Jun 3, 2010

Marine Corps fielding new gas mask

By James K. Sanborn - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jun 2, 2010

The Marine Corps is in the midst of fielding a new gas mask that will replace the 1980s-era M40 Field Protective Mask. Designated the M50 Joint Service General Purpose Mask, it has a similar fit and feel to the M40, but offers more protection and capabilities, according to Marine Corps Systems Command.
The mask, reminiscent of Darth Vader’s, is billed as compact, lighter, more comfortable and more effective by the Defense Department’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense.
Chief among its advantages is a wider field of view, afforded by a single lens that spans the width of the mask’s face. The M40 has two smaller lenses.
The new mask can withstand exposure up to 24 hours — about twice as long as its predecessor — and it uses two small filters instead of one large one. This allows Marines to more easily replace them while in a contaminated environment. A new life-span indicator shows when filters are spent.
Other improvements include lower breathing resistance, meaning wearers are less likely to get winded during strenuous activity, and a carrying pouch that integrates with existing load-bearing equipment.
The Marine Corps has procured more than 129,000 masks and is distributing them. In October, III Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa, Japan, became the first MEF to receive the M50, and immediately put it to use in the gas chamber. The mask also is being distributed in Hawaii.
As early as June, II MEF will be the next to distribute the mask, according to a SysCom spokeswoman. Marines under I MEF will get their hands on the mask late this summer.
The Corps also is fielding the M51, which is essentially an M50 outfitted with an array of accessories for use in vehicle-borne operations. Accessories can include a fire-retardant hood and a microphone adapter that makes radio communications clearer — especially important for ground commanders and air-traffic controllers.
Nearly all Marines can expect to at least train with the M50. But it isn’t just for Marines. It was developed for all services and other users include Special Forces, the Navy, the Air Force, the Army and the Coast Guard, according to the JPEO-CBD’s website.
Most Marines probably will use the mask only during training. But just because chemical, biological and radiological attacks haven’t played a role in current conflicts, Marine leadership has emphasized the need to remain equipped to deal with those threats.

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