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Pacific wing to test concrete-bearing cloth

Sep. 23, 2012 - 10:30AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 23, 2012 - 10:30AM  |  
Concrete Canvas Shelters inflate and harden into a concrete structure within 24 hours. First Marine Aircraft Wing in Japan plans to evaluate the structures for future protection against 
small-arms fire, inclement weather and flames.
Concrete Canvas Shelters inflate and harden into a concrete structure within 24 hours. First Marine Aircraft Wing in Japan plans to evaluate the structures for future protection against small-arms fire, inclement weather and flames. (CAVE Systems)
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Marines in the Pacific will soon experiment with a new inflatable shelter that hardens into a semi-permanent concrete structure in just 24 hours and protects against fragmentation, small arms, fire and inclement weather.

Officials with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Japan intend to evaluate two "Concrete Canvas Shelters," according to Gunnery Sgt. David Drafton, a spokesman for Marine Corps Bases Japan in Okinawa. It's not immediately clear when the test will occur, though, as no contracts have been finalized.

The MAW wants two 54-square-meter shelters and two thermal liners for each, according to a September solicitation to the defense industry. Additionally, officials want 160 square meters of extra Concrete Canvas, which can be used to fortify HESCO barriers and sandbags or to construct roadside canals to deter improvised explosive emplacement.

The tents were invented by a Welsh company, Concrete Canvas Ltd. They're made from a proprietary concrete-impregnated cloth that can be molded to nearly any shape before being wetted and left to set. Costing between $20,000 and $30,000 each on the commercial market, they come in two sizes, 25- and 50-square meters, and weigh 1.9 and 3.1 tons, respectively, before they're erected.

To set up one of these shelters, two Marines would need between one and two hours, according to a company spokesman. Once the concrete-cloth exterior is inflated around its interior liner, the shell gets soaked with either saltwater or freshwater and is left to cure. That chemical reaction can harden the concrete even under water, according to Scott Shoemaker, a spokesman for Cave Systems of Alexandria, Va., the U.S. distributor for Concrete Canvas products. That means even monsoon season in the Pacific, for example, should not impede use.

Once established, these structures are designed to last up to 20 years, the company says.

The shelters will likely be tested during routine exercises to determine their potential value for future expeditionary operations, Drafton said, noting, "Our belief is that 1st MAW must always be prepared to deploy to austere expeditionary environments throughout the Pacific region, where climates can vary from tropical to freezing."

The structures could be ideal for field medical facilities because their inner liners create a sealed, dust-free workspace, unlike tents with open bottoms or fitted fabric floors. Most likely, they'll be used in instances where Marines would have erected prefabricated structures or K-span buildings Quonset hut-like structures built quickly on site using specialized machinery.

And while the concrete shelters would likely fill a different role than the Corps' general purpose tents, they offer distinct advantages over both traditional tents and current semi-permanent structures, the company says.

First, because they're concrete, they are able to stop some bullets and fragmentation from mortars, bombs and grenades, according to the company. Also, they can be covered in mud or snow, which increases insulation, especially when paired with an internal liner.

"The concrete provides a much higher thermal mass than [a] soft-skinned shelter, meaning it will stabilize internal temperature in environments with high day-night variation, such as desert climates," Shoemaker said.

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