War Commanders Want Troops to Carry Lighter Loads
The Corps has "become very, very heavy,” said Brig. Gen. Mark R. Wise, commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. “We need to become a lighter, more agile, more mobile force. Because of that, a lot of our focus [at the warfighting lab] has been on how do we go from a heavy force to a light force,” he told industry representatives at a conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.
Each Marine regularly carries 100 pounds of gear, a load that is manageable for short periods but one that military commanders have decried as onerous and dangerous to troops' health.
When the Marine Corps restructures its force following the end of the war in Afghanistan, everything from batteries and water purification systems to robotics and vehicle armor is being studied to identify possible weight savings. Those efforts were the focus of the three-day conference here, titled “Lighten the MAGTF,” of Marine Air Ground Task Force.
The threat of improvised explosive devices has driven much of the weight increase in troop load and vehicle weight. To counter homemade bombs, Marines require several pieces of equipment to first detect, then jam and pre-detonate them — a whole suite of devices that need to be consolidated and lightened, Wise said.
“We need smaller, more capable packages,” he said.
The same goes for radios. During Bold Alligator 2012, a brigade-level amphibious assault exercise carried out off the East Coast in February, Marines successfully tested a new distributed ship-to-shore communications system that will reduce the types of radios troops use by half.
Using the digital tactical communications system and a new self-repeating, self-healing TrellisWare radio, two communications devices can now do the work currently done by four types of radios, Wise said.
In both Afghanistan and Iraq, Marines were and are heavily reliant on liquid fuel and bottled water — both commodities that have to be transported over dangerous roads and then stored. Marine Corps leaders are dedicated to reducing that reliance on both. But current purification systems are bulky — the smallest is still about the size of a suitcase.
But industry is helping to downsize those systems, including a purification the size of a CamelBak pouch that is being tested this month at the Marine Corps’ fourth experimental forward operating base, or Ex-FOB, at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“That Marine can just lean over, scoop up some water and have it purified on the go,” Wise said.
More science and technology investment is needed to find innovative solutions for reducing the 100-pound burden troops carry, said George Solhan, director of Marine Corps science and technology.
The Offcie of Naval Research is increasing its budget for these efforts, Solhan said. “We’re growing because the Marine Corps believes in science and technology,” he said. “The Marine Corps needs that money to develop disruptive technologies.”
With Marines carrying ever more electronic equipment, much focus has been directed at reducing the weight of batteries that power that equipment. But ultimately batteries can only be so light because of the metals they are made of.
“Batteries are only going to get about 15 percent lighter because the periodic table is the periodic table,” Solhan said.
So ONR and other agencies are looking elsewhere to shave weight from soldiers’ loads, including new ammunition technology.
By going to a caseless small-arms ammunition, troops could carry the same amount of rounds with 30 pounds less weight, Solhan said. Likewise, if the requirements list was tweaked for body armor, small-arms protection insert plates could each be seven pounds lighter.
“We’ll give you results, but you’ve got to invest in the long term,” Solhan said. “The hallmark of maneuver is mobility. But performance costs money and lightweight means high-performance.”