Sunday, March 29, 2009

Praxis: Lose weight or die.

Heavily laden Marines move forward during Fallujah fighting.

Here's another discussion about combat loads from Strategy Page. I'll have some comments after the article.


Lose Weight Or Die

March 24, 2009: After years of complaints from the infantry, including everyone from officers to NCOs to the newest grunt to arrive, the U.S. Army is going to try something drastic about the weight situation. A battalion in Afghanistan is being equipped with the lightest substitutes the army could find for body armor, packs, boots and other gear, while simply leaving some stuff out entirely. This resulted in twenty or more pounds, depending on the mission, being removed from the soldiers combat load. The effectiveness of the battalion will be monitored, along with the injury and casualty rates. The troops (including officers and NCOs) will also be interviewed, to get a better idea of just what happens, good and bad, when the weight is reduced. After all that, the brass will decide how far to go in reducing the load permanently, and going for even more cuts.

The biggest, and heaviest, problem is body armor. Although the new armor offers better protection, it is heavier and bulkier, thus inducing fatigue and hindering mobility. This often led to battlefield situations where a less tired, and more agile, infantryman could have avoided injury. Military and political leaders usually do not appreciate this angle. But the troops do, as it is a matter of life and death for them.

Senior commanders are under a lot of pressure to keep friendly casualties down, so they tend to insist that the troops wear all their armor all the time. Despite this, some subordinate commanders look the other way when troops shed their armor temporarily to get some needed speed. The new protective vests have a quick release feature, that makes it easier to get the vest off, and back on again.

Many soldiers and marines point out that the SOCOM operators (Special Forces and SEALs) will sometimes go into action without their protective vests. Again, that is done because completion of the mission is more important than covering your ass when a reporter goes after you for "unnecessary casualties." Many of the troops are willing to take the risk, because they believe, for example, that taking down a sniper when you have the chance, is worth it. If you don't catch the guy, he will be back in action the next day, killing Americans.

Currently, the lightest load carried, the "fighting load" for situations where the troops were sneaking up on the enemy and might be involved in hand-to-hand combat, is 63 pounds. The "approach march load," for when infantry were moving up to a position where they would shed some weight to achieve their "fighting load", is 101 pounds. The heaviest load, 132 pounds, was the emergency approach march load, where troops had to move through terrain too difficult for vehicles. As in the past, the troops often ignored the rules and regulations and dumped gear so they could move, or keep moving.

In Afghanistan, the problem is made worse by the high altitudes (up to 5,000 meters) the troops often operate at. The researchers found that in Afghanistan, even though the infantry were in excellent physical shape, troops would sweat nearly 20 ounces of fluid an hour while marching at high altitudes in bright sunlight in moderate temperatures. That meant more weight, in water, had to be found to keep these guys going.

A lot of the weight carried is essential stuff. Weapons, for example. The Army saved two pounds in the 1960s when they switched from the M-14 rifle to the M-16. A lot of weight was saved in ammo carried as well, because a hundred M-16 bullets weighed two pounds less than a hundred M-14 ones. Troops usually carry 200-300 rounds of rife ammo with them. Plastic canteens replaced metal ones and lighter sleeping bags showed up, as well as lighter clothing. Lighter food (pouches of MREs instead of cans of C Rations). But heavier stuff was added, like the 17 pound "Interceptor" bullet proof vest and the heavier Kevlar helmet. Special Forces troops often go into action without body armor, and keep the load under 40 pounds. But that's only in those situations where the Special Forces calculate that speed and achieving surprise are worth more than the protection the vests provide. Most troops do not have that option, but they do need less weight on their back to remain competitive with the enemy they fight in rural Afghanistan.

While it is true that the M14 was heavier than the M16 when initially issued, with all the stuff hung on the weapons as issued in Iraq now, the current version often weighs more than older, larger caliber rifle. In any case, the rebirth of M14s as Designated Marksmen rifles in Iraq proves the utility of the 7.62 NATO cartridge over the 5.56.

For the armed citizen, much of this discussion is moot for the overwhelming majority of us do not possess body armor, nor are we likely to procure it anytime soon. Still, the light rifleman, able to shoot and move with maximum accuracy and maximum speed, is I think the best guarantor of his or her own safety. Comments?

Marine with M14 rifle (and little else) during combat operations in Vietnam.


Anonymous said...

MSAR STG-556 bullpup starts at just over 7 lbs w/20" barrel. Add a 4 oz Aimpoint Micro T-1 optic, and 30 rounds and you're around 8.8lbs in a very ergonomic package.

Steyr Scout 308 (Jeff Cooper model) weighs 7 lbs and is EXTREMELY ergonomic and versatile for medium range sniping (300-500 yds). 19" barrel. Two 5-rnd mags. Integrated bipod.

My point: start with a low weight rifle if you can.

Anonymous said...

Of course, this is all moot if you're not in at least fairly good shape. And remember, being able to run a very long distance with extra weight is better than just being able to lift a whole lotta weight.

If you're really big, muscle wise, then the added weight of a pack and rifle and whatnot will tire your joints and bones quicker than it would for less bulky person. Big muscles aren't as necessary as you might think. Strong muscles are necessary. It's better to be able to do a lot of pushups without stopping than it is to be able to bench 300 pounds once. Same goes for legs and back. Focus on endurance first, strength second, and size not at all.

On the flip side, marathon runners might not make the best soldiers. I wonder how good their times would be, or how long their stamina would last, if they were wearing a 30 pound pack and carrying a 10 pound rifle.

The USMC physical fitness requirements are probably a very good goal to shoot for, if you're not there already. Minimum is 40 sit ups in 2 mins, 3 pullups, and 3 miles in 28:00. Note, this is minimum. Anything less is failure. Top score is 100 situps in 2 mins, 20 pullups, and 3 miles in 18:00. They don't measure pushups, but you should add pushups to your goal, 40 in a row without stopping is a good goal.

AvgJoe said...

During Lincoln's war much of what the South used in fighting the north with was marked US.
If anyone looks into the records the CSofA you will see they kept records that are spot on. They knew if a soldier used leaves or paper taking a dump before X battle. The records the South were never kept on J. E. B. Stewart's men. The reason was the South didn't want the north to trial these men if in the event the South lost the war. They fought out of uniform which could be seen as traders by the North's military laws.
My thoughts on Mike's post is of what soldiers carry is supplies and my thoughts of supply lines in addition. Even Swamp Fox hit the Red Coat supply lines as a way to keep the needed items to fight with. Which is what the airplane was first used for in war was to get behind the lines to attack the supply lines coming up to the front. This was huge in a newer and more modern warfare.
RFID makes things interesting in this department of supplies and supply lines. The front will know what is coming up and how far its off to arriving. This will reduce the needed amount soldiers have to carry in many situations. This can be done by field computers and not one word of radio contact needs to be made.

MPA-III said...

Helmets, with very, very few exceptions are not worth the protection they are tasked with providing to the troop (which is minimal) when balanced against the loss of hearing due to wind noise, the stress on the head/neck causing head and neck aches and continual discomfort to the troop, no matter how seasoned.

A boonie hat or patrol cap is much more functional.

Body armor? Nope. The requirement primarily comes from the "avoiding unnecessary casualites" mind set as discussed in the article. Slows you down way, way too much. I'd rather my guys take their chances with speed versus moving like the proverbial tortise taking hits. It's harder to hit someone who is fast, and the lack of body armor also keeps the man moving longer, farther and faster, because he's NOT TIRED!

Ruck weight? 45 lbs absolute max! Especially if you don't work out a few hours a day and do roadwork every day!! The ruck weight includes 1 resupply of ammo (usually 200 rounds of 7.62 NATO/300 5.56mm) and food for 4 days, however you break that up, and some water.

Rifle? Full length MBR (whatever caliber you choose)...possibly with an ACOG or scout scope...if you need it.

Other than that, you cache or have a support base.

At least that how it goes in our AO.

ParaPacem said...

Once more - looking at the lessons we SHOULD have learned in Vietnam - how many guys dumped flak jackets and helmets and went with t-shirts and boonies when moving through sweltering, humid areas, instead of humping 40 to 60 pounds of stuff, trying to maneuver as well as Charlie, carrying only his wepaons, maybe a canteen and bandolier and a light ruck?
Imagining the intolerable conditions in the sand box, of heat, wind, sun and the heat held in by sand underfoot, I cannot see how our troops manage! It is a tribute to their physical prowess and their determination that they can even function in such circumstances!

And once more, bringing the thought train back home to US ground, this would be an advantage for the "irregulars", the native inhabitants of a city or state dealing with an oppressor / occupying military force. For the guerilla fighter, especially if operating in 'grey man' guise when not on an actual operation, hauling food and water would be an unnecessary concern. IMHO, it would be pretty much impossible for any force - foreign or domestic - to succeed agaisnt US citizens on home turf.

tom said...

6.5 Grendel and 6.8 SPC AR/M rifles are better all around than 7.62 and Grendel is ballistically a better long range round past 300 yards than 7.62, 6.8 is a bit better inside 300 on energy but Grendel is more accurate.

M-14s are never going to come back as anything but an occasional special purpose rifle and even that is declining as other sniper rifle systems and DM rifles are coming on line.

Love it or hate it, those are cold hard facts. All those M rifles can become 6.5/8 rifles with a swap of uppers and bolts. they'll still be lighter. They reach out better. The ammo is slightly lighter than 7.62NATO but hits as hard. If anything changes, that's the direction change will go unless we go to a completely different rifle platform, which I find very unlikely, especially with the push to reduce military and war spending.

The modern AR/M rifle platform is well sorted out due to DECADES of development and isn't a piece of garbage like SA-80s. It's not going away soon.

Tom Austin said...

Also, note that our troops (especially in Iraq) can get away with those loads because they can drive or chopper anywhere they need to go, and often in an urban environment. If they were making week-long foot patrols in the boonies, the loads would be very different.

idahobob said...

All of that armor is all well and good if (1) you are sitting in a foxhole or bunker (2) if you are fairly mobile, i.e., immediate access to vehicular or air transportation.

Back in the day, when I was in the Green Machine, (1967-1977) we had to hump everything we needed. In other words, lighter is better. If you have to hump a long distance to the objective, you do not want to be so tired out so as not to be able to carry out the mission.

As for today, as civilians, we do not have the luxury of immediate transport. We will be humping our selves and all the necessary gear to accomplish the mission.

Body armor and the like may look good on the mall commando, but we would do well to invest the dollars in lighter equipment.

Oh yeah, lets not forget tho get our own physical condition in tip top shape.


tom said...


I have both a real AUG and a STG-556 bullpup. I've got mixed feelings about the armpit controls and armpit magazine changes.

MSAR is coming out with a new version that will take AR/M mags, in case you're thinking of buying one. They also offer a 6.8mm barrel and bolt swap if you like a bit more than 5.56.

I do like the rifles and they are easy to maintain with some caveats. All rifle designs are compromises.

Anonymous said...

Figure that if you are doing this sort of activity you will have two loads -- your long term survival load and your fighting load.

Your long term survival load will be heavy no matter how you cut it. Pack for a 50 mile hike in bad weather and you will quickly find your survival load becomes well over 100 lbs. The light-weight through hikers do their work during the summer months usually so don't take what they use as a comparison basis. Ditto with the vietnam comparisons -- unless you happen to be in Florida or Alabama its not the same.

The fighting load does need to be as light as practical but remember a couple of things. Very few of us have been in combat. Which means that your survival in combat suddenly is measured in seconds or minutes at best. So why worry about carrying 100's of rounds when you probably won't live long enough to use them?

Statistically, from WWII, if a man was going to get hit, he usually got hit in his first fire-fight and shot off less than 100 rounds. All the traning in the world does not replace good situational awareness (unless it is force on force traning).

As to the whole 6.8 what-not vs. everything else ... carry what your potential enemy will use because they will be your supply line. So unless you plan to carry 1000's of rounds (or hide them) of non-standard ammo (anything that is not 5.56 or 7.62) then use what the military currently uses.

So plan on two loads ... and the survival load you should be able to practice with in the open as you are hiking etc.

The fighting load -- you can go a long time with minimal food. Most people forget water (as you can get it anywhere it seems) but as the report points out you will use up a lot of water. Plan on having a way to filter/clean water in your fighting load. Historically dysentary disabled more men than enemy action.

Personally, I am comfortable with using any rifle (M-14, M-16/AR-15, AK-47) and find the endless discussion around equipment to be next to useless. If you examine various writings you will find that the importance is (in order):

1. Attitude
2. Awareness
3. Ability

and then finally

4. Equipment

tom said...

As to the whole 6.8 what-not vs. everything else ... carry what your potential enemy will use because they will be your supply line.

And your supply line might go 6.5, 6.8, or stay 5.56/7.62.

As to the "Enemy being your supply line", YUP. Can also be a useful supplier of AR/M rifles and uppers if you like your lower better.

Why not have a DM worthy rifle and pick up your assault rifles for free along with the free ammo? If you're willing to kill to get ammo, you best be willing to kill to get a rifle or even multiple rifles so as to have spares and spare parts.

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