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11 décembre 2012 2 11 /12 /décembre /2012 13:25

US soldiers Afghanistan source defenseWeb


December 6, 2012: Strategy Page


U.S. Army and Marine Corps commanders have asked their combat troops what is most needed for the next war, and the most common request is for less. That’s less as in weight carried into combat. This has been an intractable problem for several decades now. But there’s been a fundamental difference of opinion between the troops carrying the weight and those who create it. To the senior commanders more weight saves lives. But the closer you get to the fighting the more you hear troops pointing out that more weight loses battles and causes long term injuries to the overburdened infantry. There’s more weight from better body armor, first aid kits, and electronics (and the batteries needed to run them). Cutting weight has not been easy. This can be seen by the fact that the most popular current solutions are using more GPS guided parachutes to drop gear and supplies where the troops are going to be or, real soon now, will be. Another idea is to have a mechanical mule that can haul gear, survive a few bullet hits, and answer to voice commands. Another “just around the corner” solution is lighter clothing, including much lighter bulletproof materials. The troops need a solution now because that’s when they may be sent into combat again.


This is all because working conditions for the infantry have changed considerably in the past two decades. The biggest change is the equipment that must be carried. Until the 1980s, you could strip down (for actual fighting) to your helmet, weapon (assault rifle and knife), ammo (hanging from webbing on your chest, along with grenades), canteen, first aid kit (on your belt), and your combat uniform. Total load was 13-14 kg (about 30 pounds). You could move freely and quickly, and soldiers quickly found that speed and agility was a lifesaver in combat. But now the minimum load carried is twice as much and, worse yet, more restrictive. Typical of the weight inflation is the new IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit). While packaged more ergonomically than earlier versions, the new IFAK, like those issued for most of the last decade, are heavier (.94 kg, or over two pounds) and contain stuff that used to be carried only by medics. The medics now carry a lot of gear that only doctors used to have. All this saves lives but according to the troops, it does so at a high cost.


The extra gear has led to combat troops carrying more weight and having their movement increasingly restricted. The troops have complained about this because speed and maneuverability is a matter of life and death, as well as the difference between victory and defeat in tactical actions. While combat death rates are a third of what they were in Vietnam and World War II, the more heavily burdened troops are much less able to go after the enemy. Then again, with the larger number of guided missiles and bombs available the troops don't have to chase down their foe in order to kill them as frequently.


Over the last decade this has already translated into some dramatic changes in training. In Iraq troops found they were not in the best condition to run around with all that weight. Plus, the vest constricted movement and that took time to adjust to. Commanders complained about troops not being properly trained and that led to a series of changes in basic and unit training. The big change in basic was to condition troops to handle the heavier weights they would be carrying for extended periods of time. This was particularly critical for non-combat troops (especially those operating convoys) outside of camps (where you usually didn't have to wear armor and combat gear). New exercises were developed. Infantry troops got several months of additional training after basic and had plenty of opportunity to adjust to moving around wearing 14 kg or more of gear.


This all began when more "essential" equipment was added in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The biggest, and heaviest, problem was with the body armor. Although the new armor offered better protection it was heavier and bulkier, thus inducing fatigue and hindering mobility. This often led to battlefield situations where a less tired, and more agile, infantryman could have avoided injury. Military and political leaders usually do not appreciate this angle. But the troops do, as it is a matter of life and death for them and they feel the weight all the time.


Currently, the lightest load carried, the "fighting load" for situations where the troops were sneaking up on the enemy and might be involved in hand-to-hand combat, is 28.6 kg (63 pounds). The "approach march load," for when infantry were moving up to a position where they would shed some weight to achieve their "fighting load", is 46 kg (101 pounds). The heaviest load, 60 kg (132 pounds), was the emergency approach march load, where troops had to move through terrain too difficult for vehicles. As in the past, the troops often ignored the rules and regulations and dumped gear so they could move or keep moving.


In Afghanistan the problem is made worse by the high altitudes (up to 5,000 meters/15,300 feet) the troops often operate at. The researchers found that in Afghanistan, even though the infantry were in excellent physical shape, troops would sweat nearly 59 cl (20 ounces) of fluid an hour while marching at high altitudes, in bright sunlight, in moderate temperatures. That meant more weight, in water, had to be found to keep these guys going.


While troops complained about the new protective vests, they valued the vests in combat. The current generation of vests will stop rifle bullets, a first in the history of warfare. And this was after nearly a century of trying to develop protective vests that were worth the hassle of wearing.


Soldiers have been marching long distances for thousands of years. But that has changed, it really has. In the past troops have carried heavy weights in combat but they did not have to be as mobile as modern troops. The troops appreciate the new physical training more than some of their commanders. Part of this is that the new routines emphasize some exercises that resemble yoga and Pilates. Both of these physical training methods are relatively new in the West but have long served to provide the limberness that is so vital for 21st century combat.


But new training has not been able to restore the mobility troops had in previous wars and the troops miss that. While less likely to die in combat, troops are nearly as likely to be wounded or maimed as their predecessors in World War II and Vietnam. The troops want their mobility back and a large part of that will only be possible if they can carry less weight.

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17 juillet 2012 2 17 /07 /juillet /2012 17:30



July 17, 2012: Strategy Page


The U.S. Air Force has officially accepted the modified 30mm Mk44 Bushmaster automatic cannon as the GAU-23. For the last three years, modified (and continually tweaked) Mk44s have been operating on a dozen U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunships and, more recently as part of the U.S. Marine Corps Harvest Hawk ("instant gunship" via several pallets of sensors and weapons) version of the KC-130J tanker.


The 30mm Bushmaster cannon weighs 157 kg (344 pounds) and fires at 200 or 400 rounds per minute (up to 7 per second). The Bushmaster has 160 rounds available, before needing a reload. That means the gunner has 25-50 seconds worth of ammo, depending on rate of fire used. Each 30mm high explosive/incendiary round weighs about 714 g (25 ounces, depending on type.) The fire control system and night vision sensors, enables the 30mm gunners to accurately hit targets with high explosive shells. Earlier SOCOM AC-130 gunships are armed with a 105mm howitzer, a 25mm and 40mm automatic cannon. But the two smaller caliber guns are being phased out of military service. The air force is now equipping its gunships just with smart bombs and missiles as well as one or two GAU-23s.


The big thing with gunships is their sensors, not their weapons. Operating at night, the gunships can see what is going on below, in great detail. Using onboard weapons, gunships can immediately engage targets. But with the appearance of smart bombs (GPS and laser guided), aerial weapons are now capable of taking out just about any target. So gunships can hit targets that were "time sensitive" (had to be hit before they got away), but could also call on smart bombs or laser guided missiles for targets that weren't going anywhere right away. Most of what gunships do in Afghanistan is look for roadside bombs, or the guys who plant them. These gunships want to track back to their base, and then take out an entire roadside bomb operation.

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13 mai 2012 7 13 /05 /mai /2012 16:50



May 13, 2012: STRATEGY PAGE


There is a rebellion brewing in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. It's all about the protective vest. This lifesaving bit of equipment has saved thousands of lives in the last two decades, but has, because of political grandstanding and media distortions, become too heavy and restrictive. The troops want lighter body armor, even if it does increase vulnerability to bullets. Marine and army experts point out that the drive (created mainly by politicians and the media) for "better" body armor resulted in heavier and more restrictive (to battlefield mobility) models. This has more than doubled the minimum weight you could carry into combat.


Until the 1980s, you could strip down (for actual fighting) to your helmet, weapon (assault rifle and knife), ammo (hanging from webbing on your chest, along with grenades), canteen and first aid kit on your belt, and your combat uniform. Total load was 13-14 kg (about 30 pounds). You could move freely and quickly like this, and you quickly found that speed and agility was a lifesaver in combat. But now the minimum load carried is twice as much (27 kg) and, worse yet, more restrictive.


While troops complained about the new protective vests, they valued it in combat. The current generation of vests will stop rifle bullets, a first in the history of warfare. And this was after nearly a century of trying to develop protective vests that were worth the hassle of wearing. It wasn't until the 1980s that it was possible to make truly bullet proof vests using metallic inserts. But the inserts were heavy and so were the vests (about 11.3 kg/25 pounds). Great for SWAT teams, but not much use for the infantry. But in the 1990s, additional research produced lighter bullet proof ceramic materials. By 1999, the U.S. Army began distributing a 7.3 kg (16 pound) "Interceptor" vest that provided fragment and bullet protection. This, plus the 1.5 kg (3.3 pound) Kevlar helmet (available since the 1980s), gave the infantry the best combination of protection and mobility. And just in time.


Since the end of the Cold War more of the situations U.S. infantry find themselves in involve lightly armed irregulars who rely more on bullets than bombs. The bullet proof vest eliminates most of the damage done by the 30 percent of wounds that occur in the trunk (of which about 40 percent tend to be fatal without a vest). The Kevlar helmet is also virtually bulletproof but it doesn't cover all of the head (the face and part of the neck is still exposed). Even so, the reduction in deaths is significant. Some 15-20 percent of all wounds are in the head and about 45 percent of them are fatal without a helmet. The Kevlar helmet reduces the deaths by at least half and reduces many wounds to the status of bumps, sprains, and headaches. Half the wounds occur in the arms and legs, but only 5-10 percent of these are fatal and that won't change any time soon. Thus since Vietnam, improved body armor has reduced casualties by more than half. The protective vests used in Vietnam and late in the Korean War reduced casualties by about 25 percent since World War II, so the risk of getting killed or wounded has been cut in half since World War II because of improved body armor. Much better medical care (especially rapid evacuation of casualties by helicopter) has helped change the ratio of dead to wounded from 1:3 during World War II to 1:5 today.


The Interceptor vest was an improvement in other ways. It was easier to wear and was cooler in hot climates because you could more easily adjust it to let some air circulate. You could also hang gear from the vest, making it more a piece of clothing. It's still hot to wear the vest in hot weather but if you're expecting a firefight, it's easier to make the decision to wear the vest. You know it will stop bullets. U.S. troops who have fought in Afghanistan and been hit with rifle bullets that would have penetrated earlier vests are already spreading the word throughout the ground combat community. All you have to do is exercise in such a way that you are better able to carry the weight and still be mobile.


But as new, and heavier vests were introduced the troops often found themselves with protection, and weight, they did not need. For example, the latest vests will protect you from a hit high-powered rifle fired a close range. That is rare in combat. The latest vests will also protect you from multiple high-powered machine-gun bullet hits. Again, that's rare and an increasing number of soldiers and marines are willing to trade that for less weight and more mobility.


The army tried to solve the problem by instituting new training methods that emphasized building muscle and the ability to be agile under all that weight. The new exercises helped somewhat, but moving vigorously with all that weight has led to more musculoskeletal problems, many of them with long term consequences.


The enemy has also adapted, knowing that the more heavily encumbered Americans were not as agile or as fast and that could be exploited. The frustration of being slower than your foe often led U.S. troops to exertions that brought on musculoskeletal injuries. The new body armor may protect from bullets and shell fragments but it does nothing for over exuberant troops.


So the soldiers and marines are getting louder in their demands for relief from protection they don't need and restrictive protective vests that can get them killed.

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1 février 2012 3 01 /02 /février /2012 12:55
Super Insertion


U.S. Marines conduct insertion exercises from a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter in the Arabian Sea, Jan. 19, 2012. The Marines are assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. The ship is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan Gragg

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18 janvier 2012 3 18 /01 /janvier /2012 08:40
Osprey Over Helmand

01/17/2012 STRATEGY PAGE

A Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey flies in the sky above Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 17. This was the last mission flown during Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162's six-month deployment in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Photo by Cpl. Justin Boling

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28 novembre 2011 1 28 /11 /novembre /2011 12:50
US Marines to wind down Afghan combat in 2012


November 28, 2011 defpro.com


US Marines will march out of Afghanistan by the thousands next year, winding down combat in the Taliban heartland and testing the US view that Afghan forces are capable of leading the fight against a battered but not yet beaten insurgency in the country's southwestern reaches.


At the same time, US reinforcements will be sent to eastern Afghanistan in a bid to reverse recent gains by insurgents targeting Kabul, the capital.


General James F Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in an Associated Press interview that the number of Marines in Helmand province will drop "markedly" in 2012, and the role of those who stay will shift from countering the insurgency to training and advising the Afghan security forces.


The change suggests an early exit from Afghanistan for the Marine Corps, even as the prospects for solidifying their recent successes are uncertain.


"Am I OK with that? The answer is 'yes,'" Amos said.


At stake is President Barack Obama's pledge to win in Afghanistan the war he touted during his 2008 presidential campaign as worth fighting, while pledging to get out of Iraq.


Facing a stalemate in 2009, Obama ordered an extra 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan including about 10,000 Marines to Helmand province in the belief that if the Taliban were to retake the government al-Qaida would soon return to the land from which it plotted the September 11, 2001, attacks. (DD India)

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