JSAM: A Layer of Protection

  • Published
  • By Katherine C. Gandara
  • Headquarters Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Director of History and Research
Sometimes our biggest fears can come from something so small it cannot be detected with the human eye. Chemical and biological weapons use some of the most dangerous chemicals and diseases known. The use of biological weapons to wage war dates back more than 14 centuries. Today's U.S. military operates in areas where the capability exists to employ chemical and biological agents, which makes individual protective equipment more important than ever.

Subsequently, the development of protective equipment for use against toxic chemical and biological agents parallels the development of chemical and biological weapons themselves. Testers at the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center evaluated the Joint Service Aircrew Mask that provides chemical and biological protection to aircrew personnel, allows in-flight donning and doffing, and will provide positive pressure breathing to protect against fatigue and loss of consciousness during rapid acceleration in high performance aircraft.

"The JSAM aircrew mask/hood combination provides above the shoulder chemical and biological protection for more than 16 hours," said Capt. Brent Mehner, AFOTEC's JSAM program test director. "The Type I variants are designed for use in rotary wing aircraft and the Type II variants are for fixed wing aircraft."

Each multiservice variant will go through an operational assessment during developmental testing and then multiservice operational test and evaluation. AFOTEC is the lead operational test agency, with the Navy, which also represents the Marines, and the Army test agencies participating in the testing process. AFOTEC evaluates systems in support of the Department of Defense Chemical and Biological Defense Program.

According to Captain Mehner, the Type I went through operational assessment which included various Air Force, Army, and Navy ground compatibility trials. The mask was also operationally assessed in the flight environment. MOT&E on the Type 1 is projected to begin in fall 2007. The Type II variant is in the operational assessment planning stages and should start testing in spring 2007 with completion slated for sometime in 2009.

JSAM testing will be conducted in various locations around the United States to include Fort Rucker, Ala., Eglin AFB, Fla., Pensacola, Fla., Moody AFB, Ga., Kirtland AFB, N.M., and Fort Hood, Texas.

While the testing timeframe seems lengthy, Captain Mehner explained that when most equipment is initially fielded it is not the perfect solution, but represents an initial capability based upon the best available technology. The evolving threat environment dictates the necessity for continual improvements. While protection is of utmost importance, incremental improvements in comfort, weight, durability, heat stress, function, and donning and doffing ease must be evaluated to ensure they do not negatively impact protection. This kind of approach ensures rapid fielding of the most up-to-the-minute equipment with pre-planned efforts to incorporate improvements as they mature.

Individual protective equipment product development milestones represent goals for inserting new technologies. The incorporation of new technologies at various points in the product life cycle allows an evolutionary development and provides continual product upgrade.

"The JSAM will replace six existing aircrew masks in the Department of Defense inventory and will be interchangeable between all the services, which makes the mask very cost effective," said Captain Mehner. "The rigorous operational testing that the JSAM is undergoing will ultimately provide the warfighter the best protection at the right time, at the right place, and at the right price."