The Army and Marine Corps are seeking to reduce the total load each soldier and Marine must carry into combat, by reducing the weight of the body armor, or personal protective equipment (PPE), that they wear. According to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this month, the total weight borne by each combat troop averages between 117 and 119 pounds — 27 pounds of which comes from body armor. Other contributors to the total load include weapons systems and ammunition, communications and electronic equipment, food and water, and miscellaneous items.
While the services recognize that personal-protection equipment is essential, concerns persist regarding the impedance of mobility and combat effectiveness the weight and bulk could cause.
“Program officials [from both services] explained that excessive loads can have negative effects on personnel mobility, lead to earlier fatigue onset, and exacerbate the risk associated with high temperature operational environments,” GAO wrote.
The report cited results of medical research that shows significantly reduced effectiveness when combat loads exceed a person’s body weight by 30 percent.
One report, conducted by the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, showed that injury data collected from those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2011 and 2013 indicate that heavy loads may have worsened injuries.
“The Army and Marine Corps have coordinated and developed goals for PPE-related weight reductions. And are pursing some efforts to reduce overall load burdens on personnel,” GAO stated.
The two services hope to trim the load, while improving the form, fit and function of the equipment soldiers and Marines must carry. The Army wants to reduce the weight of hard armor plates by 20 percent, largely by identifying and eliminating excess. They also would like to start research projects that are aimed at improving logistical, aerial delivery, load-transferring systems, and other improvements that could contribute to the goal of lowering the total loads carried by ground personnel.