A U.S. Soldier crosses a stream during the 12-day Australian Army Junior Leader Jungle Training Course last year in Australia. | US Army photo
U.S. Army officials say they're racing to find and start issuing new jungle boots to combat soldiers by late next year.
The service just released a request for information from companies as part of a "directed requirement" for a new model of Jungle Combat Boot for infantry soldiers to wear in the hot, tropical terrain of the Pacific theater.
"It's a challenge to industry to say, 'What can you do based on here are the requirements that we need and how fast can you deliver it to meet these specifications,' " Col. Dean Hoffman IV, who manages Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, said Wednesday at theAssociation of the United States Army's annual meeting.
The Army's formal requirement for a new type of Jungle Combat Boot will continue to go through the normal acquisitions process, but equipment officials plan to award contracts for new jungle boots next year to meet a recent directive from Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley that two brigade combat teams in Hawaii be equipped "ASAP," Hoffman said.
"We are going to use this request for information to see what industry can do really fast because what we would like to do is get a BCT out by March of 2017," he said.
Equipment officials hope to have a second BCT fielded with new jungle boots by September 2017," according to the Oct. 3 document posted on FedBizOpps.gov.
The Army and the Marine Corps retired the popular, Vietnam War-era jungle boots in the early 2000s when both services transitioned to a desert-style combat boot for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since then, Army equipment development has been geared toward the Middle East, Hoffman said.
"We have kind of neglected the extreme weather environments, whether it be jungle or cold weather," Hoffman said. "Looking at the way the world is shaping, those are areas that we might have to go."
The Army recently conducted limited user evaluations of several commercial-off-the-shelf, or COTS, jungle boots in Hawaii.
"We put them on soldiers, let them wear them for a couple of weeks and got feedback," Hoffman said. "What that showed at that time was there was no COTS solution."
The Army is looking for lightweight materials and better insole and midsole construction, he said.
The problem with the old jungle boots was they had a metal shim in the sole for puncture protection that made the boots get too hot or too cold depending on the outside temperature, Hoffman said.
There are new fabrics that could offer some puncture protection for insoles as well as help push water out of the boot through drain holes, equipment officials say.
The two drain holes on the old jungle boots often became clogged with mud, Hoffman said, adding that newer designs that feature several smaller drain holes tend to be more effective.
The new jungle boots will likely be made of rough-out leather, which tends to dry out quickly and doesn't need to be shined, he said.
To outfit two brigades, the Army plans to buy 36,000 pairs of new jungle boots, but contracts may be awarded to multiple vendors, Hoffman said.
"If six vendors meet the requirements, we might just award six contracts because, at the end of the day, we want to meet the requirements," he said.