Field study in Afghanistan finds need for lighter combat loads

Field study in Afghanistan finds need for lighter combat loads

A study of the combat loads carried by 82d Airborne Division soldiers in Afghanistan found that the loads were too heavy. The study–evidently the first study of battlefield combat loads since one conducted by the Marine Corps in 1942–was sponsored by the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and led by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dean, the Army’s liaison to the institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Field Manual 21-18, Foot Marches, which was issued in 1990, set the maximum weights that soldiers should carry as combat loads–

* Fighting load: 48 pounds. (A fighting load includes a weapon, bayonet, clothing, helmet, loadbearing equipment, and ammunition.)

* Approach march load: 72 pounds. (This load adds a lightly loaded rucksack.)

* Emergency approach march load: 120 to 150 pounds. (This load adds a larger rucksack.)

The average soldier in the study carried a fighting load of 63 pounds, or 36 percent of the average soldier’s body weight of 175 pounds, before a rucksack was added. The average approach march load was 96 pounds, or 55 percent of average body weight. The emergency approach march load averaged 127 pounds, or 73 percent of average body weight.

The study found that–

* Soldiers have greater capabilities, but the increase in capabilities has increased the weight soldiers must carry.

* Less essential items now carried by soldiers should be carried in vehicles.

* Body armor should be lighter.

* Load carriage needs to be improved.

* Climate and terrain can exhaust soldiers carrying heavy loads. In Afghanistan, for example, daytime temperatures during the period of the study (springtime) reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures were frigid.

Dean concluded, “I think we can drop 10, 20, 30 pounds off these guys by paring down some items that they are currently carrying, as long as these items are readily available when needed in a hurry. If we can offload some items, then we can work on reducing the weight of the remaining items through technology. The big monkey is to look at logistics and redesign logistics practices to get the weight off soldiers.”


COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group