Some More Thoughts on the Soldier's Load.
The topic of the Soldier's load cannot be properly examined without some consideration of context. Many studies have produced long lists of equipment weights and somewhat neglected the functionality of the items. 30oz of entrenching tool is certainly heavier than a 20oz bayonet, but the entrenching tool is a more versatile and more useful item. Location of the item is another factor. Several kilos of worn clothing will carry differently to the same weight carried in a pack. Soldiers do not generally operate in isolation which reduces the need for the individual to carry duplicate or back-up items. If a Soldier is missing some item he can usually share with his comrades. If a unit is constructing fighting positions then part of the unit is likely to be guarding while the other part digs. This suggests that a unit does not need entrenching tools for every member of the squad.
Why are we walking?
There are certain military operations that are best performed on foot. A dismounted patrol will cover less ground but it will cover it more thoroughly and more stealthy. Just because a patrol is moving on foot, however, does not mean that it cannot make use of vehicles were the terrain allows. A lightly encumbered patrol could move on foot and when it reaches its intended overnight position vehicles can meet it with shelter gear and rations. British AFVs all have a source of hot water called boiling vessel (BV) which is useful for heating ration pack items and providing hot tea or coffee. If there is a need to conceal the overnight position vehicles can be met at a nearby location, minimising the distance equipment needs to be carried. Several fake-RVs can be conducted by the vehicles to keep the enemy guessing. Adding a mounted component to patrols has other benefits. Should the foot patrol encounter heavy resistance the vehicle element can be brought up to provide fire support and evacuate casualties. Should an enemy flee the foot patrol the vehicles can be directed to an intercept position.
There will be times when vehicles and dismounted troops may move together. In terrain where there is a high likelihood of ambush lightly encumbered troops on foot may form a screen around the slow moving vehicles. The majority of the infantrymen's equipment will be carried by the vehicles and troops will take turns walking and resting in the vehicles.
Logically, the only time that infantry would need to carry heavy loads is in situations where vehicle support is not possible. This will often mean operations in jungle or mountainous terrain. Look at any of the great mountain or jungle campaigns of the past and you will probably find there is one element that is noticeably under used in current operations. That is the mule. While the use of mules in mountain warfare is well known many jungle armies such as the Chindits have also made extensive use of mules. Prudence suggests that the best use of mules is to carry consumables such as food and ammunition. The loss of a mule is therefore not such a problem since the Soldier still has his personal supplies. If the four-legged mule is not going to be utilized then part of the unit must become porters rather than fighters. Porters carry the weight while less encumbered Soldiers handle defence and reconnaissance.
The army rucsack is not the best way to transport a heavy load. It is easier to pull a load than to carry it. Energy savings of as much as 88% have been recorded when using handcarts. Snow troops use pulks so why shouldn't other units use equivalent system? Boy scouts of the past used handcarts to move their gear and some armies have done the same. German infantry made extensive use of small trailers that could be moved by man, animal or machine. The US Army and USMC also used handcarts in WW2. If mortars and ammo can be moved in a cart why not the rations to feed the crew? Whilst a cart with a wide wheelbase may be mechanically more efficient Soldiers operating without vehicles will probably be operating in restricted terrain where routes may be no wider than a man's shoulders. Viet Cong and NVA modified bicycles so that they could be loaded down with gear and pushed by a man or woman walking beside -a system that could navigate the narrowest trails. Carts designed to carry stretchers can be used to carry other loads on narrow trails. Arctic units use the pulk and in many environments a Travois can be easily constructed. If a load must be carried two men carrying a load slung from poles can move it more easily than on their backs. If the situation really requires a load to be carried on the back then we should consider the features of the Korean A-frame (Chige - right). Its long legs allow the carrier to rest his load at any time just by bending his knees. By using a walking pole to prop it up the wearer can don or remove it without having to roll around on the ground and struggle to get up. The A-frame can also be used to form part of a shelter in treeless terrain. Several companies are developing powered exo-skeletons systems but it looks like it will be some time before these are actually of a form that can be used as a combat system. Combined with an A-frame they may be useful for a military portering system in the near future.
To many this is the infantryman's reason d'être and there is no way we can eliminate this category. Quantity and contents are something that can be addressed. Most studies have concluded the infantryman carries far more rounds than he needs, but understandably running out of ammo is a concern for the individual. At the end of Jan 67 The 4th Infantry Division at Pleiku concluded that no more than 300 rounds per man was needed. (US Army Uniforms of the Vietnam War, Shelby Stanton, page 13 4th Infantry Division Operational Report 1 Feb 67, p32).
More efficient use of ammo by improvements in realistic fire discipline, combat marksmanship and snap shooting is a partial answer. Fully automatic fire with Assault rifles needs to be reserved for CQB and Clusters. All other targets are engaged with semi-automatic and rapid semi-automatic fire.
Soldiers tend to fire until a target falls or disappears so the adoption of the harder hitting 6.5mm MPC round may reduce the number of rounds used per engagement. For 5.56mm weapons it needs to be understood that a 14.5 barrel is the minimum needed to produce a sufficient velocity. Infantry rifles will perform better with a 16 barrel and M249s need to be fitted with the 18 barrel rather than the 13 para-barrel. For units that are travelling any distance dismounted the M27 Automatic weapon with a Drum or Beta C-mag may be a more practical option than the M249.
Issuing some of the Soldiers' ammo in stripper clips would also lighten the load. Familiarisation with weapon systems other than rifles would also help. In certain situations compact concussion grenades or mini-claymores can be more effective than the equivalent weight in magazines. For a point man making a hostile contact firing an already fitted rifle grenade may be a better response than reflexively emptying the magazine.
Military body armour is probably here to stay and has saved numerous lives. How much the weight of armour can be reduced remains to be seen, but the weight of armour is not the only way that it contributes to Soldier fatigue.
When operating in hot climates, the Soldier's uniform beneath his body armor becomes saturated with perspiration and remains wet throughout the operation. The sweat-soaked uniform proves very uncomfortable at night as the desert cools. Even nighttime temperatures between 60-70 °F can feel frigid to a Soldier in wet clothing when he was operating in 116 °F temperatures only a few hours earlier, as was the case during Operation Resolute Strike. page89
A combat jacket is designed to keep out the wind. It is made of a cotton mix and cotton is a textile notorious for feeling cold when wet and being slow drying. The combat jacket is not suitable for wearing beneath relatively impermeable body armour. Future combat clothing systems have to take into account that armour will be worn and will have an effect on ventilation, heat retention, windproofing etc. In previous centuries when men have worn armour it has usually been worn over a padded garment such as a gambeson or aketon. Not only were such garments padded to reduce chaffing but they were usually of a quilted construction that may have allowed air to circulate more easily. Modern body armour needs to be worn over garments that allow the escape of hot humid air and the circulation of cooler air. Garments such as RVU use a ribbed construction to create an airspace. They are made of Coolmax, a very comfortable, fast drying and easily laundered material, An undershirt suitable for wear under armour needs to become standard issue. It should be made of a material such as Coolmax and use features such as ribbing to create a ventilation space between the wearer and his armour. Whether the garment should be full sleeved, half sleeved or short sleeved remains to be determined but it should have a collar to prevent chaffing. In recent years synthetic combat shirts with camouflaged sleeves have come into more common usage. While these are a step in the right direction, I do not believe they are the optimum solution. On some examples the sleeves are stylishly close cut. Looser sleeves will allow better air circulation and allow protective elbow pads to be worn under the sleeve, improving both camouflage and air circulation. Rather than attaching the sleeves to the undershirt ventilation will be more effective if they are attached to the armour or a separate combat smock is worn over the armour and undergarments.
Any clothing system that is to be worn with body armour needs to pay particular attention to air circulation and venting. In an older article I have suggested that modern body armour based on the roman Lorica Segmenta may prove to be both more effective and better ventilated. Soft areas of body armour should have ventilation zips in the area of the armpits. These can be opened during the march or when hot and closed in colder conditions or during action. Garments worn over the armour need similar features to permit the escape of hot humid air.
The use of a combat smock that can be worn over the armour will offer many advantages to the modern Soldier. It will offer a better level of camouflage, particularly if the body armour is of a colour not suited to the terrain. Being of a loose cut it will have a bellows effect and increase the efficiency of air exchange, improving the comfort when wearing armour. By wearing the smock over a rain jacket a relatively lightweight small packing jacket can be used since it is protected from abrasion. Wearing your raingear underneath another garment also helps the wearer move more quietly. The Dutch army has issued Goretex liners for parkas and combat jackets that use this idea.
One effect of using a smock is that the practice of attaching pouches directly to the armour will not be so practical. This will necessitate a webbing system that can be worn over the smock. I do not see this a disadvantage and believe it will yield several benefits.
Since such a webbing system is being worn over armour it does not need to be particularly padded so can be relatively lightweight. Properly designed such a webbing could also be used as a harness for rappelling or helicopter extraction.
- Putting on and removing body armour will be easier without the considerable added weight of attached pouches.
- If a Soldier becomes a casualty his ammo and other webbing carried items can be rapidly removed for use by his comrades.
- In the event of a surprise attack it is easier for a Soldier to pull on a set of webbing than it is to try an put on armour with attached pouches.
- Since webbing can always be the outermost layer the Soldier can easily use cold weather or foul weather clothing over his armour.
- In the event of an NBC alert protective clothing can be rapidly put on over the armour while still maintaining access to ammunition.
The combat smock would be complemented by a new style of combat field trouser. This would be cut generously in the leg so that it can be worn over protective kneepads. This both improves camouflage and air circulation. Side zips allow the trousers to be removed without removing boots and allow easy access to the leg in event of injury. These zips can also be part opened to improve ventilation in hot weather. Such trousers are designed to be used with gaiters so are cut to finish six inches below the knee. This saves on material but also on bulk and weight, so the spare trousers take up less room in the pack. If there is a minimal insect threat trousers can be worn with their bottoms outside the gaiters for better air circulation. Unbloused trousers may give some old Soldiers a heart attack but comfort and functionality are more important.
If you are wearing body armour and marching keeping warm is generally not going to be much of a problem. In fact removing heat and keeping your clothing ventilated is going to be more of a concern, as I have already covered. If a Solder ceases activity then for a few minutes his body will continue to sweat and attempt to cool itself. This can be potentially dangerous if the perspiration is allowed to condense in the clothing. The solution is to keep venting your garment and put on an additional insulating layer to ensure a less drastic reduction in temperature. This is why marathon runners wrap themselves in blankets at the end of a race but this is just as important for hikers and Soldiers. Various garments can be used for this application but if we are going to lighten the Soldier's load the best choice is probably a poncho liner with an opening for the head. The poncho liner is already carried as a component of the sleeping system so does not contribute extra weight, unlike an additional jacket carried for warming. The blanket poncho (as opposed to the rain poncho) is a type of cloak and outdoorsmen and Soldiers have known the value of a good cloak for millennia. When still the cloak traps a larger volume of air, so is warmer. When moving the cloak automatically ventilates itself, moving humid air out and drier air in. A cloak also serves as a blanket or pad to sleep on. A cloak can easily be thrown aside or discarded should the wearer need more freedom of movement or to access ammunition and weapons beneath.
Gaiters are a useful part of any outdoorsman or Soldier's apparel. They protect the bottom of your trousers and keep them cleaner. They keep out insects and even offer some protection from snakes. Gaiters are a great thing to have if you have to wade across a river. You place your gaiters, socks and a towel at the top of your pack before crossing. When you reach the other side you put a gaiter outside down on the ground and step onto it with your bare feet when removing your boots. Dry your feet, put on your dry socks, put on your boots back on and then your gaiters. A good set of gaiters will stay in position without needing a strap beneath the boot. Such a strap will often wear rapidly and pick up debris.
Field boots should be brown with a matt finish. Cans of boot polish have no place in a combat kit. If boots need a little more protection in the field then vaseline can be applied to them. A small tin of vaseline takes up very little room and can be used on chapped lips. minor wounds and applied to the toes or crotch to prevent chaffing.
Since an extra ounce on the feet is like pounds on the back boots should be as light as is practical. Studies have concluded that loads carried on the feet result in an energy cost five to seven times higher than an equivalent load carried on the upper body. For each kilogram added to the foot, the increase in energy expenditure is 7% to 10%. I have a pair of boots constructed rather like a Vietnam jungle boot, in that the lower is leather and the ankle part is woven nylon. I've been wearing these in all weathers for more than a decade so this configuration is worth looking into for environments other than jungle.
A lightweight sleeping system for a pair of Soldiers might comprise of the following. Each man carries
Between them they carry a pair of sandbags, a bivi-bag, a kipmat and an EVAC panel. Pole sections and pegs may be needed too.
- Lightweight sleeping bag.
- Sleeping bag liner.
- Rain Poncho.
- Poncho liner with head opening.
- Spare underarmour tunic and underwear.
- Spare field trousers.
One man sleeps while the other stands watch. The EVAC panel is a multifunctional item that can be used as a poleless litter or Aircraft signalling panel. In this instance it is used brown side up as a groundsheet. The kipmat provides insulation from ground chill and the Soldier sleeps inside the bivi-bag. One of the rain ponchos can be rigged for additional shelter. Both sleeping bags are of the same type and usually one would be used while the other is kept in reserve. In very cold conditions one bag is used inside the other. These would be bags such as the Snugpack Merlin which weigh only 900gms, are small packing and individually can be used at temperatures down to zero. The sleeping Soldier also has his poncho liner and warm headgear for added warmth. The Soldier changes into his dry spare underwear and trousers to sleep and wears a sandbag over each boot if he is sleeping in them. Each Soldier has his own easily washed bag liner made from something such as fast drying paratex. This keeps the inside of the sleeping bag clean, adds a little more insulation and makes having to use a sleeping bag someone else has already slept in more pleasant.
The Soldier on watch will probably be wrapped in his poncho liner and may be using his poncho too for shelter. He sits on his assault pack or a folded EVAC panel.
This is not the lightest possible sleeping system but is intended to create a good balance between weight, performance and versatility, the objective being a well rested Soldier. There is a prudent element of redundancy to this system. If there is no kipmat, a poncho liner can be used beneath the sleeper. If the bivi-bag is lost, there is still a poncho and so on. The above suggested system is good for most environments. Sub-zero conditions will need higher performance sleeping and shelter items. Jungle operations can use lighter sleeping bags or blankets and will need better insect protection.
Information and Power.
Information Gathering is in many cases a more important infantry function than actively engaging an enemy. Information gathering includes observation and surveillance devices, recording and communications to pass the data on. How many of such devices does a squad or platoon need and can they be lightened and improved by using more up to date technology?
Many of these devices can probably be miniaturized further. Some current issue equipment is rather old in design and much lighter and more effective alternatives are available across the counter in our high streets, often costing a lot less too.
Radios, GPS, Night Vision Equipment, Flashlights and various Laser devices are just some of the electronic items that a modern Soldier may carry in the field. Some estimates have over 10% of a Soldier's load being batteries alone. Ten to fifteen pounds!
If we treat the Soldier as a wholistic system then we can probably make some weight savings by eliminating unnecessary duplication. If a rifle has a laser spot, a flashlight and a nightsight they should be able to use a common power system. If his weapon has a high-powered flashlight then the flashlight in his pocket or on his webbing does not need to be particularly large or bulky.
During World War Two military units used hand-crank generators to power their radios. In 1991 Trevor Baylis combined a clockwork mechanism with a hand crank to power a radio receiver, a minute or so of winding giving more than twenty minutes of use. Modern versions of this technology have got even smaller and will also recharge mobile phones and similar devices. Some modern hand crank generators weight under a pound. Note that many commercially available hand crank devices intended to power mobile phones also serve as LED flashlights, and many hand powered LED flashlights also recharge mobile phones.
Potentially all of a Soldier's electronic systems can be fitted with rechargeable batteries and standardized with Micro-AB sockets, allowing human-powered generators to be carried instead of a greater weight of spare batteries. Military vehicles would be fitted with recharging ports for the Soldiers' gear. Other technologies can supplement this system. Rifles spend much of their time in the open air rather than packed away in pockets so a small solar panel fitted to a rifle fore-end could top-up the charge in the weapon's universal battery.
An electric motor can also work as a generator, so hand-crank systems can easily be built by units. The page here shows a generator made from a drill. Not the most compact example, but lighter than a mass of batteries and illustrates the basic principle.
Nickel and Diming.
Certain items of a Soldier's load it is unlikely that we will be able to get rid of. He will need his armour, but we can take some measures to increase his comfort and reduce fatigue that using it may cause. He will need ammunition, and the best we can do is ensure that he carries a realistic quantity and uses it effectively. There will, however, be many items that are there just in case or nice to have and a few ounces there and a few more here soon builds up in to extra pounds. As veteran Soldier and writer Ralph Zumbro put it:- Modern Soldiers are nickel and diming themselves to death.
Washkits, for example, can be stripped down to just a few items such as soap, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste and towel shared between a pair of Soldiers.
Something that I noted on the lists here is that every Soldier seems to be carrying a Multi-tool and bayonet. A typical set of Multi-pliers such as a Leatherman weights 8.5oz, more than half a pound. Does every Soldier in the platoon really need wirecutter/pliers? If they do need them wouldn't this capability be more effectively served by a dedicated tool that is not only lighter but electrically insulated? If the Multi-tool is just there to provide screwdrivers, scissors and a nail file then a basic Swiss Army Knife weighs only 3.5oz. If you must have a folding set of pliers the Leatherman Squirt weighs only 2oz.
The majority consensus these days is that bayonets are unlikely to be used attached to a rifle muzzle. Even if this were not the case the typical modern bayonet is too heavy to be ideal for this application. As a field utility knife bayonets like the M9 and SA-80 bayonet are also less than ideal, there being many field knives that are lighter and more useful. For the same weight as an M9 or SA-80 bayonet I can carry a 10 bladed kukri! On this page I discuss how the majority of an individual Soldier's needs can be met by a stout but modest length fixed blade.
Also in the category of unnecessary weight we must include the carrying of any information that is not needed and may aid an enemy. In another article I have suggested that up to date mobile phone technology could be used to improve Soldier communications. Personal use mobile phones are another matter and have no place in the field. People are stupid enough to use their phones while driving or walking across the road looking at their texts so I'd not put it past a Soldier to be mucking around with his phone when he should be doing something critical. Modern phones can provide considerable information to a captor. Do you really want a terrorist phoning your mother and recycling your phone to set off an IED?
Food is obviously something that a Soldier cannot do without but we can address the quality and quantity. How many days' rations is it realistic for a Soldier to carry? Many military rations are based on the cultural concept of breakfast, snack and meal which is often not practical in the field. Studies have shown that Soldiers often only eat the components of a ration pack that they can eat on the move and the tactical situation may prevent cooking or reheating. This means that not only is a Soldier not getting his full calorific intake, but he is wasting further energy carrying food items that he does not eat.
Energy bars and the First Strike ration are only part of the answer.We need to look to the past at proven trail foodstuffs such as pinole, fruit-leather and jerky. On another page I discuss this idea in greater detail. Non-nutritional items such as chewing gum need to be dropped from the ration pack entirely and replaced with something that has actual calories or that serves a useful function such as a sachet of foot powder.