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Engineer's Toolbox:
Army combat cooler engineered for helicopter drops, blast survivability

By Alexandra Foran, NSRDEC

The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's new large Insulated Container for Bottled Water, developed by the Combat Feeding and Aerial Delivery directorates, can hold up to 36 bottles of water. [Photo Credit: David Kamm]





Army researchers have answered a call from Soldiers in the field for better, safer insulated bottled water containers. The result may be a life-saving product to protect Soldiers in vehicles during combat missions when water bottles could become dangerous projectiles during explosions.

Researchers from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) responded to the Joint Program Office for Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles with a container to not only insulate and protect the water bottle, but also make bottled water easy to reach and cool enough for Soldiers to want to consume it.

The prototype is known as the Insulated Containers for Bottled Water, or ICB. The NSRDEC Aerial Delivery Directorate and the Combat Feeding Directorate worked together on the project.

"We came up with initial prototypes that were large, medium, and individual with minimal funding using the project manager's concept and Combat Feeding's concept, so we just fabricated it," said Laurra Winters, team leader for the Aerial Delivery Design and Fabrication Team, Aerial Delivery Directorate.

Through their work on systems that have to survive intense airdrops, Winters' team has developed the skills and equipment necessary to handle creating a prototype with blast survivability for water bottles and rations, which will most often be Meals-Ready-to-Eat, or MREs.

Initial concepts for the system included a zipper that went around the storage bag.

The large insulated container can hold bottled water, MREs, or collapsible water bags. [Photo Credit: David Kamm]





Unfortunately, zippers tend to fail, and if the zipper breaks, the bag will no longer keep water cool and protected.

"You need some level of redundancy with this system because if one fails, then the system is no good," Winters said.

The final prototypes utilize webbing wrapped around the bag to encase the material instead of relying on a zipper, or seams, to hold the bag together. The webbing has a minimum breaking strength of 6,000 lb, which provides the necessary strength to the overall system to successfully retain all contents.

"Your weakest link is going to be your closure and your seam, so by reinforcing it with the webbing, you are improving the strength and the performance of it," Winters said. "We also put in hook and loop, too, just so that there is some level of redundancy if the closure system fails."

The large system holds 36 water bottles, or 28 MREs. The medium bag holds 15 water bottles, or six MREs, and the small individual bag holds five water bottles. NSRDEC is working with the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center's Occupant Centric Protection, or OCP, on integrating the ICBs into the next generation of vehicles. User evaluation testing and blast testing should occur this year.

The small insulated container holds five water bottles. [Photo Credit: David Kamm]





"We've done drop testing, vibration testing, flammability testing, performance testing at the Doriot Climactic Chambers, and abrasion testing," said Ben Williams, ICB project officer on the CFD Systems Equipment and Engineering team.

"We also linked up with Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab to conduct in-vehicle blast testing, because our customer's number one requirement was that these bags needed to be blast-proof in an IED [improvised explosive device] scenario."

Containing the bottles within the bag ensures that they do not become projectiles that could harm Soldiers. Keeping water palatable is the other concern.

"The temperature of the water is a big factor when keeping the Soldiers hydrated," Williams said. "We've done lots of studies on what water temperatures are most palatable for Soldiers. Soldiers drink more water when it's cold and remain hydrated for longer periods of time because they are consuming more water. This improves Soldier endurance. We consider it a force multiplier."

Temperatures in areas of operation can reach 95 F to 120 F on average in the summer months, creating an even greater demand for cool water as Soldiers exert themselves every day.

Drinking water, safely contained and cool, is often taken for granted by many in the United States For Soldiers serving abroad, however, it is an extremely valuable commodity.

NSRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.

Published January 2015

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