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Army Striving to Lighten Load for Combat Soldiers.

To fight the kinds of wars envisioned for the next few decades, the U.S. Army has to do a better job of lightening the load that its soldiers carry into battle, service leaders told defense industry representatives at a recent briefing in Reno, Nev.

Despite years of research and development, the Army's futuristic "land warrior" system of next-generation weapons and equipment is still too heavy to allow foot soldiers to maneuver safely under fire, several speakers said at the briefing, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

Land warrior is designed to increase the lethality of the individual soldier and to enable him to fight in the darkness, stay in constant communication with fellow squad members and commanders. It also allows them to send back and receive real-time intelligence data, such as photographs and enemy position coordinates. Components include:

* A weapon with a laser rangefinder and aiming light, digital compass, video camera, thermal sight and close-combat optics. The weapons currently used are modified M-4 carbines or M-16 rifles, but the Army plans eventually to switch to the objective individual combat weapon, which is still under development and can fire both 5.56 mm kinetic energy rounds and 20 mm air-bursting munitions.

* A modular, back-mounted unit with a computer, soldier and squad radios, global-positioning system and video receiver.

* A lightweight helmet with ballistic and laser eye protection, monocular computer display, day and night target sensor, adaptable chemical-biological mask.

* Modular body armor and clothing to protect against chemical or biological attack.

"The soldier today is a system; the soldier is a platform," said Brig. Gen. Philip M. Mattox, deputy for acquisition and readiness for the Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM), based in Natick, Mass. "He's got more stuff hanging off of him than a Swiss army knife."

The land warrior concept dates back to a 1991 study by the Army Science Board. Five years later, the service began testing prototypes at Fort Benning, Ga. Since then, contractors have spent more than $100 million on new prototypes, according to Col. Walter L. Holton, soldier systems manager at Fort Benning's Army Infantry Training Center.

Most Army officials agree that land warrior significantly increases the capability of individual soldiers. The main problem is weight, said Col. Bruce D. Jette, program manager for soldier systems, at Fort Belvoir, Va. Currently, the system weighs 92.6 pounds, he said.

"It's the same problem that Napoleon had," Mattox said. "How much can a single soldier carry?"

Disillusionment with the program grew to the point that the Army almost terminated the program in 1998, but then "we got a reprieve," said Holton. In 1999, the Army began buying commercial, off-the-shelf technology, such as a Pentium-chip computer, rifle-mounted camera and back-mounted radio, all lighter and less bulky than previous versions.

The improvements are beginning to be noticed, Holton noted. During last year's live-fire exercise at Fork Polk, La., he said, land warrior "provided a significant improvement in soldier capability in a close fight." Before the exercise, he explained, a platoon from the 325 Airborne Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., trained with the system all summer.

"If you had asked the soldiers in June, they would have told you that it was too heavy, that it was a piece of junk," he said. During the summer, however, they "worked the bugs out," he said. "By August, they had learned to operate the system." The bottom line: "We'll take it."

Currently, the Army plans to field the first version of land warrior in 2004 and to procure 34,000 sets of that system at an estimated cost of $2 billion.

But the service still isn't satisfied with land warrior, Holton noted. Overtime, officials would like to see its weight reduced by 40 percent or more, he said.

Lighter Batteries

One likely candidate for further weight reduction is land warrior's power source, Holton said. Currently, he said, the system includes two two-pound rechargeable batteries, each providing 12 mission hours of power.

"We're asking that the power source weigh no more than two pounds and provide 96 hours of power," Holton explained. "Eventually, we'd like to get that down to half a pound. We know that would require a great leap forward."

Land warrior's new body armor, known as Interceptor, weighs an average of 16.4 pounds--10 to 12 pounds lighter than its predecessor--Holton said. It is a bullet-proof vest that comes in five sizes, with attachable throat and groin protectors.

Interceptor contains front and back ergonomically designed insert plates to protect against 7.62 mm ball rounds, according to William E. Haskell III, deputy director of the Army's National Protection Center, in Natick. Weighing about eight pounds, the inserts, constructed of ceramic composites, can be removed quickly and easily when not needed, he said. Without the inserts, the vest, made of Kevlar, will protect against 9 mm rounds and fragmentation, he added.

The center is learning a lot about the use of textiles in body armor, Haskell said. "I used to assume that body armor is body armor," he said. "But there are a lot of differences in the ways that textiles protect against ballistics and other threats."

Some of the technology discussed at the Reno conference is designed to lighten the load in the soldier's pack.

Under development, for example, is a "first-strike ration," or FSR. According to Gerald Darsch, director of the Defense Department Combat Feeding Program (CFP), headquartered at Natick, the FSR is meant to be eaten within the first 72 hours of combat, before field kitchens can be set up to provide hot meals.

FSRS will enable soldiers to eat on the move, Darsh said. Prototypes include shelf-stable pocket sandwiches and pouches of carbohydrate-enhanced applesauce and high-energy powdered drinks, he explained.

Eventually, soldiers in high-intensity combat may be able to get a quick fix of vitamins and nutrients through a patch worn on the arm, Darsch noted. Scientists at Natick are working on a transdermal nutrient delivery system (TNDS) that would work something like a nicotine patch that people use to quit smoking.

Instead of nicotine, however, TNDS would deliver enough nutrition to enable warfighters to keep functioning until they have access to real meals and the time to eat them, Darsch said. It could also contain pharmaceuticals to relieve combat-related discomforts, such as muscle fatigue and physical problems related to prolonged exposure to cold weather and high altitudes.

TNDS "is not intended to ever replace a turkey dinner with all the fixings," he said. Instead, he said, it would be used only in times of high-intensity conflict.

TNDS is still an early concept, Darsch said. It may be available to military personnel around the year 2025, he said.

Meanwhile, improvements continue to be made to the traditional line of combat rations, known as meals, ready to eat, or MREs, Darsch said. In 1995, each shipping container of MREs had 12 meals, one of each menu then available. The number of menus expanded to 16 in 1996 and 24 in 1998. Entrees are available for vegetarians and observant Jews and Moslems.

Joining the selections this year are seafood jambalaya, beef enchiladas and pork chow mein. Next year will see the addition of beefsteak with mushroom gravy, multigrain cereal, cappuccino and hamburger patties, Darsch noted.

Natick keeps adding entrees in an effort to please its customers, the 1.2 million military personnel--especially those in combat, who are totally dependent on MREs--he said.

"If they don't like what they get, it's really unlikely that they can just jump out of a foxhole and run to the nearest supermarket," Darsch said. "In fact, I don't know of a single supermarket that has its products thrown out of a C-130."

MREs are precooked, but some can be reheated to improve their taste. MREs come with a chemical heater for the entrees, but not for beverages, dehydrated rations or for hygiene.

To fill this void, the Natick Soldier Center has developed a pocket-sized beat source. This pocket stove weighs less than four ounces and collapses for storage in a backpack pocket or canteen cover. It burns battlefield fuel, such as J-8 and diesel.

This is important, Darsch said, because gasoline, white gas and propane are not usually found on the battlefield. An ounce of fuel will last for about 10 minutes, heating 16 ounces of water to 100 degrees Fahrenheir, he said. A larger version--weighing 25 ounces, including the stove, empty fuel bottle, the pump and all accessories--will serve an entire squad.

To lighten the load for larger units, Natick has developed a state-of-the art, highly mobile field kitchen capable of feeding whole battalions. The central heat unit cogeneration kitchen, or CHUCK wagon, can be deployed on a C-130 and towed by the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee. It uses one large burner to heat all of its appliances, which include a convection oven, a griddle, two 20 gallon kettles and a water heater. The kitchen can burn No. 2 heating oil, diesel or J-8 fuel.

The kitchen employs two advanced technologies, thermal fluid heat transfer and cogeneration. The burner heats a special thermal fluid, which circulates through a loop to transfer heat to the appliances. Cogeneration makes the CHUCK wagon more efficient by integrating the onboard generator with the thermal fluid and hot water systems to cogenerate 5 kilowatts of electric power and 6 kilowatts of heat.

To make it easier for soldiers to get the water they need during combat, the services are augmenting the traditional canteen with a water-carrying system made by CamelBak Products Inc., of Petaluma, Calif.

The CamelBak system features a two- to three-liter insulated plastic pouch that can be strapped on a soldier's back. It is compatible with the land warrior system, but it is already being used independent of it, according to Chuck Hunter, vice president of the firm's military-industrial division. The pouch has a long, flexible straw that fits over the soldier's shoulder, allowing him to sip whenever he wishes, Hunter told National Defense.

No Hands

"Unlike a canteen, the CamelBak system doesn't require a soldier to put down his weapon," he said. "You don't have to pull the canteen off your belt and unscrew the cap before relieving your thirst. It takes two hands to do that."

The CamelBak holds up to three times as much as a standard canteen, Hunter explained. That can be important in a combat situation, he said, particularly in a hot climate, such as Iraq.

"A body can lose more than a liter of water per hour," he said. "If it is not replaced, you can suffer heat stress, with headaches, nausea, fatigue and even loss of muscle endurance."

To help prevent heat stress from striking soldiers wearing heavy clothing--designed to protect them from the effects of nuclear, chemical or biological (NBC) attack--the Army has developed a personal ice-cooling system, or PICS. The 12-pound system includes an NBC ice bag, battery-operated mini-pump and heat-transfer garment.

The ice bag, containing a two-liter bottle of ice, needs to be changed every 30 minutes, and the batteries--three D-cells--last about four hours, Haskell said.

Under development is a cooling system for NBC clothing that relies on a refrigerant, rather than ice. Known as the advanced lightweight microclimate cooling system, or ALMCS, it circulates a chilled fluid through a heat-transfer garment lined with a network of tubing.

ALMCS weighs 11 pounds with two lithium sulfur dioxide batteries. A third battery can be added for enhanced performance. With two batteries, the system is said to deliver three hours of temperatures in the 65- to 70-degree range.

Before new equipment such as these items can be issued to the troops, however, plans need to be made to draw down the obsolete material being replaced, said Jette. There are thousands of older models of battle-dress uniforms in stock and "enough shelter halves to cover Turkey," he said. "We've got warehouses full of stuff that we don't want anymore, and we've got stuff that we'd like to get in the hands of soldiers."
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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