The phrase “Winter is coming” was made famous by HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” but there is no denying that as much as we like it or not, even as much of the country has seen record and at times oppressive heat, cold weather will always make a return. Moreover, while there may have been a great deal of focus in the Middle East over the past few decades due to the Global War on Terror (GWoT), there is now greater emphasis being placed on America’s near-peer adversaries – notably China and Russia – and a future conflict is as likely as any to be in the harsh conditions of the Arctic.
With the likelihood of another Cold War rearing its ugly head, there is a need for equipment that will be well-suited to the cold. China has developed prefabricated thermal shelters, which it has employed in the Tibetan plateau as well as in the Ladakh Valley on the border with India. Its troops have already been employed with specially designed thermal boots, quick-drying underwear, and even thermal water bottles.
Russian military units have been training in recent years to fight in the extreme cold, pushing the limits of some of its “all-weather” aircraft, which have been operating out of its bases in the Arctic Circle.
On a Personal Level
The United States military is no stranger to the cold, however, and the United States Marine Corps has taken part in training with Norway in the Arctic as well. The Marines are equipped with gear not that different from what the Chinese and Russians – as well as other nations such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, and others – use.
But it isn’t just those on the frontlines that may have to deal with the cold. A United States Air Force effort has recently been on protecting the digits – not of the computer kind, but literally the fingers of its Airmen.
This month, Atomic Spark – Minot Air Force Base’s (AFB’s) innovation cell that accelerates the development of grassroots concepts into operational capabilities – announced its latest solution, namely gloves for use in extreme temperatures.
The Glove Not Only Fits But Provides Needs Dexterity
United States Airmen must be able to work outdoors regardless of the extreme weather. Gloves are an essential item in the winter, especially at some of the service’s bases where temperatures can reach 50 below zero.
It was noted that the standard-issue gloves currently used by many Airmen was much than able protect the wear from the elements but these didn’t offer the dexterity and movement needed to perform duties easily.
The team at Atomic Spark saw that a custom, heated glove was identified as a potential solution by the 54th Helicopter Squadron during a recent IGNITOR outreach project with the unit. Commercially-available gloves did not offer the right amount of dexterity, comfort, and insulation required by the mission.
“You can’t effectively employ your weapon system or the hoist if you can’t feel your fingers in the winter,” said Staff Sgt. Mathew Brown, 54th HS flight engineer. “The previously issued version had some limitations, so it was determined that an improved glove was needed.”
The various issues were brought to the IGNITOR group, a working team whose goal is partnering with Minot AFB units to identify feasible contractual, facilities, or process improvement solutions to tactical problems.
“Innovation can start with any Airman; they are the subject matter experts and know how to solve the problems,” said Capt. Matthew Matuszak, 91st Missile Wing Atomic Spark director. “Atomic Spark helps refine and elevate the Airman’s idea so that it can be seen by a decision maker.”
Climbing the Chain of Command
Atomic Spark led the effort and took the idea for custom heated gloves to base leadership, and then assisted with drafting the required documents to request innovation funds at the Air Force level. Those efforts eventually resulted in gloves that will be used not only by Airmen with the 54th HS, but all base personnel working in extreme weather conditions. The glove proposal was even selected by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. as the recipient of a portion of his Momentum Innovation Fund. The next step in the process involved the 5th Contracting Squadron soliciting and awarding a contract prior to the winter.
“It can be difficult to get good training in ambient temperatures of 20 below zero or lower if you’re only thinking about how cold you are so anything that can help you focus on the task you’re accomplishing in the aircraft only makes you and your squadron better,” Staff Sgt. Brown added.
Innovation will not end at Minot AFB as the Atomic Spark and IGNITOR teams have already acquired over $45 million in Small Business Innovation Research funding in just under two years. Those funds will allow Minot AFB to identify small businesses that can provide solutions to the warfighter in a faster, more efficient manner.
“Atomic Spark is critical to Team Minot’s innovation goals, having been extremely successful in obtaining Department of Defense innovation funds,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Kroft, 5th CONS commander. “The partnership between Atomic Spark and IGNITOR has been a key factor in turning Team Minot into a hotbed for innovation.”