Although one of the five core special forces truths is that humans are more important than hardware, it’s always better to have top-shelf equipment. Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and Marine Raiders are all elite in their training and capabilities, but better gear makes them even more effective on the battlefield. The American technological preponderance of the past decades has ensured that the country’s elite troops have been fielding the world’s best gear. But to remain stagnant in the technological race is to be left behind, especially with China’s aggressive push toward superpower status. And the SEAL teams wish to remain anything but stagnant. In a notification on the federal site for procurement opportunities, the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) has publicized solicitation for a new high-tech wetsuit for its SEAL teams. More specifically, NSWC has filed a request for proposal (RFP) for a wetsuit system that would be used as part of the SEAL teams’ diving equipment.
This is the second solicitation for a wetsuit in the past few months. Previously, in November, NSWC had published a solicitation for three wetsuits that could be used in a variety of environments (cold, medium, and warm temperatures). The description had specified a wetsuit that could be “worn in undersea environments to include over the beach (OTB) operations, surface swims, cast and recovery operations from boats, ship assaults, vessel boarding, search, and seizure (VBSS) . . . [and] gas and oil platform (GOPlat) assaults.”
With respect to the environmental conditions, the wetsuits would have to be capable of shielding operators from extreme water temperatures (ranging from 35 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), high wind, rain, and sea spray—a result of riding on the extremely fast watercraft operated by the Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC)—for up to 11 hours. Moreover, the wetsuits had to be resilient enough to withstand the forces of surf zones and dives to depths ranging to 200 feet. The wetsuits also had to come with a repair kit, which would be placed in a waterproof bag for field repairs.
With a maximum weight of five pounds, the wetsuits had to fit both male and female SEALs—the latter in anticipation of the first female sailor to make it through the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training and the SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) course. Specifically, the solicitation specifies that 95 percent of wetsuits must fit males and 5 percent of females. The wetsuits must also be manufactured with materials that minimize the operator’s heat and visual signature, both when viewed with the naked eye and through a visual augmentation system (VAS)—for instance, a thermal scope.
The current contract is worth up to $6.45 million and lasts for five years.