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Innovation in the field of nuclear suit development. Machinist Nathan Lindner tested the newest suit designed to protect sailors from steam leaks on nuclear-powered submarines. Lindner took a little over two minutes to complete the task. Meanwhile, another machinist, Cameron Sebastian, wrestled with the current, older steam suit used Navy-wide. His time: more than double Lindner’s. “It was dramatic seeing the differences between the old and new steam suits, especially the way they affect the speed getting into it, as well as mobility,” Sebastian told navy.mil.
Both men served on the submarine USS Toledo – and were among sailors attending a recent demonstration of the prototype steam suit. 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), and currently is being tested at sea by the Toledo’s crew.
If pressurized steam lines aboard 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.
“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’s Matt Matteson. “The new steam suit provides enhanced flexibility, maneuverability, and ease of donning during such an emergency.”
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, ONR’s rapid-response science and technology program that develops prototype technologies to address problems voiced by Sailors and Marines, about designing a better suit.
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.
Then there’s the unique style of gloves. 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.
For the next few months, the prototype suits will be tested during at-sea drills aboard the 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.
“Our goal was to create a lighter suit that enables users to get around better, quicker and easier,” said Bob Bassett, NAVSEA’s branch head for in-service submarine propulsion and electrical systems. “It’s an all-around improved suit, and we can’t wait to get feedback from the Sailors after the trials.”