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Study: U.S. Soldiers Not Adequately Equipped for War
By Sandra I. Erwin



It costs the United States $1.2 million to send one soldier to fight in Afghanistan for one year. American troops, despite that large investment, are not being equipped or trained to overmatch their enemies, says a new report by the National Research Council.

The Army champions its soldiers as the most important weapons in its arsenal, but yet continues to shortchange them in how they are equipped and trained for war, says the report, titled, “Making the Soldier Decisive on Future Battlefields.” The 255-page study, released May 10, began three years ago at the request of the assistant secretary of the Army.

A group of retired officers and researchers who participated in the study concluded that the Army's procurement methods and policies have not caught up to the realities of combat.

Testimony from hundreds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were interviewed for the study reveals that the current “suite of equipment and support does not afford the same high degree of overmatch capability exhibited by large weapons platforms,” says the report.

Soldier weapons and gear are designed to be technologically advanced, but often do not take the “human dimension” into account. As a result, equipment designs do not “adequately include the complexities of individual soldier tasks and human interactions within teams.”

Army leaders have touted small units as the center of gravity in current and future battlefields. That requires a different way of thinking about weapons and gear that soldiers will need when they operate as a small unit, the study says. While the Army provides soldiers with advanced rifles and other small arms, it does not offer them other “less-than-lethal alternatives” that might be useful in low-intensity conflicts or situations when they need to control civilians without injuring or killing them.

The Pentagon’s acquisition policies are harshly criticized in the report for being counterproductive. The Defense Department’s procurement apparatus is geared to buy big-ticket weaponry, and soldier gear does not receive the attention it deserves, the study says. “The goal of achieving overmatch capabilities cannot be accomplished until small-unit and soldier requirements are accorded the same high levels of attention as major materiel systems requirements.” It is unlikely that “solutions to achieve overmatch capabilities can be successfully implemented within the Army’s current acquisition framework.”

Army officials have recognized these shortcomings, and have kicked off a modernization plan that focuses on the needs of the squad. But it could take years for these efforts to materialize.

The NRC report also stresses the value of training. “Focused training is essential to improving the performance of soldiers and tactical small units to levels that can assure overmatch,” the study says. “With the tactical small unit as the centerpiece of future Army operations, small- unit leader training will be more important than ever.” It recommends the Army invest in more individual and collective training events, including live, virtual, and constructive simulations and electronic games.

Another major point in the study is the need to integrate soldiers and small units into the Army’s information networks. “The Army has already recognized the important role of the network in achieving expanded capabilities in combat,” the report says. “Yet, dismounted soldiers and tactical small units today have limited organic capability, such as radios, to take advantage of networking in all mission environments.”

When a small unit leaves a forward operating base or disembarks from a vehicle, it has very limited access to technology for command decision tasks such as communicating, developing situational understanding, and understanding the human terrain, the report says. “A squad leader's communications system provides bandwidth rates in the tens of kilobits per second — a far cry from the multiple megabyte rates available within a FOB.” Sand tables and paper maps are used for mission rehearsal and execution. Sensing during a mission is primarily dependent on the eyes and ears of members of the unit. “These shortcomings prevent small units and soldiers from achieving optimal performance in making and executing personal and team decisions.”

Soldiers should have “timely, relevant information on the location of friendly assets, the identification and location of enemy forces and equipment, the identification and location of noncombatants, and the ability to document and communicate this information to each other and higher echelons. … Information must be timely to ensure that units are not surprised in tactical situations.”

A small unit lacks the capability to send and receive secure data, voice, and streaming video at adequate ranges and with sufficient reliability, the study says. The Army is attempting to address these needs with the Nett Warrior program, and with experiments using smartphones. The Nett Warrior, however, is limited by low bandwidth, and the smartphone effort is dependent on commercial networks, the report says. “High-bandwidth communications networks are needed that can operate in austere locations, in complex terrain, in all weather, and under day and night conditions.”

Information exchange — especially for digital images and streaming video — is currently “very poor” at the small unit level, the report says. “Bandwidth rate is one issue. Another is that operation tempo does not give units time to download, evaluate, and make judgments on available information. … Soldiers would benefit from advances in dynamic information networks that enhance information exchange.”

The NRC panel also raises the issue of combat load, which has been a subject of much debate in the military over the past decade as troops’ rucksacks grew heavier and more cumbersome. “Excessive soldier loads degrade not only maneuverability of both individual soldiers and units but also their resilience, survivability and effectiveness,” the report says. “With such heavy burdens, traversing rough terrain and making rapid changes in direction, speed, and orientation greatly increase soldiers’ susceptibility to injuries." One possible solution, the panel suggests, could be to offload gear to robotic carriers.

Massive loads of batteries that soldiers need to power their devices contribute to the problem. “There is no doctrinal philosophy for the small unit to recharge the battery; there is no organizational equipment to support recharging; there is no hint of the training required; there is no parallel materiel development of a recharger or fuel reformer to exploit new rechargeable battery or fuel-cell technologies,” the study says. “Advances in portable power will contribute to the decisiveness of small units by giving future soldiers high confidence that their equipment ensemble will have sufficient energy to carry out the mission. Achieving this goal will help to reduce fatigue, eliminate the anxiety associated with resupply.”

Many of the topics covered in the NRC study echo critics, such as retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, who have blasted the Pentagon for not paying enough attention to the needs of small infantry units.

Scales, a military historian and analyst, has pointed out that ground forces are “not dominant” in combat partly because of inadequate equipment and training. Compared to the overwhelming superiority that the United States has in naval and air warfare, when it comes to ground combat, the American military “hasn’t come as far as it should,” says Scales. “It doesn’t dominate in the tactical fight.”

Scales blames these deficiencies on a Beltway culture that is fixated on expensive weapon systems, on “picking a fight with China” and on hypothetical wars in space and cyberspace. Washington policy makers dodge meaningful discussions about the tactical aspects of war on the ground because close-contact combat is “dirty, horrific and bloody,” says Scales. “People just don’t want to talk about that.”

Photo Credit: Army

Comments

Re: Study: U.S. Soldiers Not Adequately Equipped for War

All the relevant points and arguments, in this piece, were 'dwarfed' by the biased love affair with mindless expense, pentagon relationships with 'providers' and complete disregard of the planning and strategies for CHOOSING a war theater in which to operate.

Granted, Generals seldom select the wars they fight - but the U.S. has fought 'peasants with small arms' for the past 50 years - and none of them had 'weapons platforms' or $7K SAT phones.

Strategy and tactics will win more wars than MOST technology based advantages.  The U.S. has overspent all our enemies by a factor of 50 to 1 - and we fight to a standstill! 

Our concept and philosophy of war has been liberalized through political ideology and weakened through phony cultural compassion. Our military is getting sensitivity training and feminine hygiene products!

I reject the entire piece as the work of a bunch of consultants - making a case for more Pentagon spending. I say NO - I support cutting the Pentagon budget by 20% and the number of Generals by 10%. 
Len Hobbs at 5/11/2013 9:31 AM

Re: Study: U.S. Soldiers Not Adequately Equipped for War

I agree with Mr. Hobbs.  Cut defense budget but lets try to do it smartly instead of bold block cuts.  Smart phones and satellite networks would be awesome but not without trained troops who can do the basics first.  the whole article is a bunch of bull to sell spending more.  We had the best and proper equipment to complete the mission.  I reject the fact that we were anything less.
Thomas Pangborn at 5/12/2013 8:54 AM

Re: Study: U.S. Soldiers Not Adequately Equipped for War

I disagree with this article whole heartedly.  First of all, to lump all Army units ever in the phrase saying we're being deployed under-trained is a gross misuse of whatever statistical data they used.  The fact that we are also successful on the ground at the small unit level against any adversary we've faced is a testimate to the training our Soldiers receive.  The fact that the Squad, just like in Vietnam, has been able to overcome the losing political environment in Iraq and Afghanistan and produce military tactical victories reinforces that.  Where we are fighting "to a standstill" is politically at home and strategically at the Theater level.
Second, weighing our Soldiers down with more equipment so they can video chat with the TOC instead of sending voice is stupid, for lack of a better term.  Yet again, we have "consultants" and lobbyists pushing for multi-million dollar solutions that our enemies will learn to overcome with a hundred dollar solution.  Case in point, the MRAP.  It was designed to defeat the current IED threat in Iraq, which it did.  We spent millions of dollars on developing, testing, and producing it.  Then Al Qaeda in Iraq spent a couple hundred dollars making a newer IED and defeated the V-Shaped hull.  So then we came up with another multi-million dollar solution, etc etc etc.
What the Military needs to focus it's dollars on is improving the equipment we actually need (maybe instead hiring a consultant, go ask a couple Infantry squad leaders what equipment they feel we need, since they are the actual experts), provide better Live, Virtual, Constructive Training, and improve our Professional Military Education Courses to train leaders who can out-think an enemy, instead of out-teching them.
Jon W at 5/13/2013 11:52 AM

Re: Study: U.S. Soldiers Not Adequately Equipped for War

Mr.  Hobbs is off my about 95% in the number of generals that should be retired.

Every general officer weapon systems should be fired. Then reduce the total number of Flag officer slots by 70% so they can interview for the opportunity to get their jobs back with the proviso that only 5% will be hired back.

The remainder of General officers will be drawn from Lt. Colonel/Cols who have combat experience.

As for technology, is it any wonder that megabyte fed plasma screens for FOB is a priority and squad level commo is an after thought?

Hobbs is again right when it comes to technology being seen as a cure-all. Galula stated it was the opposite, that COIN needed to be decidely low-tech. When was the last time a Ranger unit, the premier light infantry in the US Army, actually mounted a long-range raid by foot? heck, when was the last time any US infantry didn't deploy via truck/helicopter/APC?

Afghanistan, with the terrain, should be the Light Infantry Olympics, but it's hard to steathily approach the enemy's AO when you are telegraphing every movement with Helos and following predictable roads that are mined in MRAPs.
Paralus at 5/14/2013 1:52 AM

Re: Study: U.S. Soldiers Not Adequately Equipped for War

The problem of tactical dominance is more centered on ROE than equipment. Soldiers know how to fight and win and have the equipment and the ability to do so as they have demonstrated repeatedly. What is missing is political will and a clear vision of what "victory" looks like. The lack of will burdens Soldiers through restrictive ROE and this more than equipment and weapons is what impedes them.
ed n at 5/14/2013 11:13 AM

Re: Study: U.S. Soldiers Not Adequately Equipped for War

I thank Sandra Erwin for her review of the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) report “Making the Soldier Decisive on Future Battlefields.”  Ms. Erwin focused on many of the technology-based issues and recommendations discussed in the report.  However, her review of the report missed a significant point made by the NRC Study Committee – that the greatest returns on Army investments for dismounted infantry Soldiers and infantry squads for the near, mid, and far terms would be achieved by balancing the materiel aspects of technology developments with non-materiel aspects, found primarily in the human dimension.  Yes, the Committee did recommend technologies, but they were not part of its top four priorities, which are to: 1) emphasize human dimension, 2) pursue a systems engineering approach for holistic improvement of a Soldier/squad, 3) change the acquisition process to consider the squad as a system-of-systems, and 4) develop appropriate measures of performance/effectiveness (especially those addressing the human dimension).  To better understand what the Committee is encouraging, I highly recommend reading the report by downloading a free PDF copy at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18321#orgs

The Committee considers the human dimension to be a significant force multiplier for the dismounted infantry Soldier and squad.  The Army currently defines it as: “A comprehensive portfolio approach to the cognitive, physical, and social components of Soldier, leader, family, and civilian organizational development and performance essential to raise, prepare, and employ the Army in full spectrum operations” – see http://www.arcic.army.mil/info-concept-human-dimension.aspx.  For a striking historical example of the power of human dimension, consider the Battle of Thermopylae, in which the Greeks and Persians were armed with basically the same warfighting equipment; yet, the Greeks were able to hold off a significantly larger force for a number of days.  What made the Greeks more decisive?  The Greeks were dominant in the human dimension aspects of leadership, unit cohesion, training, physical endurance/resiliency, mental endurance/resiliency, honor, loyalty, selection of warfigthers, warfighter ethos, tactics, human-system integration (e.g., modification of body armor), and many others.
Albert Sciarretta at 5/21/2013 6:09 PM

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