Monday, 17 February 2014

Infantry weight overload

Many people have begun to realise the stupidity of sending soldiers into harms way with 90-100 lbs of gear on their back. It not only comes with health risks, but seriously impedes performance. There have been notable advances in lightweight field gear, but the military brass have a special talent for putting back every pound that is shed. This issue can be resolved by removing the authority of everyone (except squad and platoon leaders) to interfere with what the soldiers take into battle! Free from the desk jockeys influence, the men will be able to carry a more spartan load that does not exceed 1/3rd of their body weight. Lets see how easy it is to arrange a pack for the infantry.
There is a weight table over at combat reform which is very useful in this process of deliberation. Assuming a 180 pound man in peak physical condition, this sets our load at just 60 pounds. Can we supply the basics that are needed for two days in combat? If we start him off with 5 pounds of cloths, a 8.2 pound SCAR-H long rifle, and either an entrenching tool or an individual first aid kit (both of which weigh about 3 lbs), then hes left with room for just 43.8 pounds.
Leather combat boots, 4.20 lbs
PASGT Kevlar Helmet, 3.00 lbs
PASGT Kevlar Flak Jacket, 8.50 lbs (not including ballistic plate/carrier)
M17A1 Mask, 2.97 lbs
TLBV/ETLBV, 2.00 lbs
-Sub total, 20.67 lbs
1-quart canteen/cover/cup, 3.60 lbs
Medium ALICE ruck, 2.46 lbs
Ecotat lightweight sleeping bag, 2.10 lbs
Meal-Ready-Eat, 1.12 lbs (two)
Personal items, 4.00 lbs
-Sub total, 35.07 lbs
M9 Bayonet/wire cutter, 1.79 lbs
20-round STANAG magazine 7.62mm, 1.51 lbs (ten)
Arges Type 86 hand grenade, 0.39 lbs (four)
-Grand total, 53.52 lbs
UH OH... Does anyone notice a problem here? That 7.62mm ammo is taking up too much weight! But its not like we can switch to a 5.56mm caliber. No way, thats for sissys! We need to get radical here, think outside the box... Reducing the ammo supply clearly isn't an option: 200 rounds is right around the optimum amount required for each soldier *. Hmm... Then maybe we could use aluminum cased bullets? Not so long ago, guys like carlton meyer thought about the pros and cons of this ammunition. Meyers actual quote is: 'Aluminum cases are one-third the weight of brass, so a couple hundred rounds will weigh a pound less.' In reality, he might have been underselling the aluminum cases by quite a lot. Lets run some quick numbers to see.
A 7.62x51mm round weighs 25.5 grams, and the actual casing weighs 12.96 grams. Since it is made of copper (which has a density of 8.92 g/cm3), the weight savings that could be achieved by making it out of aluminum (which has a density of 2.7 g/cm3) are significant. The modified 7.62mm round could weigh just 16.44 grams. Put 20 of them together into a 172 gram STANAG magazine, and thats a weight of just 500 grams, or 1.10 lbs. With ten magazines, you can shave off 4.10 lbs! A laudable achievement, but still not enough for our purposes. We would have to switch out the STANAGs with PMAGs, since they only weigh 110 grams. With that arrangement, you've now saved 5.40 lbs of weight.
This doesn't exactly get us on target, but then, that just goes to show that arranging an infantry mans pack is more difficult than it looks. Its entirely a matter of compromise, and having the freedom to swap out gear on a day to day basis. Sometimes, there are just certain pieces of equipment that you know will not be needed, and they get dumped in favor of other things. A 60 pound limit is a difficult goal, but its something that must be achieved if we want soldiers to be capable of marching at high speeds with minimal fatigue. Modern infantry formations have too large a logistical footprint to be sustainable in a major war: BCTs typically posses around 210 of the lumbering HEMTTs, even though the brigade itself masses less than 5000 men! Western nations cannot depend on perpetual access to a massive quantitys of cheap fossil fuels: Someday, we will have to relearn the fine art of marching by foot.
*Some would suggest an alternative approach of using aluminum casings for 5.56mm (while accepting the inferior ballistics that come with it), but they don't say what all the saved weight would be used for. In practise, the men would probably end up carrying extra belts for the GPMG, which is not a bad a tradeoff.

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an old post, but this is something I think about from time to time.

    One possiblity which I never see discussed is simply recruiting larger infantrymen to begin with. In light of the small armies fielded these days, it wouldn't be difficult to only allocate above-average size men to the infantry. The size of the men can be further increased through bodybuilding. If the average infantryman were 6'2", 210 pounds then a 70 pound load would be sustainable.

    The downside of this approach would probably be increased recruiting costs. Additionally, in the event of a major war obviously this would reduce mobilization potential. But that could be partly addressed by placing smaller men in other branches, second echelon formations, rear area duties, etc.

    Saving weight on ammo is a no-brainer, and we can go much further than simply aluminum cased ammunition. Plastic-cased telescoped ammunition is now quite reliable.

    Personal equipment could be made much lighter by simply turning to the camping industry. Osprey produces better and lighter packs than the ALICE and MOLLE. A 3.6 pound canteen/cover/cup is absurd. Just point every infantry unit to and instruct them to buy their own kit (with a maximum weight limit) from the "ultralight" section.

    Food weight can be reduced with freeze drying. 5 ounces of freeze dried beef is equivalent to one pound of fresh or frozen beef. MREs contain water which is a ridiculous waste of weight for light infantry.

    Weight savings is also possible in the weapons themselves. A bullpup rifle is lighter than a normal one. A 1.8 pound bayonet is ridiculous. I'm not even sure that a bayonet should be issued at all, but if one is there's no reason it needs to weight that much. A Spyderco fixed blade knife with a 6.2" blade weighs 7 ounces.

    Lastly, it's worth asking if troops are wearing too much body armor.