In World War II, being an infantryman was the third-deadliest job in the American military, behind bombardiers and submariners. In the years since, technology has woven a cloak of stealthiness around bombers and submarines, yet the infantry remains a deadly profession. Over 80 percent of U.S. combat deaths since World War II have been in the infantry, a community that makes up just 4 percent of the force. Survivability in combat has improved dramatically in recent wars because of advances in body armor and combat medicine, but more could be done. The thousands of servicemembers killed, tens of thousands evacuated from theater, and hundreds of thousands suffering from traumatic brain injury point to the dire need to increase the survivability of dismounted ground troops. To address this problem, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has created a Close Combat Lethality Task Force to strengthen the “lethality, survivability, resiliency, and readiness of infantry squads.”
One factor that has slowed improvements in infantry survivability is the fundamental weight-carrying capacity of a human. Modern technology can improve survivability in aircraft and submarines because the platforms themselves can be redesigned to accommodate better defenses. Bombers and submarines have grown in size without sacrificing mobility. The B-2 bomber, for example, is more than twice as heavy as the World War II-era B-29 Superfortress, and cruises more than 2.5 times as fast. For people, however, the load-carrying capacity is fixed. More weight impedes mobility.
Today’s grunts carry anywhere from 90 to 140 pounds in combat. This heavy burden hampers mobility, increases fatigue, and reduces performance. Grunts who carry these loads understand this all too well; quantitative studies support their perception. Studies have shown that heavier loads reduce situational awareness, slow reaction times, and make warfighters more susceptible to enemy fire. Heavier weight also increases injuries. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of soldiers retiring with musculoskeletal injuries increased tenfold, a drain on the long-term health of the force.
Read the full article in Defense One.
More from CNAS
VideoCNAS’ Scharre, Lockheed’s Maxwell on Onyx Exoskeleton and Super Soldiers
Paul Scharre, director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security, and Keith Maxwell, the project manager of Lockheed Martin’s O...
By Paul Scharre & Keith Maxwell
ReportsProtecting Warfighters from Blast Injury
Executive Summary Key Findings Hundreds of thousands of servicemembers suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI), including from exposure to blasts from improvised ex...
By Lauren Fish & Paul Scharre
ReportsSoldier Protection Today
Introduction The Super Soldiers series examines opportunities to improve dismounted soldier survivability in the near-, mid-, and far-term through changes to policies, improve...
By Lauren Fish & Paul Scharre
ReportsA Strategy for Enhancing Warfighter Survivability
Introduction Survivability is an essential component of military effectiveness. Militaries have long invested in protection, such as helmets and armor, to improve the survivab...
By Paul Scharre & Lauren Fish