Infantry: The Weight

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September30, 2008:  In the past seven years, the infantry (both army and marine) have done most of the fighting against Islamic terrorists. That has resulted in the infantry getting a lot more money for new weapons and equipment. And there has been a lot of new stuff that the troops found useful. New armor provided more protection. New radios were lighter and more reliable (often with every soldier in a unit having one.) New sensors enabled troops to not only see at night, but also in sand storms (using thermal sensors.) Even the food improved, with more popular items, and new water purifiers that eliminate the taste of chemicals older methods were infamous for. This last item was particularly popular for troops too far out there to get regular deliveries of bulk or bottled water. There were also more precision weapons, especially ones with smaller warheads. These were appreciated because they allowed use closer to the troops. That's because once the warhead goes off, the troops often have to rush in to kill or capture survivors, and seize documents. The closer the troops are to the target, the less chance enemy survivors have to shoot back.

But with all those improvements, there are still some serious complaints. The biggest one has been about the weight of all these marvelous new goodies. This is especially the case of the armor, and the batteries needed to power all the new sensors. Infantry going into combat wear armor, weapons, ammo, spare batteries, first aid kit, radio, water (especially critical in the heat of Iraq) and some food (you can burn up 5-10,000 calories a day in combat). Some troops find it essential to pack an iPod (a few ounces) or portable video game (a few ounces more), which can take your mind off all the action if you get to get some downtime. All this adds up to about a hundred pounds. That's too much, the troops are making a lot of noise about it, and that has resulted in a lot of research into how to make a lot of this stuff lighter. The troops attitude is, if the iPod and video games can keep getting lighter and more powerful, why not the rest of their equipment?

Another persistent problem is electricity. Not just the weight of batteries, but the weight of portable generators or solar cells to recharge batteries. The military is putting a lot of money into fuel cells (more powerful and lighter batteries that are powered a chemical reaction and tiny amounts of fuel). But currently, troops are being given rechargeable versions of the batteries they use, and small generators and solar panels to help keep up with energy demands.

As much as the troops appreciate all the night sensors, the big demand is for more of the portable thermal sensors (that sense heat, not just enhance available light, as do the 40 year old night sensors in wide use). The portable thermal sensors are new (they have been carried by armored vehicles for over twenty years), and there are not enough of them out there to satisfy the troops. The thermals are also heavier, use more energy, and much more expensive than the older light enhancement night vision stuff.

The troops also want more UAVs, and more access to the video the larger UAVs and manned aircraft generate. That, in turn, has created bandwidth problems. Much military communications is still using the equivalent of dial-up Internet access, while the troops need high speed stuff. That is coming, but not fast enough for troops who are getting shot at right now.

 


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