Wearable Military Technologies Keep Troops Agile and Informed

By Caroline Hayes | May 25, 2021

Maintaining a clear line of communication in challenging environments and unpredictable situations requires innovative military technologies. Wearable devices rise to the challenge.

Battlefield communications go beyond exchanging voice messages. Video and data must be relayed and processed quickly, possibly in highpressure situations. Military technologies must be multi-functional and portable. Instead of adding more devices and bulking out the soldier, new wearable technologies are creating a “connected human.” Wearables are a huge trend in military equipment as well as in industrial environments where IoT technologies are used, according to Fischer Connectors. 

More capabilities are being integrated into individual pieces of equipment, enabling military personnel to carry fewer devices. Military wearables include communications devices, heated clothing, health and performance monitors, and tracking devices. In the military arena, every piece of gear has to be carefully considered in terms of size, weight, and power (SWaP). Adding more weight will make a soldier less mobile, agile, responsive, and effective. Wearables eliminate the need to carry gear in a pack or by hand, and by embedding more capabilities into those wearables, the overall technology load is streamlined. 

Reducing the equipment weight a soldier carries improves their effectiveness in the field and pares down costs associated with transporting payload. Wearable technologies keep loads manageable without sacrificing function.

Today, the weight of equipment carried by a dismounted solider is as much as 35 kilograms (77 pounds), making it crucial for solider wearable technologies to be lightweight while still offering faster mobility, high reliability, and strong connectivity. The daily military routine exposes that equipment to harsh environments, vibration, and shock, which can damage mechanical components and impede operation. The military wearables market is expected to grow 7.2% from 2019 to 2025, reaching an estimated $6.4 billion by 2025.

To meet the rising demand for military wearables and lighter equipment designs, ITT Cannon developed its Rock-in-Lock Latching Connector and Nemesis II CBA. These solutions serve critical battlefield communication equipment; the connectors feature fast coupling and uncoupling, giving soldiers ease of use and seamless communications in highly mobile equipment.

ITT Cannon’s Nemesis II CBA is a miniature circular connector designed for small military applications. It is highly rugged and designed to perform in extreme conditions and harsh environments.

One wearable option is protective vests, which can carry smaller items using the Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment system (MOLLE), a ruck set of webbing straps and pouches for medical and other supplies that is attached to vests and backpacks.

While this helps with transporting some pieces of equipment, a large part of military operations is based around communications. C4ISTAR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisitions and Reconnaissance) has become a reference point for all design and functionality. As tablets, radios, and other equipment are introduced in the field, each piece can be plugged directly into the network on the vest. By directly connecting equipment to the soldier’s clothing or gear, wires are eliminated, and soldiers are able to move more freely while still maintaining a clear line of communication throughout the chain of command.

Progress in textile technology and connector design has further reduced the cables and wires required for military communications. Two companies have introduced versatile connectivity systems that can be integrated into garments or vests to optimize and add functionality.

Magnetic Attraction 

The mag-Net, developed by TT Electronics, is a slim, lightweight, small connector that can be sewn into a garment for a truly wearable electronics system. The cage and the connector are sewn into the material and integrated into the garment. The self-aligning connector is for power and data connectivity. It exceeds the requirements of the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) General Solider Architecture (GSA) to deliver power and data. It can also help address the interoperability challenges faced by NATO.

TT Electronics’ mag-Net Magnetic Connector uses an automatic magnetic latching system, and has auto-alignment and self-coupling for mating and unmating using just one hand. The mechanical latching means there are no moving parts for a smooth connection.

The eight-way contact configurations within the mag-Net are for power and high-speed data transmission. The design offers direct connection from the receptacle to equipment using a patent-pending plug to receptacle coupling. This not only reduces wires and therefore weight in the vest, helmet, or headset, but also improves mobility for the wearer.

The flush, flat receptacles mean that the connectors do not present the risk of abrasion or snagging. This is helpful for unimpeded operation, which often takes place in restricted spaces and/or at speed, improving durability. There is no need for a protection cap, as the connector is water-resistant. It is sealed to IP68 and is waterproof to 3m (9.8 ft) full immersion. The connector is also lightweight and easier to connect than circular barrel connectors.

Metal or Plastic 

Fischer Connectors has developed the Fischer Freedom Series for military and industrial applications. This series consists of low-profile connectors that can be sewn into a garment or flexible substrates, like flak jackets, blankets, and backpacks. These connectors have an adaptor and retaining ring for quick fitting and interchanges.

One product in the Freedom line, the Fischer LP360 connector, can be plugged and routed in any direction – hence the 360 in the name. This means that cables required can be shorter, as there is no need to twist then into position. As well as convenience of connection, shorter cables simplify design and reduce weight.

Fischer Connectors’ LP360 connectors are membrane-sealed with spring-activated pins in the plug, for ease of cleaning. The connectors, receptacle, and plug are non-magnetic and designed for blind mating. The stainless steel and brass metal connectors are sealed to IP68 to 20m/24 hours and the plastic connectors are sealed to IP67, mated and unmated.

Fischer has introduced a USB 2.0 adaptor, LED, and flash drive with the LP360 panel plug integrated into the housing. This is designed to integrate new pieces of military gear into networks; for example, power source and communications centralized with shared data and power buses and hubs in a single backpack or jacket.

Special Projects 

A Fischer Connectors’ spinoff, Wearin’, has developed a connected vest with a single battery, a shared data and power bus, and wiring inside the vest. The integrated connectivity system comprises six Fischer LP360 seven-contact receptacles. Connectors are strategically placed for communications, night vision systems, and smartphones. Tactical computers are attached using the matching plugs, which are built into the device, eliminating the need for cables that add weight and restrict movement.

Wearin’ vests integrate sensors into military and workplace garments to provide safety and monitoring data through lightweight, wearable connectivity.

Although these vests present great advantages for military users, a civilian version is bringing the same benefits of lightweight mobility and communications to employees in industrial workplaces with harsh environments, such as energy installations, oil and gas sites, and construction areas. In these work zones, reliability and connectivity are also key, and wearable products are helping to keep workers safe and productive.

Like this article? Check out our other Connector Basics, and New Technology articles, our Military and Aerospace Market Page, and our 2021 and 2020 Article Archives.

Caroline Hayes
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