outdoor industry which is where I always felt the best gear is designed and made. We’ll talk about their body armor systems in a later post, but if there’s anything we can learn from the progression of that business segment of Blackhawk, it’s pretty clear that when there are improvements to be made on a piece of gear, they don’t hesitate to make them. So we’ll see how the HPFU evolves. So far it’s a pretty good start.

– Christian

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

gruntdoc91 October 28, 2008 at 5:05 pm

those pants look waaaay too tight but i hear thats how the marines like em.ha!

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Fidelis October 28, 2008 at 6:12 pm

@ gruntdoc91 : You’re right, they don’t have time to waste on looking stylish like the army of dumb.
100% functional, 0% pretty boy.
BTW, hows that new camo working out for you?

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joe met October 28, 2008 at 7:58 pm

Looks better than the Army’s starship trooper uni.

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bdwilcox October 28, 2008 at 9:00 pm

I wonder if they make a swishing sound when you run in them? Uniforms by Sears ToughSkins.

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tontochoc October 28, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Christian, how’s the heat retention issue. Nylon uniforms are a bitch for sweat retention and chafing. Jungle warafre sucks but hey it happens. One hundred percent cotton or 95% with 5% kevlar/nomex which seals wehen exposed to flame used to be the go.

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unmannedanimal October 29, 2008 at 4:48 am

somewhat disappointed that this isn’t a post about tech transfer to marine biology, with a press photo of a harbor pup on the nose of the concorde in coveralls sipping a daiquiri.
i remember seeing PR about this tourniquet system last fall. i’ve had a tourniquet applied by an army medic, and it’s hard to imagine the precision and control required for success obviated by a drawstring on steroids. are the tourniquets a ‘liner’ layer beneath the suit or are they housed between layers of the suit? i can see complications with both. how adjustable (along the axis of the limb) are they?

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gruntdoc91 October 29, 2008 at 9:19 am

hey fidelis that new camo we have sucks whatever REMF came up with that needs a good front back go session. p.s. youre not the only one who got mad at me i have marines in the family.this weekend isnt going to go good for me. ;)

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ROCKET October 29, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Well Boss, can’t say I did’t send up a flare first : ) My input was simple, they had been “removed from active ops too long” and were far away from their original, simple, smart lightweight, breathable and fast drying ops loadout vest. Though the Serpa is a decent rig.

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RoadDoc October 29, 2008 at 6:14 pm

You have to be kidding me. This thing is c-r-a-p. I spent 18 years as a medic and can tell you a handful fo things about tourniquets:
1. 97% of them aren’t tourniquets - they’re merely really tight pressure dressings. If the arterial flow goes through, it ain’t a tourniquet.
2. There’s no way in hell you’re getting enough pinpoint pressure on an artery to do anything close to a proper tourniquet. We’d use a block of heavy gauze or a folded leather glove over an artery directly above the wound, and then crank the snot out of it with a windlass to get enough pressure to stop blood loss. You think a beefy shoelace threaded into a BDU is even close? Sure.
3. Hot, hot, hot.
4. Blackhawk needs to get it’s head out of its backend and go back to what works - solid gear for the field operator that’s simple, innovative, and affordable.

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Gallogls October 30, 2008 at 9:21 am

The son says the Marines are wearing this now in Iraq and my Brother says his son is wearing them now with 6 Mars looks like it’s caught on!

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