Equipping the Soldier of the Future

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The Army Times had an interesting article on Equipping the soldier of the future.  Found below are key highlights of the article and SFTT’s analysis.

Key Highlights and SFTT Analysis:

  • The Army has been pushing to identify gear soldiers need or want, find the best solutions and field them quickly. The result is state-of-the-art gear going from idea to inventory in less than a year. Some of these projects have made their way into the ranks; others are just around the corner. 
  • SFTT is encouraged that progress is being made to develop and field new and improved equipment to front line troops.  More encouraging is that feedback from the deployed force was used to bring about change.  In many respects, SFTT has maintained the leading edge in keeping specific items of equipment on the front burner (i.e. Body Armor, the Advanced Combat Helmet, the M-4 Carbine, the 9mm Beretta, and Combat Boots) and credit is due for applying pressure on policymakers while informing the public on the critical need to improve and/or replace them.
  • SFTT supports the following common-sense improvements:
    •  Tactical Assault Panel – This panel is another key piece of the new combat load. It enables soldiers to carry more magazines with wider distribution – and mobility equals survivability. Eight single pouches can be configured to carry either 10 M4 magazines or six magazines with other gear such as the Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio, or MBITR; the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver, or DAGR; or M14 magazines. The design also reduces the soldier’s profile.
    • Medium ruck – Countless troops gave the same report: The assault packs are too small for longer missions and the 72-hour ruck is too big. The new ruck provides a midsize solution – with added benefits. Its detachable harness allows paratroopers to access the pack after they are rigged for jumping without compromising pre-jump inspections. The ruck is one of more than a dozen pieces of gear that comprise a new combat load issued to troops in, and headed to, the ‘Stan.
    •  New boots – Soldiers headed into theater also get two pairs of Danner boots. But Army officials are expected to select a new boot any day. Three lighter, stronger boots are being evaluated, and the Army is expected to take delivery early in 2011. The modular boot will be optimal for Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, and will have a sock device that can be pulled over it to keep the soldiers’ feet warm without causing them to sweat.
    • ‘Green ammo’ – A 2006 survey of combat vets found enemy soldiers were shot multiple times but were still able to keep fighting. One in five U.S. soldiers polled recommended a more lethal round. The answer is the M855A1 enhanced performance round, also known as “green ammo.” It provides more stopping power at shorter distances. The older round had to get into a yaw dependency for maximum effect. If it hit the enemy straight, it would punch right through them. The new ammo is not yaw dependent. If it hits the enemy, he is going down. The Army plans to produce more than 200 million rounds in the coming year.
    • SFTT will continue to highlight concerns with the current strategy to improve and replace Body Armor and the M4 Carbine – specifically, the need to replace the “plate carrier” which the Services currently aren’t planning to do, and for the services to issue a “better carbine altogether” versus continued modification to the current M4 Carbine platform.
  • The Army Times’ updates on these two programs include:
    • 2nd-Generation Improved Outer Tactical Vest – The 2nd GEN IOTV uses a plate carrier to allow soldiers to shed up to 15 pounds while keeping vital organs protected from 7.62 caliber, armor-piercing rounds. The IOTV still provides protection from flame and shrapnel. The side plate carrier is adjustable to provide better comfort and protection. The soldier’s quick-release cable is covered to prevent it from being caught during egress. The medic cable is contained in a canal to keep it in a comfortable position. This cable enables a medic access to a wounded area without completely removing a soldier’s body armor.
    • New carbine — Soldiers will soon get either an improved M4 or a new, better carbine altogether. The first part of the Army’s dual strategy is to radically overhaul the M4 to give grunts an improved version of the special operations M4A1. This offers a heavier barrel, automatic fire and ambidextrous controls. The next 12,000 M4s will be A1s. Another 25,000, as well as roughly 65,000 conversion kits, will be purchased. The second path challenges industry to come up with a better carbine. No caliber restriction has been placed on a new design. The Army simply wants the most reliable, accurate, durable, easy-to-use weapon. It will be at least a 500-meter weapon and have a higher incapacitation percentage. This weapon also will be modular and able to carry all the existing attachments soldiers use. The winner will selected by the end of 2011, depending on funding.
    • In regards to improvements being made to the Advanced Combat Helmet, which the Army Times did not mention, SFTT is following the industry as it continues to develop prototypes, and will provide updates as they become available.  For the tech-science reader this article from “Composite World” describes a recent effort to develop a prototype that could meet the survivability standards SFTT advocates for.  One caveat is that this prototype is specifically for the shell and does not address padding and the helmet harness, areas that must be improved to mitigate the concussive effects resulting from blast injuries. 
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SFTT featured in Greenwich Newspaper

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The Greenwich Post featured a front-page article in this week’s edition describing Eilhys England Hackworth’s heroic campaign to help insure that our frontline troops have the best body armor, helmets, combat boots, rifles and sidearms available.  In an article entitled “Col. Hackworth: Soldiers’ Group Notches Victory,” staff writer Chris Davis describes some of the successes that SFTT has achieved to make sure that our brave heroes have the best combat gear possible.   It is a cause worth fightling for and, I am pleased to reprint the article in its entirety.

QUOTE

May is a special month for Eilhys England Hackworth, chairman of the Soldiers for the Truth Foundation (SFTT), which she co-founded in 1997 with her late husband Col. David “Hack” Hackworth.

Col. Hackworth is “America’s most valor decorated soldier,” according to the SFTT Web site.

“This month marks the fifth anniversary of David’s death,” she said at her home in Greenwich recently, “and the fifth anniversary of my promise — my deathbed promise — to him to continue on with our fight to protect America’s front line troops.”

Her mission is to get them the best available basic five critical pieces of combat gear that give them the best chance possible to get home alive and in one piece — helmet, rifle, sidearm, boots and body armor. And Ms. England has the lowdown on them all, thanks, she said, “to years of brainwashing by my husband.” She says the equipment we send our troops into harm’s way with is lethally substandard.

The helmets our troops use in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said, are not up to the technology that exists today. Not only that, she added, they are also “so grotesquely uncomfortable that soldiers tend to not want to wear them.

“To me, as an American citizen,” she said, “it is extremely offensive that our football players have more effective and more comfortable helmets than our front line troops — 18- and 19-year-old kids, out at the tip of the spear, protecting our cushy good life. These kids deserve to come back and enjoy it too.”

The standard issue rifle is “a jammer,” Ms. England said, a variant of the rifle issued in Vietnam. Ask Jessica Lynch, the West Virginia private who was taken prisoner during an ambush in Iraq in 2003. In 2007, she told Congress that her M-16 rifle had jammed and she was never able to fire it.

As for side arms, the bullets that standard issue pistols shoot “can’t stop a determined opponent,” Ms. England said. “People can fire five shots into a determined opponent and they’ll still keep coming at you, perhaps take you down.”

Boots should be appropriate to the mission and the terrain. An infantry army travels on its feet.

“You can do the math,” she said. “If they don’t have the right shoes, they can’t make the distance to do their missions. Clearly you don’t give somebody the same footwear if they’re in the mud somewhere than if they’re in the sand. And that’s what they do. They tried to develop an all-purpose thing. There’s no such animal.”

She said SFTT would be reaching out to Nike to see if it could develop “the right foot stuff.” Then would come the business of swaying the Department of Defense (DoD) procurement system to use it, a chore that takes “time and public outcry,” she said.

“It’s not a question of money,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. We pay $400,000 to families for the death of a soldier. And that’s a drop in the bucket compared to taking care of people when they come home missing half their brain or both legs.”

“There’s no way that one organization — or 50 organizations — could raise the money and buy our own equipment and send it to the troops.”

Her strategy is to “take truth to power,” she said. Get senators and congressmen to initiate inquiries.

And as of last week, that strategy has started to pay off with the fifth item of vital gear — body armor. “We’ve accomplished what corporations pay lobbyists billions of dollars to do with just our outreach of who we can go to,” Ms. England said, “because they know we talk the truth.”

Body armor has been an issue with SFTT since day one. SFTT takes credit for bringing the issue under scrutiny by alerting the media, leading to a five-part NBC News investigative report and a pro bono Freedom of Information lawsuit against the Pentagon requesting access to autopsy reports on soldiers who died from chest wounds while wearing body armor that should have protected them. The Pentagon has refused to honor the request and the case is now before a federal judge.

Meanwhile, thanks in no small part to the advocacy and influence of SFTT, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates questioning the DoD’s acquisition, testing and quality assurance of its body armor and armored vehicles and inviting the DoD to the Hill for a briefing.

The letter cites a report from the Defense Department’s own inspector general that found “that body armor that was recorded as having passed testing had actually failed.”

“That’s more than an intellectual accomplishment,” Ms. England said. “It will result, we hope, in a lot coming out that should. Soldiers for the Truth is a little tiny engine that could.”

Ms. England calls herself “a big picture strategist. I created and ran a top 50 marketing and PR agency on Madison Avenue. I ran it for decades until David kidnapped me and demanded that he be my only client and that I help him with protecting the troops.

“I loved my husband so much I would have followed him anywhere. I told him that I thought he was brainwashing me every night: ‘You will help me help the troops,’” she said with a smile, with Hack’s original rifle resting on the mantle above the fireplace in her living room. “Who else would extort on their death bed a promise from their wife who adored him to do this?”

At high noon on Saturday, May 22, friends, family and supporters will gather at Arlington National Cemetery to place wreaths at both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and at Col. Hackworth’s graveside and launch a year-long celebration of America’s most decorated hero.

UNQUOTE

Soldiers for the Truth is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit and apolitical educational foundation dedicated solely to help bring our troops home alive and in one piece.  If you find our mission compelling, please consider becoming a member or volunteer your efforts to this worthwhile cause.  Let our troops know that you stand behind them.

Richard W. May

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