Soldiers are issued gear such as body armor, protective eyewear, and helmets to protect them from threats on the battlefield, but now they will get protection against a common enemy from the most basic piece of equipment – their uniforms. The Army is now issuing Flame-Resistant Army Combat Uniforms (FR ACUs) that have been factory-treated with the insect repellent, permethrin, to help protect Soldiers against the annoyance and dangers of biting insects and insect-borne diseases.
Permethrin is a synthetic insect repellent that mimics natural compounds found in chrysanthemum flowers. FR ACUs receiving factory treatments of permethrin will be given the designation FRACU-P. Permethrin factory treatment began in 2010.
FR ACUs are just one of the many items we have been developing to improve Soldier survivability, effectiveness, and comfort. As PEO Soldier, we are the Army acquisition agency responsible for developing, procuring, and fielding nearly everything Soldiers wear or carry. Enhancing defenses against biting insects and the spread of dangerous diseases is one example of the Army’s commitment to Soldiers.
“Over the history of warfare, disease and non-battle injury has been one of our biggest sources of casualties and degradation of our combat power,” said COL Peter Benson, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Command Surgeon. “By protecting Soldiers from these diseases, it keeps more Soldiers in the fight and decreases the burden on the medical care system when deployed.”
Permethrin provides peerless protection from many of the insect-borne illnesses that pose a threat to Soldiers, such as malaria and dengue fever, which are difficult to treat and can be fatal.
“Since the 1990s, the Army has been using various permethrin treated uniforms,” explained LTC Michael Sloane, Product Manager, Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment. “Now, we actually get the uniform and it already has not only the fire resistant treatment in it, but the additional protection against bugs.”
The pre-treatment of uniforms means one less task for Soldiers as they prepare to deploy and, unlike previous versions, the factory-treated uniforms do not have an unpleasant smell. While permethrin does not provide a 100 percent guarantee that a Soldier won’t be bitten (Soldiers will still need to take precautions, such as maintaining good hygiene and using the insect repellent DEET on their skin), factory treatment of uniforms will provide 70 percent bite protection for up to 50 washes, with a decreasing (but still extremely high) percentage of bite protection thereafter.
Permethrin has the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is used by civilian companies to make insect-repelling clothing for outdoor enthusiasts. The Army will not be the first to use clothing that is factory-treated with permethrin. The U. S. Marine Corps currently fields uniforms that are factory-treated with permethrin, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has a contract with a commercial company that makes clothing and gear with built-in insect repellent.
Soldiers will be required to take certain steps to ensure their uniforms provide the highest level of protection from biting insects. They should not dry-clean their factory-treated permethrin uniforms, since dry-cleaning will greatly reduce the uniform’s bite protection. Soldiers will also need to launder their uniforms separately from civilian clothing. Further care and handling instructions will be on the uniform’s tags.