Magazine article National Defense

Soldiers' Backpacks Not Likely to Get Any Lighter

Magazine article National Defense

Soldiers' Backpacks Not Likely to Get Any Lighter

Article excerpt

* For a three-day mission in Afghanistan, a soldier carries about 130 pounds worth of stuff. The Army for years has promised to "lighten the load" by providing troops equipment that weighs less.

But the plan has not worked out as expected. Some of the gear that soldiers take to war is lighter than the older equipment it replaced. Collectively, however, the combat load has not become lighter because most of the weight consists of essentials -- food, water, and ammunition -- that soldiers need for survival and cannot be replaced with lighter items.

There is one piece of equipment that would dramatically reduce a soldier's load: a water purifier that would enable him to drink from rivers or lakes. But no such purifier exists, at least not one that meets U.S. safety standards.

"Everyone wants to know what we are doing about water," says Brig. Gen. Peter N. Fuller, the Army's program executive officer who oversees soldier equipment.

The Army and Marine Corps have endlessly studied ways to reduce the combat load, but in the end, it's water that contributes considerably to the heavy load, Fuller says in an interview at his office in Fort Belvoir, Va.


"We are looking for technologies everywhere," he says. There are purifiers overseas that troops from other countries use, but those don't meet U.S. certification standards, Fuller laments. "We have freeze-dried water. But you have to pour water to make the water."

Failed attempts at lowering the weight of troop loads cannot be blamed on lack of trying. The Army has practically reduced the weight of nearly every piece of gear in the inventory, but it still can't make a dent in the overall kit.

It's a losing battle, says Fuller. "Every time we take something out, the soldier makes up the weight with other things."

Items such as sensors, tripods, cold weather clothing, boots, sleeping bags, flashlights, protective eyewear, all have been replaced by lighter variants. …

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