The ground troops of the U.S. armed forces are carrying more and more gear. A review by the Center for a New American Security says that soldiers in recent wars have carried 90 to 140 pounds into battle. The report states that this weight poses a major injury problem. Paul Scharre, co-author of the report and director of Technology & National Security at CNAS, says that he has firsthand experience with the issue.
“On one mission [in] Afghanistan, I carried 160 pounds, which was basically my body weight at the time. We’re not ants, humans can’t really do that,” Scharre said. “But if we look at the impact on mobility, on fatigue and situational awareness… This is really a vital paradigm shift for how we think about protection and survivability on the battlefield to also factor in the burden of weight.”
DARPA has been pursuing a robotic solution to the problem for over a decade, consulting with universities and institutions across the United States to develop mechanical exoskeletons. Scharre says that while this research could help, the solution might not be found in building new tech.
“At the headquarters level, the Army have always seized opportunities to try to reduce weight. But there’s always advantages for more equipment and more technology. A significant fraction of the weight soldiers are carrying is batteries today for all of the different technological gadgets that they have. When you look at the long historical arc here, over the last one hundred years or so, weight has been going up and up and up. Left to its own devices, I think we are fooling ourselves if we think new technology will solve this problem.”