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​Government knows best?

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Government knows nothing, it is the people employed by the government that are the “know-it-alls”.

I read on the government web site that shows awarded contracts a 91 million dollar contract was awarded to a company to produce the “new” USMC sleeping bag and bivi bag system. February 2007 is when the government employees who take up space at the U.S. Army Natick Labs dreamt up the specifications they wanted to see for a new sleeping bag and bivi bag for the USMC. At the time I determined what they were asking for could not be accomplished. However, there are those of the belief that they can give these government employees what they want, even though they are not actually in the business of making sleeping bags or bivi bags. Of course what they asked for and what was received were not one and the same. I told them up front what they wanted could not be accomplished and it wasn’t. Those who are of the belief that they can give these government employees what they want only placate them.

They asked the companies that submitted samples to go back to the drawing board so to speak and see what they could do after the first submissions proved not to comply with the request. I believe the weight of the bag was modified slightly. They put the new bag into testing; humans or machine, who knows, probably machines. They then ordered 4000 units and put them in the field. Shortly thereafter I saw published on the government web site a sources sought notice for a liner that would not only fit the new center zip bag but also one for the old side zip bag. This additional component was required to supplement the bags warmth retaining ability because the bag wasn’t performing as needed to keep the user warm. They then ordered 15,000 more and the rumblings of zipper failure started to surface. The specified zipper is a number 8 coil zipper with a water resistant tape. The slider does not run freely down the tape because the tape has a urethane coating to make it water resistant so zipper failure is assured. As criteria of the bag the person in the bag is supposed to be able to exit the bag in 10 seconds. If the slider does not run freely down the coil as in this case it will not, it will jam and of course the person in the bag wanting out will just force the slider off of the coil track. The end result is a broken zipper that can not be repaired in the field or any place else. They like to use the coil zipper because they believe it is self repairing and therefore can be repaired in the field. This sleeping bag I am sorry to say is a disaster in progress.

I have only seen pictures of the bivi bag, but it also is a disaster; you may recall that I wrote about a solicitation that came out asking for an instruction booklet to go with this sleeping bag system explaining how to set it up. The sleeping bag has a center placed zipper and the bivi bag has a side placed zipper. The bivi bag also has a pop-up hood, hence the reason for the instruction booklet, I believe. Government at work or better put “civil servants” (what government employees were once called) at work.

Experience is not something these civil servants draw upon. Since 1993 when I first introduced the two bag system to the MC the Super Light FTRSS it has never failed in the field whether the user was a civilian or military person. The bastardized version that was adopted by the military has never worked in the field when used by a military or civilian person. Over the years those civil servants located at Natick have never examined the product to learn where the deficiency just might be. It has two; number one is the construction method used to hold the fiber (insulation) in place for ease of manufacturing and number two the actual weight of the fiber (insulation) used. All companies that sell sleeping bags regardless where they are produced strive for the lightest weight possible for the lowest temperature capability. Natick is no different in their thinking. Sleeping bags are carried by the individual so the lighter the better. However, if you make Hundreds of thousands of bags (Natick puts out contracts that start out with 200,000 needed) and after they have been in the field for two or three years and the reports state the bags are not performing at the temperatures they were supposed to work at, how about looking for the reason(s) they are not working. Taking that action is simply not happening or as far as I can tell will ever happens.

The manufacturing method is one flaw, quilting the fiber (insulation) to the nylon fabric. Each and every quilt stitch IS a cold spot. This is not a new revelation, the shingle construction sleeping bags made by The North Face Company which has been copied by all of their competitors over the years was a valiant effort to compensate for the quilt stitching by over lapping the layers of fiber (insulation). It hasn’t worked for The North Face. Just go to any of the outdoor related web sites and you will find the subject of sleeping bags being discussed and The North Face bags are said not to work at the published temperature ratings. What makes the Natick civil servants believe what they are doing is going to work? Nothing! The second flaw is the weight of the fiber (insulation) being used, it is simply to light a weight.

An interesting fact; the company that was awarded this contract came to me about 8 or 9 years ago wanting to learn how to make sleeping bags. They wanted to compete with the one company that has historically received the sleeping bag contracts. I counseled them on the difference between making the bags quilting the fiber (insulation) and laminating it as I do. They made bags using the fiber (insulation) weights described in the government solicitation for the next contract. When the bags were tested at Kansas State University (KSU) on the copper manikin they showed higher clo readings than the quilted bags using the same weights of fiber (insulation). Unfortunately for them they lost the bid because they were not the low bidder. Performance of product was not or is it ever a factor, price and price alone are all that is considered. A couple of years later a new solicitation came out for a couple of hundred thousand bags that had some modifications concerning performance and size I believe. This time when the company bid at my suggestion they changed the manufacturing slightly and when the bags were tested again at KSU the difference between the laminated constructed bag and the quilted bag were even further apart in favor of the laminated bag. And they were lower in price. One would think they would be issued the contract; that was not to happen. The reason was because the examiners of the bags were told by their civil servant “EXPERTS” the fiber (insulation) would “migrate” within the bag during laundering. The company president sent me a copy of the page from the debriefing so I would know they turned down the bag because my construction method was not allowed. I did write to the general in charge expressing the reality that my method of placing the fiber (insulation) in the bags via lamination was in practice at that time for at least 35 years without the failure suggested by his “EXPERTS”. I concluded by stating I did not appreciate hearing that what I had been doing would not work from those who had no knowledge of the subject. Of course this complaint went unheeded. The general who knew nothing would rely on those who knew nothing.

The end result was the old company was issued the new contract and eventually the next contract that was published, this time for one million sleeping bags. Of course each time these solicitations are published they ask for an improved version of the old bag and each time they award the contract to the same company and they get the same old bag that has yet to work.

The company that did get the MC contract knew from the get go if they were ever to get a sleeping bag contract they would have to make their submissions with the quilting construction. From my observation they were intimidated to the point that they willingly buried the knowledge they acquired from me and their own testing at KSU because getting the contract became paramount. It was the money! They willingly are complicit in making sleeping bags for Marines that simply put will not perform in the conditions they are serving in. It is and always has been my opinion that the sleeping bags issued that does not perform as needed further endanger the life of the man in combat. If he can’t get adequate sleep in my opinion his ability to perform in the field is reduced.

So much for government knows best!

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