Rigid-wall camp (feat. SKYDEX Barracks Mattress) saves money, fuel, water

NATICK, Mass. (March 18, 2013) -- When it comes to providing comfortable living spaces for deployed Soldiers while saving time, money, fuel and water, rigid walls beat canvas every time.

If you doubt that, just consult the experts at Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, or PM FSS, at Natick Soldier Systems Center, who have been comparing rigid-wall test camps at Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Bliss, Texas, with the existing "Force Provider" 150-man tent system.

"The Soldier piece is the big one," said Mike Hope, Combat Field Service Equipment Team leader for PM FSS. "If he or she is more comfortable, we did our job."

Hope, lead project engineer Bob Graney and assistant product manager Capt. Micah Rue have no doubts that rigid-wall camps represent a step up from the Temper Tent (air supported) Force Provider base camps currently found in Afghanistan.

According to Hope, a rigid-wall camp "provides a high quality of life, much higher than standard tents and canvas."

The new shelters have an insulation R-Value of approximately 12, compared to 4 for tents. They feature LED lighting, motion-detecting switches, low-water efficient laundry systems, low-water latrines and shower heads, waterless urinals, rain water collection systems, shower water reuse systems, highly efficient generator micro grids, and solar shading with photovoltaics and battery power storage.

"What's the future for base camps?" Hope said. "We're looking at camps that use a very limited amount of fuel and water. That's what this camp is really all about. The efficiency of these shelters is so great. The amount of heating and cooling that you need is very minimal. It's a dramatic change."

Not only are energy and resource reductions of 35 to 75 percent possible, but convoys needed to deliver fuel and water to base camps in Afghanistan would be reduced, putting fewer Soldiers at risk. Small camps could be in place there by this summer.

"The feedback I received from the first sergeant and the commander (at Benning) was very positive about living in the rigid wall as opposed to living in tents," Rue said.

Comfortable bunks replace cots in the rigid-wall setup.

"It's a much cleaner environment," Hope said. "You've got a legitimate mattress that's washable, resistant to mold, that's so much more comfortable."

Each rigid-wall shelter can house 10 Soldiers and be set up in less than 15 minutes by four people. Much less site preparation is needed for rigid-wall shelters than tents, which require wooden platforms.

"The erect time's going to be much quicker," Hope said. "These shelters in this camp go up so much faster. They're very lightweight, too. One person can lift up a 20-foot wall."

Once they are up and running, the camps require little maintenance, Hope added.

"It's going to reduce the overall costs, both in overall procurement costs as well as sustainment costs," Hope said. "The maintenance piece of this rigid-wall camp -- it's going to be so easy and so quick to be able to fix things that break."

As Graney pointed out, the shelters also hold other potential advantages.

"They're able to build fighting positions on top of the rigid-wall shelters," Graney said. "We're working with the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center to develop a ballistic-protection kit that will attach directly to the shelter, eliminating separate ballistic panel supports that would normally be required to up-armor a tent."

Two more test camps will be set up that Rue said will have "additional improvements in usability, cost savings and sustainability. One will be at Fort Devens (Mass.) for evaluation and head-to-head comparison with the current (Force Provider) 150 configuration, and one will be going to Australia to support Talisman Sabre this summer, which will provide additional feedback for us in a completely different environment than it has seen yet."

For Hope, it's really about taking care of the Soldier.

"That's what we do," Hope said. "Obviously, cost is a factor, and funding, but the bottom line is, what do we put in the Soldier's hands to make him more effective, making his or her life easier? I think we've taken that to another level. Soldiers are walking into a place that's more like home."