Time is of the essence when it comes to repairing a nuclear submarine’s steam turbines. As you can imagine, the steam required to power a sub is potentially very dangerous, as its not only hot enough to injure or kill, it’s also kept in high pressure lines that can be hazardous if ruptured.
So, in an effort to keep its servicemen safe when dealing with accidents and improve maintenance response times, the US Navy is developing a new steam suit.
According to the Navy, while the current iteration of the service’s steam suits have performed well since being introduce a decade ago, sailors across the service have been making suggestions for how the suit could be improved.
Following up on these suggestions, the Navy has created a one-piece prototype suit that’s 9-pounds lighter than its previous incarnation and much easier to put on. In addition to lightweighting, the Navy has also moved the breathing apparatus to the outside of the suit, making it easier to swap out oxygen tanks. The suit will also be outfitted with gel packs that will cool a wearer even when working in a hot, humid environment.
While all of those improvements will make the steam suit easier and more comfortable to use, one of the strangest but also most helpful additions to the suit are its new “lobster claw” gloves. Featuring three fingers reminiscent of a Ninja Turtle’s digits, the claw replaces the old suit’s cumbersome mittens.
"Our goal was to create a lighter suit that enables users to get around better, quicker and easier," said Bob Bassett, NAVSEA's branch head for in-service submarine propulsion. "It's an all-around improved suit, and we can't wait to get feedback from the sailors after the trials."
Over the course of the next few months, the new steam suit will be tested by sailors aboard the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Toledo as well as two others. Those test should generate more design improvements which the NAVSEA team will incorporate into the final version of the suit. The Navy estimates that an improved steam suit will set sail in the near future.
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