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Finding shelter in fabric

May 1st, 2016 / By: / Category: Fabric Structures, Marine, Markets

Military shelters from Alaska Structures® are able to provide solutions for rapid deployment operations, warehousing and storage facilities and machinery or automotive worksites. Photos: Alaska Structures.
Military shelters from Alaska Structures® are able to provide solutions for rapid deployment operations, warehousing and storage facilities and machinery or automotive worksites. Photos: Alaska Structures.

Alaska Structures® Inc. recently completed a contract for 365 new and improved U.S. Air Force Medium Shelter Systems.

The United States Air Force (USAF) is no slouch when it comes to providing quality equipment, supplies and shelter for its ranks. The military branch recently invested more than $15 million in a Medium Weight Shelter Systems contract with the Anchorage, Alaska-based fabric structure company Alaska Structures® Inc. The project called for the design and fabrication of 365 new and improved U.S. Air Force Medium Shelter Systems.

Gerrit Boyle, the company’s executive vice president of government programs, who has been instrumental in developing fabric structures for government and military use, helped design and create the fabric shelters as an alternative to standard military tents. Under his leadership, Alaska Structures developed the Alaska Medical Shelter System, currently used by the USAF’s Expeditionary Medical Support System (EMEDS).

EMEDS is a field hospital system that relies on modular structures. The U.S. military developed the system for mobile deployment of hospitals and other medical facilities in locations around the globe. The systems rely heavily on fabric structures that are easy to ship; cost-effective to design and manufacture; easy to erect and disassemble; and can withstand harsh weather events, including high winds and heavy snow loads.

EMEDS have been used around the world for humanitarian assistance, war efforts and other medical response situations. One notable high-profile use of EMEDS was in September 2014, when 4,000 American troops were sent to Africa to provide support for medical efforts focused on defeating the Ebola virus epidemic. One of the main tasks for the troops was to establish EMEDS hospitals and other medical support buildings.

The Medium Weight Shelter Systems from Alaska Structures are designed to maximize useable space within the shelter.
The Medium Weight Shelter Systems from Alaska Structures are designed to maximize useable space within the shelter.

Military support

Boyle also organized the development of the Alaska Shelter System, used by the USAF and U.S. Special Operations Command for their bare base housing camps.

“Alaska Structures are rated for 20 years of continuous use in harsh/extreme environments to support military operations around the world,” Boyle says. The shelters are able to provide solutions for rapid deployment operations, warehousing and storage facilities and machinery or automotive work sites.

“[We] engineer each shelter, including this Alaska Medium Shelter, to meet higher wind and snow loads than traditional military tents, making it a great solution for billeting and maintenance applications,” says Boyle.

Military structures require a unique set of characteristics to make them safe, useful and cost-effective. Each of the 365 structures for this project is designed to be easily and quickly erected, disassembled, relocated and adapted to serve the needs of changing conditions and locations during ongoing military missions. The Medium Weight Shelter Systems are also designed for the maximization of usable space within the shelter, and for efficient and timely transportation.

Fabric performance

To meet the stringent demands of military-grade shelters, Alaska Structures selected a vinyl textile compliant with military performance specifications.

“The material is tested and complies with military spec MIL-PRF-44103D,” says Boyle. “The fabric is flame-, fungus-, mildew- and corrosion-resistant, and meets blackout capability requirements, making it the perfect material for our military shelters.” No special additives or treatments were required for the vinyl to meet USAF needs.

Manufactured by Bondcote Corp. of Pulaski, Va., the shelter vinyl weighs between 13.5 and 15 ounces per square yard, providing a breaking strength of up to 320 pounds.

The Bondcote vinyl is a reliable material that Alaska Structures and other companies have relied on for years, especially for outdoor shelters. “All fabric materials [have] been used in the field for over 20 years,” Boyle says. The vinyl has earned its stripes for more than two decades by providing 80 centimeters of hydrostatic resistance and a 2.5 scale rating for abrasion resistance, per MIL-PRF-44103D performance specifications.

Design and installation

The versatility and dependability of the contracted structures rely on simple design and installation principles. According to Boyle, no special crews or equipment are needed for the installation of the fabric to the structural frames. “The frame, fabric, lighting and electrical packages can all be installed by the same crew,” he says. “The Medium Shelter fabric attaches to the frame using a cable tensioning system. The cover is placed over the clear-span frame, then the contour and base cables are used to attach the cover to the shelter frame system.”

Alaska Structures controlled the design and manufacture of the shelter frames at its facility in Las Cruces, N.M., allowing them to create structures that met their exact specifications. More than 300 shelter systems were then shipped to their USAF locations. The retractable, lightweight shelters are designed for efficient and cost-effective shipping.

While no significant challenges presented themselves as obstacles during the design or manufacturing stages of the project, the order was on a tight deadline. “The government required all of the shelters to be delivered in less than 150 calendar days,” Boyle says, “and Alaska Structures finished delivery ahead of schedule.” With this project completed, Alaska Structures has now provided more than 35,000 American-made military shelters and more than 16,000 Environmental Control Units (ECUs) to U.S. and Coalition Forces for operations around the world since 1999.

Following in the footsteps of their successful Small Shelter Systems used by the USAF and other military branches, the Medium Shelter Systems are considered shelters of choice by the U.S. Special Operation Command’s Joint Bare Base Program.

Jake Kulju is a freelance writer based in Shafer, Minn.

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