Outside Their Armored Vehicles, Troops Are Vulnerable to Hidden Bombs
The Afghan surge and its emphasis on missions carried out on foot has pointed to a key technology shortfall: Soldiers who have left their vehicles are at high risk of encountering pressure plate explosives or remotely controlled improvised explosive devices and don’t have much protection, officials said Oct. 26 at the Association of the U.S. Army annual conference, in Washington, D.C.
A lot of funding has gone into radio frequency jammers and other technologies that are on vehicles, but “we haven’t worked on technology that is aimed at the dismounted element,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, commanding general of the Army Special Operations Command.
The Army Material Command’s Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey J. Mellinger said the technologies that have protected troops in vehicles from roadside bombs have not made the transition to dismounted forces because of size, weight and power issues that need to be resolved. “A lot of equipment that you can put on a vehicle or aircraft, you just can’t throw in a rucksack,” he said.
Army special operations equipment needs do not differ radically from regular Army troops in the field, Mulholland said. They want technologies that can help dismounted troops lighten their load, communicate with local populations when there are language barriers and sensors that can help special operators see farther and with more clarity.
“We want to be absolutely transparent with the Army and vice versa so if we do develop and take on new technology, it is a technology that is available to the entire force,” Mulholland said. “In most instances, of course, the same thing an infantryman on one hand or a special operator on the other are going to want are about the same thing,” he added.
They want to communicate among themselves better, and to be able to kill or capture the enemy at less risk to themselves, he said. “We seek to make as little as we possibly can special operations specific,” he said. If equipment is manufactured in large quantities and proliferates Army wide, it is generally less expensive to buy, he added.
Nevertheless, there are unique needs. Any technology that can help operators with their language requirements in pre-deployment education and training would be welcome, such as when they find themselves suddenly thrust into a part of the world where they do not have strong language skills.
When Army Special Operations first entered Afghanistan more than nine years ago, the command didn’t have a single Dari or Pashto speaker amongst its ranks, he noted.
There is also a need for software that can help operators sort through and pass along intelligence. All of the highly trained special operators who work among local populations are “sensors,” Mulholland said. They gather complex and relevant information about the village life and local citizens they are interacting with, and what’s happening on the ground. “We have yet to be able to do a great job of making available to each other quickly a more informed picture of the battlefield and the human dimension of it,” he said. But this requirement also is no different than what the larger Army wants to do, he said.