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British army stepping into sneaker market

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The running shoe, above, is the British army's first commercial product.

The running shoe, above, is the British army’s first commercial product.

British Army, Associated Press

LONDON — The British army is going into battle — for a slice of the sneaker market.

A new running shoe that bears the force's crossed swords insignia and has the endorsement of army fitness instructors was launched this week in Britain, where it will compete for sportswear profits.

Makers of the PT-03 — named after the army's notoriously tough "physical training" program — hope the shoe's military link will help it stand out against scores of rival models.

"It has been created with the help of some of the fittest people on the planet — the army's own fitness instructors — which means it will stand up to the demands of any runner," said David Hinde, managing director of UK Gear, the small sportswear company based in Nuneaton that makes the PT-03.

The company also claims that the shoe, developed with the help of instructors from the Army Physical Training Corps, "embodies the army's values and standards."

British military gear has made news in recent years for its sometimes poor quality. Boots that melted in the sun and stifling uniforms featured among problems highlighted in a government report on a British military exercise in Oman in 2001. U.K. troops in Iraq last year faced problems receiving vital equipment in time, a committee of lawmakers said Thursday.

But Rowan Andrews, a spokesman for UK Gear, said he wasn't worried about the PT-03 being associated with shoddy military equipment. "That's completely an army matter," he said. "It's not for UK Gear."

The army will get a proportion of the revenue from sales of the PT-03, which has a recommended retail price of 79 pounds ($140). A spokeswoman from the Ministry of Defense declined to give details of the royalty payments. The army said its involvement in the development of the shoe hadn't affected its core activities. But Col. Robin Clifford, head of the force's commercial branch, said that "activities like this, with army personnel demonstrating that their specific skills can be of value and benefit to the public, are positive for the army."

The PT-03 is worn by all of the APTC's instructors, but it isn't part of the army's standard issue. A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said officials were considering whether to make it standard issue, instead of the current Hi-Tech Silver Shadow, which retails for about a quarter of the price of the UK Gear shoe.

Rob Spedding, deputy editor of Runner's World Magazine, tested the PT-03 and described it as a "serious" running shoe.

"My initial thoughts when approached by UK Gear was that it was maybe a bit of a gimmick," he said.

"But they're certainly serious about taking on people like Nike, Asics and New Balance. They're good running shoes, they were comfortable, they had enough cushioning, they seemed pretty well made."

But Spedding said he expected UK Gear — a little known brand — to face stiff competition in a multimillion pound (dollar, euro) market that sees some 170 new or improved models released each year by well established makes.

"It's a hellishly competitive category," he said. "It's a growing market, but there are so many choices."

Spedding added that the PT-03 would be better value if it retailed at about 10 or 20 pounds ($18-36) below the recommended retail price.

UK Gear said no retailer outside Britain sells the shoe, although it is available for sale internationally via the company's Web site.

On the Net: www.ukgear.com