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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Body Armor and the Soldier's Load 
Infantry officer and three-combat-tour veteran Andrew Exum weighs in on the body armor kerfuffle in the New York Times.

From 2000 until 2004, I was an infantry officer in the Army. I deployed with a light-infantry platoon to Afghanistan in 2002, then with a platoon of Army Rangers to Iraq in 2003 and back to Afghanistan in 2004. While I can testify that soldiers usually appreciate the protection body armor gives them, the load shouldered by the average infantryman often hinders his ability to fight - especially at high altitude as in Afghanistan.

But in Iraq, as well, the "soldier's load" is often unbearable. Most studies recommend that a soldier should not be burdened with more than one-third of his body weight. But if you take a 160-pound soldier and put 40 pounds of Kevlar and body armor on him and then he picks up an automatic weapon, ammunition, water and first aid equipment, it's not long before he is carrying half his body weight - and he is then expected to run, jump and fight insurgents, themselves carrying little more than a 10-pound AK-47. All of this, of course, often takes place in 120-degree heat in the cities of Iraq.

Lost among the politicians' cries for more extensive armor for the troops is the fact that most soldiers, in my experience and based on discussions with many, feel they have enough armor already - and many feel they are increasingly being burdened with too much equipment. And the new supplementary body armor unveiled this week in Washington doubles the weight of the equipment - worn over the torso and, now, the upper arms - to 32 pounds from 16 pounds (for a medium-sized soldier).


Exum is right. The military understands the soldiers' load issue. We've researched it over decades-long before the Iraq war. You don't give the dismount something else to carry every time some asshole gets a bright idea. I would say that anyone in congress pressuring the military or Administration on this issue without having taken the time to educate themselves is a dangerous moron.

From

Having dissected the problem of overloading and its
impact on the ability of our infantrymen to fight on the
modern battlefield, we must now solve the problem.
Thankfully, the solution will not require a single piece of
new gear, nor will it require an increase to our manpower.
Instead, it will require a commitment by leaders at all
levels to educate themselves and their men on the problems
of overloading. Acknowledgment of the problem is one part
of the remedy. To ensure that our forces possess the speed
and agility necessary to concentrate and win on tomorrow's
battlefields, the Marine Corps must educate its leaders on
the concept of "load tailoring" in order to eliminate the
dangerous overloading of our infantryman.


Yep. Hilary, you wanna tell a commander what armor his troops have to strap on? You better have some good ideas about what they don't need to carry anymore either.

One study of particular interest was conducted by the
Institute William Frederick in Germany in: the last few
years of the 19th century. The institute was particularly
interested in measuring the effect on infantrymen who were
carrying different loads under varying conditions of
temperature. The research demonstrated that a load of 48
pounds could be carried by a well-conditioned soldier in
cool weather with little difficulty. However, in warm
weather the same load produced an impairment in physical
strength, and the soldiers did not return to a normal state
until some time during the following day.


Hey knucklebrains! I've seen temperatures on the battlefield soar to 137 degrees!

Other German experiments focused on the effects
produced by increasingly heavier loads. The results
demonstrated that soldiers continued to show physical
distress regardless of the degree of physical conditioning.
The study, therefore, concluded that it is impossible to
condition the average soldier to march with a load once it
reaches 69 pounds no matter how much training he is given.
(8:48-49) This conclusion is in direct conflict with many
infantry and specialized unit training philosophies today.


Man, those Germans and their "experiments!"

The energy (energy cost) to perform a given task is
dependent on a number of variables. The primary variables
include the total weight of the load, rate of movement,
grade or slope of the terrain, the firmness of the ground,
and the physical condition, size, and fitness of the
soldier.


Slopes in Afghanistan are often severe. Where convoys are ambushed, they are often ambushed at a choke point, where a road passes near a piece of high ground or between two rises. When US troops counterattack, they must counterattack uphill. That is why the enemy chose that ground to engage. They would not engage otherwise.

Overloading the soldier would be crippling in this environment. It would slow them down as they dismount a stationary vehicle - the most vulnerable moment in the ambush. It would slow them down as they found a flank and began their assault. Therefore, it would lengthen the amount of time they are exposed to enemy fire before overrunning his position. The additional weight could make a proper 3-to-5 second rush next to impossible. Soldiers would take shortcuts to rushing techniques, 3-to-5 second rushes would become 10-second rushes after just a few bounds, and soldiers would be vulnerable during that extra amount of time it took to haul themselves off the ground. Think it won't happen?

From the same study:

American soldiers in
Vietnam carried packs whose weight made them disinclined to
crawl when under fire. (6:120) "They walked," wrote F.J.
West in Small Unit Action in Vietnam, "because they were
tired and it was easier to move than to stand. The weight
and bulk of their equipment contributed greatly to this
fatigue...."


The ultimate conclusions reached by the studies of several nations were very close:

About 1900, the French, British, and Germans began
experimenting with the weight and placement of the
individual soldier loads. Working separately, all three
countries reached the same conclusion: the maximum load
which soldiers carry should not exceed one-third of their
own body weight. (3:17)
In 1920, a British study discovered that armies
traditionally carried between 55 and 60 pound loads. The
commission finally reached the following conclusion:

... not in excess of forty to forty-five pounds was a
tolerable load for an average-sized man on a road
march. More specifically, ... on the march, training
purposes, the optimum load, including clothing and
personal belongings, is one-third of body weight.
(7:60)

At the conclusion of World War Two, S.L.A. Marshall
concluded in The Soldier's Load and the Mobility of a
Nation that the average American soldier's optimum load for
marching during a training period is slightly more than 51
pounds. Marshall further believed that the maximum combat
load for the individual should never be more than
four-fifths of optimal training load of 51 pounds.
(8:70-71) This figure accounted for the effects of fear
combined with the fatigue actually experienced in battle.
A 1954 Marine Corps Development center study concluded
that the maximum load for a rifleman should be lowered to
55 pounds for march conditions and 40 pounds for combat.
This study further revealed that the average load for a
Marine Rifle Squad was an unacceptable 71 pounds per
Marine. (13: 42)

In 1971, the Marine Advanced Recognition, Combat and
Exploitation Study (MARCES) was initiated to develop a
systems concept for a post-1980 infantry platoon and to
apply advanced technology to that concept. The study
identified minimum and maximum weights that can be carried
most economically by combat-committed Marines, while still
retaining some degree of combat effectiveness. These
weights were 30% and 40% of the individual's body weight,
respectively. (2:9)

Recognizing the ongoing nature of the problem of
overloading the"' individual infantryman, the Marine Corps
and Army have been jointly working on a project referred to
as the "Integrated Individual Fighting System." The
program includes field testing of commercial items, as well
as equipment already in the system. In addition, the
program attempts to take a systematic approach in analyzing
how much gear is being carried and in what manner it is
being carried. (7:62)

Results of this research indicated that the ideal
soldier's load was 30 percent of individual body weight, or
48 pounds, and the maximum load a soldier could carry
should not exceed 45 percent of his body weight, or 72
pounds. Research further indicated that training can only
improve load-carrying capability by 10 to 20 percent at
best.


Military leaders should read the whole thing, as the end of the piece gets into some good techniques for soldiers' load management and some commonly made mistakes.

And finally from Exum:

The problem with this noble sentiment is that the American public and its elected representatives don't always understand what military officers and soldiers do: that the safety of individual soldiers must always be balanced against the ability to accomplish the unit mission.

I worry that this timeless lesson is now being forgotten in the interest of minimizing American casualties. "Protecting soldiers," as an Army spokesman told me the other day, "is our No. 1 priority."

Excuse me, but shouldn't winning the war be our No. 1 priority?


Yes.

Eyes on the prize, people.

Splash, out

Jason

Comments:
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