ARCHIVED - Troops beat the heat in Kandahar

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October 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

No matter what their views on the war in Afghanistan, Canadians agree that protecting the health and wellness of troops overseas is a top priority. The crews of Canada's Leopard tanks in Kandahar got some relief from the searing desert heat this summer thanks to cooling vests that were tested in a giant oven at NRC.

Last February, NRC engineers recreated the Afghan summer in an environmental chamber that produces temperatures ranging from -51ºC to +55ºC. They subjected a Leopard tank to desert-like temperatures of 44ºC while armed forces volunteers performed drills that simulated their duties in the field, such as loading and unloading the tank's 105-mm gun.

A Leopard tank bakes in a simulation of the midday Afghan sun.
A Leopard tank bakes in a simulation of the midday Afghan sun.

The heavily armed Leopards were sent to Afghanistan last year because they offer the best protection against roadside bombs and mines. But the military was concerned that the internal temperature of the tanks would rise above 50ºC in the summer heat.

"Those kinds of temperatures would cause heat strain in the crew, which could impair their mental and physical performance, putting them at risk in tactical situations," says Dr. Ira Jacobs of Defence Research and Development Canada in Toronto.

The armed forces had a possible solution – cooling vests – but the vests had yet to be proven in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan.

We created high noon in Kandahar.

Don LeBlanc, National Research Council Canada

In late 2006, National Defence approached NRC to create a realistic testing ground for the vests. It wasn't the first time that NRC's expertise in simulating extreme climates had helped the armed forces to prepare for difficult situations. Past trials have included ice and snow simulations for the Leopard tanks, which troops have used to patrol some of Canada's coldest regions.

Before the test, NRC engineers outfitted the Leopard tank with additional armour that was being used to reinforce tanks in Afghanistan. Design, welding and integration expertise went into the upgrade. To simulate the Afghan sun, NRC's engineers and technicians installed 300 halogen bulbs – at 500 watts each – in the environmental chamber. They stripped the bulbs of their protective glass to increase the UV radiation. "We created high noon in Kandahar," says Don LeBlanc, manager of the climatic engineering chamber at NRC in Ottawa.

NRC staff slathered on SPF 60 sunscreen during preparations for the test, which also included installing a solar shield – a large sheet of insulating material developed at DRDC Valcartier, that covers the tank and could help to reduce its skin temperature. The tank's exterior can reach a blistering 80ºC in the sun.

Three volunteers, all trained Leopard tank crew, performed simulated manoeuvres inside the tank wearing first their usual gear, then their gear with the addition of the cooling vests. The vests circulate chilled fluid to keep the body's core temperature down.

"We found that with the cooling vests, the crews could operate the tanks for a much longer period of time," says LeBlanc. He added that the vests may even provide a tactical advantage over an adversary that typically chooses not to fight during the worst heat of the day.

With the tests complete, the vests were delivered to Afghanistan in time for summer, and received excellent reviews from the troops. "The cooling vests are absolute life savers," says Major A.K. Welsh, National Defence project manager for the NRC test. "They have made the difference between our crews becoming heat casualties to being able to work comfortably through all hours of the day. We are extremely grateful for the support we received from NRC to implement this solution."

NRC's special climatic engineering facility is available for testing how various vehicles, their equipment, cargo and crew, stand up to extreme heat and cold.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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