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Navy Sailors, Marines give steel toes the boot in favor of composites

By David Smalley, ONR

The TechSolutions office at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Arlington, VA, gets requests for new technologies directly from Sailors on the high seas, or Marines on the front lines -- and in answer to just such an inquiry, new footwear could soon be making its way to the fleet, officials announced Feb. 12.

Sailors and naval aviators in the Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, and Pacific fleets have begun evaluating a new lightweight boot with a composite replacement toe.

"It is a good feeling to help the warfighter in very real and immediate ways," says Tom Gallagher, director of TechSolutions at ONR. "These lighter, composite-toe boots will meet or exceed current industry standards for impact and compression protection -- and increase comfort over long watches."

ONR Global science advisors, who serve onboard with fleet staffs, are partnering with TechSolutions and assisting with boot testing evaluation by coordinating their introduction into the fleet and collecting data from operational evaluators.

The new footwear will be initially tested on 150 participants aboard submarines, destroyers, and amphibious vessels at several different locations around the globe.

The TechSolutions program is unique in that it interacts directly with Sailors and Marines who see a need for a new capability, or a needed improvement to existing technologies. Once a request has been reviewed and accepted, the department provides rapid-turnaround technological solutions, usually within 12 to18 months.

Some of the technologies developed with its support have included new 60-mm mortar sight prototypes, modernized food service management software, improved flight deck clothing, and more.

The composite-toe boot effort comes amid a shift in the commercial footwear industry away from steel safety toe caps and toward composites, which are generally lighter weight and offer improved comfort without sacrificing protection. Early composite toe caps were bulky and not offered domestically, experts say, but technological advances in the industry have made streamlined composite toe caps available and are manufactured in the United States.

"More and more of the military footwear manufacturers are making this shift toward composites in their commercial offerings, and we want the Navy to be ready," says James Martin, the program manager for the project.

The six-month user evaluation is slated to conclude in August. If the new boots get favorable reviews by Sailors, Gallagher says a proposal would be made to Navy leadership to consider using the composite toe caps versus steel toe caps in future footwear production.

"This could be a big deal for our Sailors," says Gallagher. "If they like these boots, not only could they see improved comfort on ship decks every day, but the safety factor improves as well."

Source: ONR

Published March 2014

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