More than just camouflage

Testing of new items of a soldier’s personal clothing and equipment is done at the Ground Warfare School at Kvarn outside Borensberg. Johan Skullman is the man responsible for materials and, as such, is part of the long chain that finally results in the introduction of new equipment; for example, a new uniform. Included in Johan Skullman’s role is the task of disseminating information to unit commanders.  "We are probably thought of as quite an irritant by some", he says.

Johan Skullman, who is responsible for testing of new personal equipment, worries about the trends out in the units. Photo: Ulf Petersson

In a memo to Headquarters, dated September 2007, the Ground Warfare School strongly criticised a growing trend among units towards the acquisition of unauthorised equipment: entirely outside the tightly controlled process of checking and testing that John Skullman represents. The memo reported that "For the last few years the procurement of unauthorised equipment has increased greatly at local level. Decisions to make such acquisitions are, by rule, taken by heads of unit or of personnel so authorised by the unit commander."

This trend is above all seen among units participating in international missions The document concludes by remarking on the fact that acquisition of unauthorised material, not only represents a security risk, but can also have a demoralising effect, giving an unprofessional impression..

Personal equipment and clothing is a means of showing belonging. Identifying yourself with your unit through exterior attributes is a way of fostering pride and of standing out from the crowd. The problem is that unauthorised items frequently fail to meet the right, highly demanding, standards.

- It is impossible to deal with safety and security issues if there is an array of disallowed equipment used by units. We have a situation today where salesmen travel around the country hawking their collections to the various units. Material and equipment entirely without specification, says Johan Skullman.

He pulls out two thick postal order catalogues. But they are not showing the Spring fashions from Ellos, instead there is page after page of combat vests, boots, camouflage underwear, knives and so on.

- There’s no problem regarding weapons. It does not occur to anyone to alter a weapon’s specifications, and the same goes for communications equipment, but it’s just a free-for-all when it comes to personal kit. There is a fashion in personal equipment and it’s often permitted out in the units. They just don’t understand all the work that goes in to our testing, says Johan Skullman.

There’s a fashion in personal equipment and Johan Skullman places blame at the feet of unit commanders.
- They just don’t understand all the work that goes in to our testing. We also have to pay regard to an employer’s duty of care.

The experience and qualified knowledge required to handle the complicated process behind material acquisition is located at the Survival School at Kvarn. It is here that we can find the necessary expertise in physiology, material science and research methodologies. And it is at Kvarn that tests and trials are performed and it is also here that product development takes place. But, still, Johan Skullman plays down the significance of a soldier’s equipment. Other factors play a much greater role in a soldier’s capacity, his physical combat value.

- Knowledge and experience are many times more important. You cannot simply buy an increased military effect by getting hold of impressive kit. No modifications are allowed when it comes to weapons. The same principle should apply to other personal equipment.

He wants to see a change in attitude. Pride, the feeling of being part of something unique, should be grounded in knowledge and professionalism.
- You can foster a sense of pride in being good at something.

Johan Skullman gives an assurance that work at Kvarn, and at other places, is not isolated from units up and down the country. It is important to learn from the experience of ordinary soldiers.

- We gather together the opinions of the users of the material. We participate in manoeuvres and exercises and observe units in areas of operation. We want to hear the points of view of others and there are even prizes for those who hand in the best suggestions.