Experiment may ease combat load
By Kimberly Johnson - kjohnson@militarytimes.com
Posted : May 21, 2007

The Corps will soon conduct an experiment aimed at improving battlefield logistics, which could also help lighten grunts’ combat load, according to a top official at the service’s Warfighting Lab.

“The dynamics of conducting logistics on a distributed battlefield are going to be very challenging,” said Vince Goulding, director of experimentation plans at the Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Va. “In this war game, in modeling and simulation, we’re going to try to better define what logistics capabilities we’re going to need to develop in the future.”

Improving battlefield logistics will also go a long way toward reducing the load on a Marine’s back, Goulding said.

“The days of a CH-53 dropping off a load of stuff — you can’t do that with a rifle squad,” he said.

“There’s paranoia-based planning going on right now,” Goulding said, explaining that Marines often stuff their pockets with extras such as batteries and canteens. “It’s because at the small-unit level, they’re concerned that they aren’t going to be resupplied. It’s probably a legitimate concern sometimes.

“So what we’re seeing is that in addition to the body armor that Marines are wearing, and their basic load, they’re probably carrying 20 to 30 pounds of extra stuff.”

The experiment, which could begin in June, will use modeling and simulation with a small number of officers and staff noncommissioned officers, Goulding said. The lab is increasingly turning to simulation as those operating forces traditionally tapped for experiments are now too busy with combat deployments to provide live subjects, he explained.

Some of the logistics-improving strategies the lab is experimenting with include unmanned vehicles, both ground and air, and guided parafoils, which work somewhat like parachutes, he added.

“We need to figure out some way to get tailored packages of what that squad needs and nothing more,” he said.

“Marines are carrying too much weight,” Goulding said May 8. “We need to get some bright scientists out there to develop something that stops a bullet and doesn’t weigh 30-something pounds,” he said, referring to ceramic Small Arms Protective Inserts used in tactical vests.

“A lot of people are blaming commanders for not being wise for what their Marines are wearing,” he said. However, the battlefield offers little option. “You cannot go out without body armor.”

Leathernecks are going out with a lot more than a couple of SAPI plates. Typically, a Marine wears a Kevlar-lined vest with ceramic plates that weigh about 30 pounds, Goulding said.

Add to that eight magazines of ammunition, batteries for radios, night-vision goggles, a weapon, Kevlar helmet and a snack or two in his pocket, and the heft nears 80 pounds, he added.

“You shouldn’t be carrying more than a third of your body weight,” Goulding said. “We all know that, but what do you do? Send them out without a rifle? Don’t wear a helmet? Take off your SAPI plates?”

Advancements in technology, such as streamlining battlefield communications to one radio that operates on line-of-sight, UHF or VHF frequencies, would help chip away at the tote tally, he said.

“The stuff that we’re sending these Marines is the best stuff money can buy today ... but those things come with a weight penalty,” Goulding said.

“How many Marines are getting hit today because their armor, which protects them from getting hit, precludes them from moving quickly enough not to get hit?” “I’m convinced that we’re getting Marines wounded today simply because they aren’t nimble enough.”