The Pentagon wants a new lightweight, durable, and flame-retardant ghillie, and they’re looking at hemp to make it.
For those of you who aren’t Army brats -- or who don’t play Call of Duty -- a ghillie is a camouflaged sniper suit. They’re those giant net-things covered in fake leaves that snipers wear to blend in with forests or fields.
And yes, the Army’s top brass is considering cannabis for creating the latest version of the ghillie suit, even though active duty personnel are banned from ingesting hemp’s most famous product, cannabidiol, or CBD.
Last week, the US government released a request for information (RFI) document written by the Department of Defense (DOD). The document seeks out a contractor who can supply the DOD with 400,000 yards of hemp yarn. (Or jute, or other natural fibers.)
As noted by Marijuana Moment, the hemp-laced ghillie suit isn’t the US government’s first foray into cannabis-based products. Recently, the feds bankrolled other hemp projects, including hemp-based insulation and construction materials. Similar projects have shown that houses built from hemp are more affordable and environmentally sustainable than using wood from trees or plastics. Hemp-based concrete can also absorb carbon dioxide from the air, which helps to mitigate climate change.
So, of all the Space-Age plastics and cutting-edge synthetic textiles available today, why is the US Army looking at hemp to build its latest sniper suit?
Today’s ghillie is already made from jute or other natural fibers. Adding hemp to the mix may just be a way for the DOD to diversify its sourcing options. Hemp has been a completely legal crop in the US since 2018, and most hemp residues are incinerated or sent to landfills after having CBD extracted from them.
Since the DOD’s RFI wants “Berry compliant” hemp, that means they want it either grown in the US or for its yarn to be processed in connection with US-based companies. The Berry Amendment basically requires US-sourced goods to go into government equipment or services.
And although the DOD’s most recent RFI doesn’t state why the Army is considering a switch to hemp, policy shifts over the past decade may explain why. Right now, the world’s biggest polluters -- manufacturing companies -- are trying to transition into a fully circular economy, an economy where there’s no waste and everything is recycled or reused. After all, it’s impossible to make profits if there’s no humanity remaining to profit from.
Also, big manufacturing corporations are rightly scared of their governments, which can tax or sue them into environmental compliance. But for governments to enforce sustainability, they must become sustainable, too. And the US military was one of the first megalithic institutions to make this environmental commitment: As far back as 2012, the US Army started implementing big changes to combat climate change.
Late last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to nudge all federal entities, including the military, toward a clean energy economy. Earlier this year, the US Army released its first official climate strategy plan. The Army also has its own Environmental Command, and the US Army Corps of Engineers accounts for environmental sustainability with all of its projects.
Of course, if the US Army really wanted an ultra-durable, ultralight ghillie suit, it should look beyond just hemp-based fibers. New research shows that hemp-reinforced plastic composites -- which could be made with biodegradable or recyclable plastic -- are stronger, lighter, and more flame-retardant than hemp or plastics alone.