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Study evaluates soldier load weights

by Mike Hoffman on August 16, 2012

The Pentagon has launched a new study to figure out how much soldiers and Marines should carry, and the tradeoff between the gear they carry versus speed and mobility.

Officials awarded a grant through the Navy Health Research Center to a Massachusetts research professor to determine the consequences of load and armor on a combat soldier’s ability to perceive and respond to threats.

Although a soldier’s weight carrying capacity has been studied before, Richard E.A. van Emmerik, with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said he hopes to break new ground.

Instead of studying the impact of load on a soldier’s gait and lower body, “we will for the first time look at how the upper body, trunk and head coordinate in a soldier who is burdened by a heavy load, which is a fundamentally different and a more complex situation,” van Emmerik said in a statement.

The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group teamed up with Johns Hopkins University in 2009 to conduct a soldier load assessment in Afghanistan to find out what would happen when you shaved 20 pounds off of the typical soldier load that averaged more than 100 pounds.

A battalion’s worth of soldiers were equipped with lightweight armor plate carriers, packs, boots and other equipment to assess how lighter loads increase soldier mobility and effectiveness in combat. The effort led to the Army selecting and fielding a new plate-carrier as an alternative to the bulky, heavy-weight Improved Outer Tactical Vest.

Van Emmerik is a professor of kinesiology where he studies human movement. The $975,000 study, which will take 2 1/2 years, is called “Effects of Armor and Load on Action-Perception Coupling.”

“Gait is just the beginning. We’ll introduce a visual search task and track the coordination of upper body, postural control and visual acuity,” he said. “No study has yet added all these, plus other factors, together in a realistic way to look at how load affects the soldier’s ability to perceive threats, his or her operational effectiveness and survivability in combat.”

Researchers already know a great deal about load and locomotion, stamina, oxygen use, energy use and so on, Van Emmerik said. His study will expand to look at whether load affects reaction time, visual attention to critical details and the ability to discriminate friend or foe, he said.

The plan calls for van Emmerik and his team to recruit trained infantrymen to be study subjects. They’ll be tested with no load as well as with loads ranging from 70 to 120 lbs.

The initial goals of the study are to gain insight into the relations that allow soldiers to survive in realistic situations and to develop a means of comparing the consequences of different load configurations on soldier survivability.

What’s learned from the study will also apply to firefighters, rescue workers and others who have to sacrifice perception and mobility in order to gear-up against threats.

–Bryant Jordan

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

STemplar August 16, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Based on my layman's observations of various firefights it seems to me what dismounted soldiers need most in almost every video I see is better ways to locate where fire is coming from. Not that lightening the load isn't a good idea, its just as I watch videos of Stan and old newsreel footage from WW2, the same issue is there. "Where is the mother fucker shooting at me?"

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Chris August 16, 2012 at 5:22 pm

they already field this type of technology on FOBs and convoys… a squad-portable system would be ideal though.

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STemplar August 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Right, I'm aware of boomerang. I don't just mean a directional system, although that would be better than nothing. They are making these semi autonomous wheeled robot sort of things to go with dismounted troops. How about some kind of high res motion camera system that can pinpoint a window shots came from and what not. Might as well mount a CROWS type mount as well with a little extra firepower. Just seems like if you're able to tell more easily where the person shooting at you is, probably need less munitions/weapons to deal with contact. That should save weight.

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@Cr4shDummy August 16, 2012 at 9:18 pm

I'd like to see the heartbeat sensor from Call of Duty on an M4 too!

Seriously, though, this is a good point. They could implement a HUD that uses sensors to collect and process biometric and acoustic data. This is a great project (save a lot of wear and tear on grunts), but a live and tired soldier is better than a dead one.

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steve August 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm

STemplar, please Re-Read the article again, and hen look at your comment??? Field of vision is your concern, okay, but the article IS NOT ABOUT FIELD OF VISION…… I see an attempt to prevent bone stresses, and back failures, along with feet problems, ALL due to the EXCESSIVE weight required in the field for each Trooper???

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marc August 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Summary:
soldiers carry too much = reduced mobility and combat effectiveness.
soldiers carry too little = higher mobility, less combat effectiveness
soldiers carry just enough = good mobility, good combat effectiveness.

where's my grant money?

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majr0d August 16, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Very Wise.

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Robert Fritts August 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Marc, first change your name to Marlena Hernandez. from 2006 thru 2011 data HIspanics are much more in vogue at the SBA and DOD. Same data shows grants to african americans are trending way down. But grants and contracts to women owned businesses are never out of season. Go ahead and lie on your grant applications everyone else does. It would also help to hire a spanish speaker to do all of your government contacts thru a government translator, no speeky engliish, Money!

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Foo August 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm

You'll get your money as soon as you can quantify those

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majr0d August 16, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Combat Load – minimum mission-essential equip (determined by CO responsible for mission), req to fight immediate combat ops. There are two levels of combat load: Fighting & Approach March load.

Fighting Load – Mission essential items needed for close combat normally incl wpns, worn clothing, helmet, load carrying equip, ammo basic load. Should not exceed 30% of body weight.

Approach March Load – Load carried in addition to the “fighting load”. Includes items needed for extended immediate combat ops (including sustainment loads). Should not exceed 45% of body weight.

Emergency Approach March Loadsv – Circumstances could require soldiers to carry loads heavier than 72 pounds such as approach marches through terrain impassable to vehicles or where ground/air transportation resources are not available. Loads of up to 120 pounds can be carried for several days. If possible, contact with the enemy should be avoided since march speeds will be slow.

Where do I get my check? Well not really, it's from FM 21-18 Foot Marches.

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tmb2 August 17, 2012 at 1:35 am

"Loads of up to 120 pounds can be carried for several days.If possible, contact with the enemy should be avoided since march speeds will be slow."

Happy National Airborne Day!

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mpower6428 August 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm

the answer will be the same as always…. 16 tons.

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S O August 16, 2012 at 9:31 pm

"studied before" is an understatement. The issue was basically settles prior in late 19th century studies and the oldest considerations of infantry equipment weight were IIRC written in Latin!

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Rob August 17, 2012 at 12:08 am

I am confused by this because any assault operation should include many of our soldiers and resources. This so called force multiplier. Why is mobility really a concern.

Front man should be fully armored ad have a backup of medium armored soldiers with ammo.

Any stationary unit should also be just fully armored and have a vehicle and call-in backup.

Also should be a low grade armor for limbs just for shrapnel protection. May not stop a bullet but maybe that hunk of metal flying through the air. Or is Kevlar really enough?

The future is definitely in exo-skeletons, drones and robots for load carrying.

Sometimes just need think differently as well. If really in a remote area, pull the civilians out and bombard the location, enough said.

Chased a bad guy into an old building? Call in an airdrop for a drone bulldozer.
Any building to rebuild is still cheaper then any life lost. Bombs just destroy. Dozers make piles of material

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Peter E. Hawley August 17, 2012 at 2:13 am

When I went to Iraq in 2007, I wore the Interceptor Body Armor vest.. I wore two ceramic plates, one in the front and one in the back. The vest ended up weighing fifty pounds. At one point I tried wearing the two additional side plates. These plates added an additional twelve pounds to the vest. My back pain was so severe, I had to go on sick call. The normal pain level with just the front and back plates was a three or four. When I added the side plates, my pain level went to eight or nine. I realized, I was no longer able to do the job of a soldier and at 47, I decided to ETS.

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Rob August 17, 2012 at 2:51 am

I've seen harnesses that disperse weight to your waist. Probably could be adapted for body armor.

Seems you could have requested change of duties to something that requires less back work.

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tmb2 August 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm

"Seems you could have requested change of duties to something that requires less back work."

He did, he left the Army. He wasn't doing "back work" he was standing still just wearing the gear. The biggest loss of man-hours in Iraq and Afghanistan is back injuries mostly from wearing our gear. When soldiers leave the Army, the fact that they will report chronic knee and back problems is assured. The IOTV has a cummerbund that takes a little bit of the pressure off, but you're still wearing a 60 pound vest for hours at a time.

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jim August 17, 2012 at 4:31 am

Its the same with us brits, you save some pounds here and there then they come out with something else to carry, the infantrymans load will always be in excess be it with extra kit which is often traded for more ammunition!!

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ltfunk2 August 17, 2012 at 6:02 am

o amount of load lightening will stop a soldier who is fighting for subsidised housing and a guarenteed pension in a war he dosent understand from turning turtle.

This is just another one of our thousands of studies of the losers. Time to do a study of the winners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the obviously know something the losers dont.

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blight_ August 17, 2012 at 9:45 am

What do they know? An insurgency usually wins with nation-state support, moreso with nation-state sanctuary that can secures their supply areas and provides indefinite manpower.

Done.

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CS_Raynor August 17, 2012 at 7:54 am

A typical infantryman load has always been 70-80 lbs throughout the ages, going all the way back to the Romans. Any amount of weight reduction, while maintaining protection is going to improve the ability and health of the warfighter. However, in saying that, those same warfighters are going to look at it as, "Gee, I'm 20 lbs lighter, I can carry more ammo." It's going to have to come from both directions, reducing gear weight and education.

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blight_ August 17, 2012 at 9:42 am

The comparison of a supply-train dependent force and a light infantry force (or "flying column", to use the old terminology) that has to carry all of their own gear isn't exactly a fair one. A legion also had a fair-sized supply train, though I doubt it was the ~1:10 tooth:tail that we see today.

Because resupply in the field cannot be met with JIT logistics, you have to carry everything you need, then determine what you can get away with leaving behind.

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BRASS August 17, 2012 at 10:00 am

Retired after a career of heavy mental and physical activity my mind and body were inversely affected as one would suspect. While my problem solving and practical skills are sharp, anything more than carrying the groceries is a problem. –

Thousands are like my example: After decades of back problems and now after my second minor back surgery just this week, it doesn't seem to me that it should take a lot of sophisticated study to understand and recognize the base problems. Maybe refining and filling out that knowledge base will serve to understand the margins where operational compromise is apparent but the results of weight bearing, shock and injury in general are well known. –

I hope they temper their research and the resultant changes with common sense beyond what laboratory conditions can tell them.

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Mastro August 17, 2012 at 10:10 am

Maybe wearing clothes might make the tests a bit more realistic.

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Jimbo August 17, 2012 at 12:07 pm

SLA Marshall already did a study on load vs combat effectiveness (The Soldier’s Load and The Mobility of a Nation (1950)).

Why is this being done again? The main issue is that once a piece of lightweight equipment is issued, some officer thinks that there is room for the next piece of lightweight equipment, and the next piece, until we are back to square 1 – overloaded.

So many good concepts have been ruined over the years because of overloading (motorcycles for AirCav Recon elements, dune buggy’s, even Bradleys and HMMV’s have been overloaded). I would wager that these bozo’s could wreck a wheelbarrow with the “next great idea”.

Apparently, they never heard of combat trains for all the extraneous equipment and supplies.

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Joe August 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Beat me to it. The Soldier's Load and The Mobility of a Nation should be required reading for EVERY soldier from basic trainee to CJCoS. If only for the simplicy and solution oriented vison presented.

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Mastro August 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

SLA Marshall – while having many good ideas- played fast and loose with the facts- its been well documented.

Not saying he was way off (never read this work) – but a fresh analysis 62 years later is certainly warranted- especially with all the new tech we have- and better way to measure its effectiveness.

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majr0d August 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Mastro – SLA Marshall is just one reference. There have been well over a couple dozen studies done on the soldier's load (I've listed links to about four this decade alone). This is not fresh analysis.

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Salisbury Marine August 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm

…As stated elsewhere… None of this is going to count for anything if company grade officers can't make the final call. Squad leaders should be able to inspect each pack to make sure that only what is needed on *that* mission is taken along. But so long as higher command gets to make the call…

…Part of it is political. Body armor? A trade-off… If you are on convoy duty, then you need the whole load… But if you are chasing insurgents (who are wearing jeans, sneakers, and only carrying AKs and spare mags) up an alley, then you are wasting your time…

…But if somebody on that patrol not weighed down like an EOD man defusing a bomb and he gets zapped… then his C.O.'s career may be toast… So CYA is forced on the troops rather than a value trade-off…

…Tactical requirements should govern the call… but in areas where we are not engaged in heavy combat… lighter armor has another plus… Right now, to uneducated villagers we must look like Imperial Storm Troopers from Star Wars… By itself not a reason to armor down… but if the conditions are right…

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monk August 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm

The first time i went to afghanistan i would put on every time we went out on foot patroll 128lbs. vest , 240B,full combat load , CLS bag, water, full combat load ammo, 9mm +full load ammo, How do i know how much it all weighed i went to the med clinic and got weighed with and without the equipment. now you tell me about mobility. everything sounds good on paper but does it laways workout in real life????? NO<NO<NO

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blight_ August 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I suspect a lot of are skimming. I went back to re-read.

A few fun points:

Although a soldier’s weight carrying capacity has been studied before, Richard E.A. van Emmerik, with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said he hopes to break new ground.

Instead of studying the impact of load on a soldier’s gait and lower body, “we will for the first time look at how the upper body, trunk and head coordinate in a soldier who is burdened by a heavy load, which is a fundamentally different and a more complex situation,” van Emmerik said in a statement.
[...]
Van Emmerik is a professor of kinesiology where he studies human movement. The $975,000 study, which will take 2 1/2 years, is called “Effects of Armor and Load on Action-Perception Coupling.”
[...]
Researchers already know a great deal about load and locomotion, stamina, oxygen use, energy use and so on, Van Emmerik said. His study will expand to look at whether load affects reaction time, visual attention to critical details and the ability to discriminate friend or foe, he said.

The plan calls for van Emmerik and his team to recruit trained infantrymen to be study subjects. They’ll be tested with no load as well as with loads ranging from 70 to 120 lbs.
//

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Tiger August 17, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Why does this require $975,000 & 2 1/2 years to study? The Army has a 100 years of data & studies in a box some place.

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Salisbury Marine August 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm

…You're right that they have a lot of info… but a lot of junk mixed in with the nuggets. Until the 1970s some officers believed that you could "…train troops to go without water…" for long periods… Like going without air… not going to happen… though you can train troops in water management and how to avoid wasting…

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Robert August 22, 2012 at 2:03 am

idiots, you better be using those NEW harnesses transfers wight to hip

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cowichan August 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I am amazed. Looking at photos I would swear even US soldiers come in assorted sizes and shapes. But you are all designed to carry the same weight of gear?

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Defilade August 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm

They have been looking at this since WWI and know the ill effects mentally and physically of an overburdened soldier still the soldiers load has gotten heavier and heavier the only constant is tough realistic training to ensure survival and victory these military industrial bigwigs and think tank generals should just stop wasting taxpayer dollars on these studies they can look at the problem til they’re blue in the face and it won’t do anybody any good unless move out of the lab and do something where the rubber actually meets the road

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Porkupine September 16, 2013 at 12:45 am

At this rate, it won't be long until some sort of terrestrial drones are being deployed along with, or instead of, infantry. The whole situation looks like a losing proposition in asymmetrical warfare (where US lives mean more than Enemy lives). Seems like it takes the joy out of fighting.

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tmb2 August 17, 2012 at 1:28 am

I hope they make some progress towards reducing battery loads, but they're still hamstrung by the fact that according to their metrics the soldier's load is maxed out the moment they put their vest on and pick up their rifle.

I was in Afghanistan when they started issuing the plate carriers and other weight-saving toys en mass. While that new gear was awesome, I saw two major problems. First was battalion commanders mandating that every patrol pretty much be prepared for every contingency, and PEO-Soldier and contractors throwing new toys at us to haul around. The Good Idea Fairy sometimes strikes platoon leaders and below to carry extra or "just in case" equipment, but that can be solved with just plain old company-level leadership. There are risks and trade-offs in war just like everywhere else. In Iraq they gave us body armor, then side armor, then kevlar coverings for our shoulders, biceps, and the gap between our side plates and armpits. By the time you had everything on, you couldn't put your arms down, could barely breath, couldn't replace the water you were sweating out, and were too encumbered to effectively fight. We had to wear all that stuff for 2 years before ground commanders finally allowed us some discretion.

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majr0d August 17, 2012 at 2:27 am

mel – This study is NOT about components, weight or load distro.

“we will for the first time look at how the upper body, trunk and head coordinate in a soldier who is burdened by a heavy load, which is a fundamentally different and a more complex situation,”

"We’ll introduce a visual search task and track the coordination of upper body, postural control and visual acuity,” he said. “No study has yet added all these, plus other factors, together in a realistic way to look at how load affects the soldier’s ability to perceive threats, his or her operational effectiveness and survivability in combat.”

In layman's terms they are going to try to measure how quickly the burdened troop identifies targets and how load impacts coordination and reaction.

I predict they will find this varies from person to person based on factors of fitness, discipline, training and load. When troops are struggling with heavy loads they are not as aware of their surroundings. Heavy loads tire the individual. Fatigue impacts coordination. (DUH) I think the Chinese hooker study and how alcohol impacts contraception was a better use of funds. (yes, some of our stimulus money went to study that)

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majr0d August 17, 2012 at 2:32 am

tmb – That's the micromanagement I was talking about. Believe it or not there was a time where CO/1SGT and even PL/PSG decided the combat load. A large part of the soldier's load problem is we don't empower our junior leaders

Unfortunately this study has nothing to do with equipment (battery weight)

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majr0d August 17, 2012 at 2:43 am

mel – first this study is not looking at "how much is enough".

second, the answer to that question depends on a multitude of factors we've been dealing with hundreds of years. Some of the factors… mission, enemy expected, duration of missions, distance to travel, available support/resupply, route, weather, terrain…

This is a preatty straightforward analysis unit leaders can do. Agree, "That the soldier has to carry just enough to perform his duty effectively is something everyone knows since the earliest time of warfare." The problem today is senior commanders dictate equipment across the board without analysis of the mission but with an analysis of the risk to themselves if they guess wrong. The end result is soldiers carry more than they need to.

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majr0d August 17, 2012 at 5:03 am

You didn't get all the other factors impact an individuals reactions besides load? Unless you isolate/control them you inject variance in the study making it worthless. (I used to design studies at the Infantry school).

You are ASSUMING different load distrobutions. As a former infantryman let me assure you there are very few ways to wear a rucksack.

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ltfunk2 August 17, 2012 at 6:09 am

Its not micromanagement its the comviction that its far better to lose the war then suffer casualties.

We will continue to lose as long as we have a military unwilling to die for victory.

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William C. August 17, 2012 at 6:40 am

Armchair general itfunk wants mandatory bayonet charges? Typical.

You have no idea how these wars are being fought do you? There are no massive battles.

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Thomas L. Nielsen August 17, 2012 at 6:55 am

"We will continue to lose as long as we have a military unwilling to die for victory".

Join up. Be an example to everybody.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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STemplar August 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm

I didnt say they would carry if it, l think l did mention the whole robot thing. I also dont pretend this is stuff ready tomorrow. I do think money wasted on this study is just that. You dont need some egg head study to know how much you carry and how the load is distributed across a soldiers body effects their physical prowess an endurance.

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STemplar August 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I didnt say anything about the current crop of systems.

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Yudi November 18, 2012 at 9:03 am

Corexit is being measured in llvees that are ten times higher than what is lethal for human beings to ingest or breathe. How could they do this to us? In the bioweapons attacks of last year, there was talk of difficult decisions to be made in times of national crisis. Will they sacrifice all the living beings in the Gulf to stop this and maybe have a chance at saving the rest of the world? Yep, probably. Why else have they removed our Navy to Costa Rica? Why else would HAARP be pinging?

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Rob August 18, 2012 at 2:10 am

But that's my point. Why are we exposing soldiers in the open? Why not just control all areas possible using land vehicles and aircraft for remote locations?

Understand some foot units are needed in many scenarios but we could limit casualties just by avoiding being in plain sight so much on average.

Mobility to me was storming a mass force to Baghdad in 48 hours. Setting up a base deep in Afghanistan and sending platoons into remote locations is so tactically backwards.

Keep the whole army on the move. Sweeps and blockades. Bases only at the borders.

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asdfghjkl August 18, 2012 at 8:24 am

What we need is to cut the Human out of the fight. Where's my terminators?

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majr0d August 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm

You are so out of touch with the realities of combat I don't know where to begin.

"using land vehicles and aircraft for remote locations?" You know part of being remote is alack of roads or terrain that supports vehicluar traffic.

"storming a mass force to Baghdad in 48 hours." The drive to Baghdad took near a month.

If we could control land with vehicles, cops wouldn't have to leave their vehicles. Your confusing reality with Starship Troopers.

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blight_ August 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm

And in Starship Troopers, you can drop into the desert, go on the bounce into Baghdad and drop nukes on the Republican Guard.

The whole drone bulldozer thing was a little much…

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Rob August 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm

If it's that remote, helicopter and harriers could easily be used. Cops cannot have guns mounted on their cars, army vehicles surely can.

We are supposed to have this elite armed forces that could defend us against other major countries… and my reality is we cannot effectively even secure an area the size of Texas after years of effort. Our southern border is so filled with illegal immigrants that it's barely America there anymore. Crime is rampant in all our major cities. The flow of drugs never stops. Billions and billions spent against an eternally never ending recruiting hate crime mafia overseas and the country, it's economy are all on edge.

Don't get me wrong, I love our Army and only post some of this to make some of you think outside of the box a little. We could do better then this.

Lastly, Reality to me is that our forces killed many men over there and nothing to stop their children from growing up and coming for us 10-20 years from now. They will feel 'America' killed their life, while when one of our men dies, their kids will only blame 'the war'. This concerns me more then being able to kill a few rogue fighters holed up in a jungle or mountain cave.

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Rob August 19, 2012 at 12:11 pm

"vehicles and missiles can't help much with, and instead had to be solved the old fashioned way.." This I disagree with.

We could be asking upon Arab allies to aid in infiltrating their groups, Sending snipers, hit men, spies, and CIA ops.

Find their ammo sources & suppliers. Take them out as well. Send our entire force in a gigantic sweep. Even if it means to relocate civilians temporarily. Sure much of the enemy may retreat or escape but keep pushing the sweep until we are at the border then plant your base there.

Let native forces deal with random insurgency that get around any secured perimeters. We should focus on the larger groups & their source of weapons. Not playing police in a crowded mass of shoppers.

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Rob August 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Russia failed because they were alone, had difficulties infiltrating and even we supported the insurgency. as well…

So find who's supporting their insurgency and try to block it. Ask Arab allies for help to infiltrate, bring a NATO surge to sweep and beg Pakistan, Uzbekistan and even China to help close the back door.

They refuse to surrender even at their weakest times then have to take it from every angle. Conventionally, asymmetric, covertly, economically, the works. Send viruses to their networks.

Expand surveillance & drones

Also would send operatives on the main roads that seem to circle the north section of Afghanistan.

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Allal November 20, 2012 at 3:40 am

that, allow me say to you exactly what did give good relutss. Your authoring is actually very persuasive and this is most likely why I am making an effort to comment. I do not make it a regular habit of doing that. 2nd, while I can notice the leaps in reasoning you come up with, I am not really certain of exactly how you appear to unite your ideas which make the conclusion. For now I will yield to your point but wish in the near future you link the facts much better.

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