October 31, 1999
US Army soldiers and Marines have experimented with a system of advanced infantry gear for urban warfare, with mixed results. Extensive joint Army-Marine tests at Camp Lejeune showed that infantry companies in such battles can expect 30-70% casualties in a heavy day of combat. Both the Army and Marines are looking for technologies that can reduce these casualties sharply.
@ The top hit of the recent tests had been the individual radio, which each infantryman wears as a headset under their helmets. Being able to talk in real time to every member of a squad has given the infantry a major tactical advantage. The tests have included identical operations, at day or night, with and without the $110 Kenwood Freetalk UHF radios and $350 Motorola Shark headsets. The results have shown conclusively the operations without the radios are far less efficient and effective than operations with them. The radios allow fewer men to cover more ground, and yet to still be able to move to support each other. The only drawback is that they are not "secure" and the enemy could listen in on the chatter.
@ Elbow and knee pads drew mixed reviews. Some soldiers and Marines praised them, noting that they saved no end of minor injuries. Others denounced them as "gear for wimps" who are more concerned with a bruised knee that with getting shot. Extended physical activity tended to cause the pads to slip, and tightening the straps cut off circulation. The overall impression was that the knee pads were probably worth using but that the elbow pads just got in the way.
@ The Israeli Simon breaching charge is basically a 357mm rifle grenade fired by an M16. It can blow a man-sized hole through a wall, and is useful for opening doors.
@ The M4 combat sling was highly praised as an innovative design that allowed the short M4 carbines to be carried across the back but quickly pulled into firing position.
@ Simunitions (paintballs that can be fired from weapons modified at a cost of $575 each) were found to be far superior to MILES lasers for determining casualties. MILES gear traditionally produces more arguments about who was hit and who wasn't than realistic training. Some body parts (arms and legs) are not covered by MILES and hence cannot be "shot". Which part of the body was hit is determined by a random card rather than the aim of the firing soldier.
@ Modern rifle scopes were able to provide a clear view at 400m at night (200m under cloud cover) but the troops were unimpressed with them as a general issue item, noting that they were heavy, bulky, easily damaged or knocked out of alignment, and often not needed.
@ New flak vests were tested which protect the torso (including the groin) from multiple hits by 7.62mm weapons, but are so awkward to get on that the troops have to dress each other and cannot put on the gear themselves.
@ The troops were concerned with weight. The new gear being tested add 10 pounds to every man's load, and there was concern that anything not immediately and obviously useful would simply be discarded once the troops deployed. While Army commanders noted that Rangers jumped into Panama with a "full tool kit" of 160 pounds, few soldiers find the idea of "having something just in case you need it" to be practical in combat. --Stephen V Cole