The camouflaged ghillie suits worn by US snipers are vital tools that enhance concealment, offering greater survivability and lethality, but these suits are in desperate need of an upgrade.
The US Army is currently testing new camouflaged ghillie suits to better protect soldiers and make them deadlier to enemies.
Trained snipers from across the service recently gathered at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to conduct visual testing for several prototypes, an important preliminary evaluation, the Army revealed in December 2018.
The current ghillie suit, known as the Flame Resistant Ghillie System, is shown here. A new suit, called the Improved Ghillie System, or IGS, is under development.
(US Army photo)
What are ghillie suits?
A ghillie suit is a type of camouflaged clothing designed to help snipers disappear in any environment, be it desert, woodland, sand, or snow.
"A sniper's mission dictates that he remains concealed in order to be successful," Staff Sgt. Ricky Labistre, a sniper with 1st Battalion, 160th Infantry Regiment of the California National Guard explainedrecently. "Ghillie suits provide snipers that edge and flexibility to maintain a concealed position, which is partial to our trade."
A 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Soldier practices camouflage, cover and concealment with the fire-resistant ghillie suit during training at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., in November 2012.
(US Army photo)
What are Army snipers wearing now?
The Flame Resistant Ghillie System (FRGS) suits currently worn by US snipers were first fielded in 2012, appearing at the Army Sniper School, the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School and the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course.
The Army has decided that these suits need a few critical improvements.
The FRGS suits are heavy, uncomfortable, and hot, Debbie Williams, a systems acquisition expert with Program Executive Office Soldier, said in a statement in October 2018.
"The current [accessory] kit is thick and heavy and comes with a lot of pieces that aren't used," Maj. WaiWah Ellison, an assistant product manager with PEO Soldier explained, adding that "soldiers are creating ghillie suits with their own materials to match their personal preference."
But, most importantly, existing US military camouflage is increasingly vulnerable to the improved capabilities of America's adversaries.
"The battlefield has changed, and our enemies possess the capabilities that allow them to better spot our snipers. It's time for an update to the current system," Sgt. Bryce Fox, a sniper team leader with 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry Regiment, said in a recent statement.
A southern black racer snake slithers across the rifle barrel held by junior Army National Guard sniper Pfc. William Snyder as he practices woodland stalking in a camouflaged ghillie suit at Eglin Air Force Base, April 7, 2018.
(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William Frye)
What is the Army developing to replace the existing suits?
The Army plans to eventually replace the FRGS suits with Improved Ghillie System (IGS) suits.
The new IGS suits, part of the Army's increased focus on military modernization, are expected to be made of a lighter, more breathable material that can also offer the stiffness required to effectively camouflage the wearer.
The ghillie suits will still be flame resistant, a necessity after two soldiers from the Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment burned to death after their camouflaged sniper gear caught fire in Iraq; however, that protection will primarily be provided by the combat uniform worn underneath.
The new suits will also be modular, which means that snipers will be able to take them apart in the field, adding or subtracting pieces, such as sleeves, leggings, veils, capes, and so on, as needed.
An Army sniper scans the terrain in front of him as part of the Improved Ghillie System visual testing at Eglin Air Force Base in November 2018.
(US Army photo)
How are the new suits being tested?
Snipers from special forces and Ranger regiments, as well as conventional forces, came together at Eglin Air Force base for a few days in early November 2018 for daytime visual testing of IGS prototypes, the Army said in a statement in December 2018.
The testing involved an activity akin to a game of hide-and-seek. Snipers in IGS suits concealed themselves in woodland and desert environments while other snipers attempted to spot them at distances ranging from 10 to 200 meters.
In addition to daytime visual testing, the IGS suits will be put through full-spectrum testing carried out by the Army Night-Vision Laboratory and acoustic testing by the Army Research Laboratory.
The Army Research Laboratory will also test tear resistance and fire retardant capabilities.
Once the initial testing is completed, a limited user evaluation ought to be conducted next spring at the sniper school at Fort Benning in Georgia. The Army is expected to order 3,500 IGS suits for approximately 3,300 snipers with the Army and Special Operations Command.
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