War under any conditions can be brutal. But in 1982 during the Falklands War between the UK and Argentina, the conditions were especially harsh. It was the dead of winter, cold and the 74-day conflict, which was fought in part over stormy seas, involved an amphibious assault and a sea battle that destroyed an Argentinian ship and led to the death of nearly 200 Argentinian sailors at sea.
In the end, it turned out to be a victory for Great Britain. But in addition to securing British sovereignty over the Falklands against an Argentinian invasion, the conflict ushered in a new era for military outerwear.
It was the first time a revolutionary new lightweight waterproof, windproof, breathable fabric called GORE-TEX® was used in battle. Prior to the invasion, British war fighters had been outfitted with rain jackets, parkas, trousers, bivouac bags and gators, worn over boots, made from this new fabric technology.
There was nothing else on the market like it, and the GORE-TEX® gear used during the Falklands replaced the traditional heavy, coated rain slickers that had been worn up to that point in similar conditions. British soldiers who fought in that conflict quickly spread the word about GORE-TEX® and its supportive capabilities in battle. From there, a vibrant new business unit at W. L. Gore & Associates (Gore) took off.
Today, the GORE® Military Fabrics portfolio includes a vast number of products. After the Falklands War, for example, Gore began developing the first generation ECWCS (Extended Cold Weather Clothing System) and from there developed other new ePTFE-based technologies.
In the 1990’s Terri Kelly, the company’s current CEO, played a key role in the growth of our military fabrics business. As business unit leader, and under her management, she helped set the tone for GORE® Military Fabric’s ongoing commitment to continual R&D and product development.
For example, the ECWCS clothing system we developed has become a staple with allied militaries around the globe. But today’s version is not the same as the one developed in the 1980’s. The 3rd generation version we sell today is highly advanced, yet not the end of the line.
Gore is a leadership company and we want to know that our products are always the best in the market in their category. At Gore, the science never stops as we develop new iterations of existing technologies, as well as new technologies, new lamination techniques and new ways to use our core ePTFE technology to suit a variety of very specific end applications.
Although Gore’s original ePTFE patent expired in 1994, we have developed different methods for manipulating the ePTFE membrane and multiple new patents have been registered over the years. There are now many different membranes our scientists can chose from and a variety of different lamination processes for use when developing products for the military.
In addition to having multiple variations on the GORE-TEX® theme, we have branched into a variety of other product technologies.
One example is GORE® PYRAD® Fabric Technology, a lightweight, flexible FR technology that self-extinguishes but can also have WWB capabilities (see our blog article below). We have also developed a wide range of chemical and biological protection products under our GORE® CHEMPAK® Fabric line. Other new innovations include breathable, lightweight, but highly durable uniform fabrics designed for hot climates made with an ePTFE fiber. That innovation is called GORE® Katana Fabric, and you can learn more about it here on our blog.
Since the Falklands War, we have continued to prove ourselves through multiple conflicts and today serve every branch of the US military.
The GORE-TEX® laminates include at least 40 major programs including the 3rd Gen ECWCS, FREE (Flame Resistance Environment Ensemble), SOCOM’s protective Combat Uniform (Level 6 and 3 Bravo) NWU 1,2 and 3 (the Navy working uniform in various camo patterns), the USMC Light Weight Exposure Suit, US Air Force APECS and much more. And in addition to clothing systems, our products include tents and shelters. We have a particular focus on developing products for SOCOM, as Gore perceives them as the “engines of innovation” when it comes to developing products for the U.S. military.
The old story is that in the Korean War the US lost more soldiers to the elements than to enemy gun fire. But since the first generation of GORE-TEX® fabric for military use, we have worked to turn that tide and are proud to be able to support our war fighters in battle.
We have a mission, too, and science lives at the core of that mission. Our R&D teams are continually developing new fabric technologies to support our forces during times of preparation and peace and ultimately, times of war.
So stay tuned to this blog.
This is where you can learn more about our newest products, our latest innovations and the technologies that will continue to set the bar for the industry, and continue to be game changers on the battlefield.