2018/04/19

Ultralight portable equipment

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I have a weakness for minimalism, elegance. That's probably why my primary interest in military hardware these days is about the potential of ultralight equipment.
Many standard individual military equipment pieces is shockingly heavy. We don't even have to look at weapons, munitions or armour to find such shockingly heavy equipment: Things such as flashlights, jackets, entrenching tools and compasses often feel like lead-lined.

Fascinating dedication and interesting ultralight hardware solutions can be found in the ultralight backpacking/trekking community and their specialist stores.

They do put their pants on one leg at a time, though. Ultralight weight often comes with a price premium or (more troublesome) with poor durability.
I've come to terms with both. The costs would add up to less than 2,000 € per infantryman or scout, which is completely tolerable. The poor durability seems to be tolerable as well if one adapts the ways one uses the hardware:

The ultralight equipment should be in storage in the barracks and be used on one or two key exercises per year or in times of serious crisis. The ordinary equipment could be the more durable and clearly heavier equipment.

There are even ultralight firearms (not quite in trekking stores, at least not in Europe), such as a roughly 2 kg 5.56 mm NATO/407mm ultralight rifle loosely based on the AR-15 pattern and a roughly 4 kg 5.56 mm NATO/389mm (ultra)light machinegun.

I would expect the former to get real hot real quick, but that isn't much of a problem if you agree with my opinion that infantry should break contact within two (at most four) minutes of being detected by opposing forces (to dodge indirect fires). About two 30 rds mags would normally be spent in such an encounter, and three mags expended should be uncommon. This leads to a requirement that 60 rds/2 minutes should be within a tolerable dispersion and zero shift (such as enough to still hit a helmet-sized target at 200 m 90% of the time in otherwise optimum conditions) and 90 rds/2 minutes should not lead to relevant damage. The UL machinegun would have to rather consume 200/300 rds in that time while meeting expectations and avoiding relevant damage. 
The guns' durability until an armourer has to become involved would be acceptable as low as 1,000 rds for rifles and 3,000 rds for machineguns if really almost nothing fails (a few jams excluded) before those thresholds. Again, the training hardware could be heavier (same ergonomics and accessories, though) in order to achieve a better durability.


It takes some dedication (and for those not inclined to favour minimalism also a portion of self-discipline), but there appears to be a third path alternative to the current overloaded, partially armoured and partially digitised infantry on the one hand and exoskeleton-centric science fiction of fully armour plated and heavily armed infantry on the other hand: The agile ultralight infantrymen/scouts.
I really wish we would test this 3rd way alongside the current and mainstream prototype equipment.

S O
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19 comments:

  1. Current best practice (even the US agrees) is that a soldiers load at no point passes 1/3 of that soldiers body weight.

    Working to this constraint.
    - Less than 400 rounds of 5.56
    - No CSW shared load
    - No quad armour plates
    - Reduced water weight from standard 6 litres.

    Comes with some doctrinal changes, mainly with period between resupply. While the weight tsar in the US Army is trying to cut weight, TRADOC with their move to Multi Domain Battle is calling for "Demand reduction". Reducing the time between resupply of Brigade sized formations to 7 days.

    Search for: Demand Reduction: Setting Conditions to Enable Multi-Domain Battle.

    What will probably happen is the US will spend your 2k to buy more expensive lightweight gear, then increase the load of the soldier with a weeks worth of MREs and ammo. Cost per soldier goes up, weight goes up, combat capability goes down.

    Some interesting photos which proport to be from Wagner types in Syria show that they are currently trying to be ultra cool super secret american sniper ninja types. Side effect of this, their rooneyed up AKs covered in steel rails and every gadget under the sun weigh about 6kgs. There is light weight and there is fashion. The Ruskies are suffering for their art.

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    1. Brigade-sized forces need much more frequent resupply than once every 7 days, at least for arty. Food and small arms munitions can be carried by motor vehicles to satisfy the needs for weeks, but arty munitions need to be resupplied often.
      A single SPG consumes about 10 tons of munitions per average combat day.

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    2. Thats as maybe, but Multi Domain Battle doesnt work unless they give up on being able to secure their MSR.

      Success at continental scale combat is more to do with logistical capacity and efficiency than unit firepower, heresey. Rubbish. Wrong. Regressive!!!

      If we dont resupply our units then our wargaming comes out great!! So the units are going to have to learn to live without resupply. Stop complaining weaklings.

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  2. I found this article about making an effective, lightweight, AR15 really interesting:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI5NPiicXjE

    Chris.

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    1. I watched now a bit and they really seem to follow the (ultra)light philosophy with proper discipline. In their context the weapons also have been more then durable enough.

      In some cases like the bolt carrier they also decide against the lightest components due to the potential trade-off against reliablity.

      Overall composites like fibre reinforced plastics are in quite a few industries no longer exotic but staple.

      Firn

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  3. If you look on weight for an infantryman you can divide some main groups of equipment which are responsible for the most of the weight:

    Weapons, Body-Armour/Protection Gear, Sleeping Bag, Water

    There are other things too like Tents etc but the named four groups are the most important. And everything is connected with each other: for example the soldiers need heavy boots mainly because the equipment is heavy. With ultralight equipment the boots can be replaced by much lighter shoes and this then also spares an tremendous amount of weight and strain. And with much lighter and airy equipment you also do not sweat so much and therefore you do not need so much water etc etc

    Because Weapons and Water are imperative, one cannot change so much here. For Weapons we even need more firepower and therefore more weight. For Water you could substitute it with some disinfectant (like Mikropur Forte with chlorid and silver ions) and regain so water from local ressources.

    So two main groups remain: The Sleeping Bag and Body Armour/Protection Gear. One can replace the sleeping bag (and at the same time the tent and sleeping pad etc) with an ultralightweight sleeping system or can replace them with skills alone.

    This is you can do in many cases: replace equipment and therefore weight with skills.

    One could spare several kilograms with that.

    So there is the one and most important group left: Body Armour / Protection Gear like SK4 wests, Helmets, Chest Rigs etc etc

    The (radical) solution should be to deliberately abdicate that equipment. This would spare tremendous weight and would also lead to much more airy and cooler conditions for the soldiers.

    Some of the weight one could spare here we should the invest in more firepower (not more bullets but instead much more effects in a shorter time) and in stealth (camouflage etc)

    So in the end there should be two priorities:

    Firepower and Stealth

    which should be both the primer above anything else in the equipment and the rest could be replaced by skill or will settle it for himself the same time you spare much of the weight.

    This could lead to an new ultralight infantry which would more resemble scouts than todays heavy line infantry but with much more firepower than any scout unit usualy would have.

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    1. Roughly 80% of casualties are caused by indirect fires. Infantry causes approx. 10% of casualties, give and take.

      I do thus see different priorities than you do; I'm largely fine with modest infantry firepower (still optimised for 2-4 minutes bursts of violence) because growing those ~10% is much less consequential than reducing those ~80%.

      Hence the need to displace yourself by 100+ m within 2-4 minutes of being detected. This requires a lot of infantry mobility (it's much easier with tracked AFVs) and a lot of weight allotted to instant smoke grenades such as SPIRCO.

      So priority on ultralight, good weight distribution (burden on the hip belt), good camouflage and silhouette reductions (no stupid chest rigs, weapon sights not unnecessarily high).
      I'm preferring to limit firepower (no anti-MBT munitions in basic load, 5.56, few grenade weapons, weapons overheat after 5 minutes of firefight).

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    2. Last Dingo:

      >>infantry firepower.....optimised for 2-4 >>minutes bursts of violence....

      That would be exactly my target here, to get more of this 2-4 minutes. The reason why the infantry produce so few effects is especilly because their firepower is so insufficient. With available technology the firepower of the infantry could be increased dramatically and therefore such infantry could cause much more - and then relevant - casualties to the enemy.

      I agree that the basic load should not include anti-MBT munitions. ATGM in an infantry bataillon could perhaps moreover be replaced by specialised AT Mortar munitions like STRIX, but perhaps in an lower caliber (imo 98mm could be explored in ultralightweight mortar systems but with sufficient effects against the top armour, also cluster ammunition is available for that caliber, and one could use very good smoke munitions in that caliber, Gun Launched Micro Air Vehicles etc etc)

      For the same reason i am also an big fan of commando mortars, especially since new electronical sights for them guarantee a high precision even in the first shot (for example fro rheinmetall). Moreover even 60mm commando mortars now have reached the effects of earlier 81mm or even more. And then again Smoke, Illumination, Gun Launched Micro Air Vehicels and so on make such systems so incredibly multifunctional.

      For the question of the proportion between bullets and grenade weapons we need imo more grenade weapons and fewer bullets. One could even think here to willful sacrifice the Assault Rifle as an system in the infantry and replace it with PDW and more grenade weapons and some more semi-automatic sniper rifles.

      Such an increase in firepower would therefore not increase the weight so much as one could think. The infantry weapons were uncared for many decades and are an segment of the weaponary which would not so fast end in mutual cancellation because everyone underestimates them especially because of their low effects (a kind of circle).

      Moreover more firepower also at the same time reduces the own losses and one should also not underestimate the principle of every little helps because such small effects could also add to each other on the whole to a kind of critical mass that will then perhaps be crucial for the overall outcome.

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    3. "and a lot of weight allotted to instant smoke grenades such as SPIRCO."

      That was going to be my question
      Its easy to say "break contact within two minutes", but thats possibly difficult, especially if the other guy knows your weapons are going to start failing after two minutes, and is prepared to risk the casualties to over run you.

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    4. That's mostly about tactics, not equipment.

      Think about a small unit (say, a fireteam of four). It's in burst combat - 2 minutes till it breaks contact.

      Left behind and right behind are other small units on security mission against flank threats and pursuers. The disengaging small unit may be pursued, but the supporting small units would deal with that. And the opposing forces would suspect this out of experience even if there's once in a while no good enough sychronisation.

      (It's quite similar to delaying tactics, where one unit disengages and gets supported on its withdrawal by the next unit to engage the advancing opposing forces.)

      Now think of more than three such small units - more like a platoon of nine fire teams + 1 team with Plt Ldr and a portable infantry gun (M4 Carl Gustav). The outermost fire teams would never advance to engage - they would stay on flank security mission. The others would switch between ambush/security, forward observation and bursts of direct fires.

      There would still be a preference for forward observation (calling in indirect fires on detected targets without giving away one's own position) over direct fires, of course.

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  4. Going ultralight requires a clear focus on performance against weight and does indeed require self-discipline and some modest dedication.

    I pretty much went by the "Ultralight Backpackin" Book and was able to quickly and greatly reduce my loads for mountaineering. There are some key items (backbag, sleeping system, tent/tarp) were good money can give you a lot of weight reduction but without a systematic approach you will find ways to add stupid stuff.

    The idea of a different training and fighting equipment seems sound although there are some ultralight items which don't suffer much degradation from use. Clothing, sleeping mats etc on the other hand do and profit from more durable construction for training use.

    The climbers and mountaineers* seem to naturally fit the ultralight mindset and this is one of the reason why specialized mountain troops should provide fertile ground to tests things out. This goes likely also for units specialized in jungle operations.

    The good thing is that you actually need very little money to try out such this concept and you can do it now with very little risk.

    Firn

    *Messner for example was an utter weight weenie and conditioned himself also to not eating for one or two days. Light and fast can be safer in the mountains then heavy and slow.

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  5. I know in the past, we touched on making infantry lighter and part of the rationale for that is that, once observed, they are inherently vulnerable to rapid targeting by indirect fire. I still see this as a big problem, regardless of how light you make your infantry, particularly with drones becoming ubiquitous. Firstly, how do super-light artillery prevent being targeted by drones? If they are super light, then the systems they employ against drones either have to be super-light or called in remotely. Secondly, how do super-light artillery get away in the event they do surmise they have been located? Other than issuing them off-road bicycles, I can't see what could maintain an element of stealth and agility and still provide sufficient speed. Chris.

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    1. I don't remember writing about UL arty, but I remember writing this:
      https://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2017/08/very-low-level-air-defence-against.html

      I did write a few times about 105 mm Hawkeye, but more in terms of alternative to battalion mortars than as alternative to 155 mm L/52 SPGs.

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  6. There is no law that states that light infantry need to be supported by lightweight artillery systems except in very unlikely airborne intervention scenarios. In Afghanistan light infantry gets supported by Pzh2000 and M270. Artillery ammunition is just as heavy and bulky regardless of what you shoot it from.

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    1. Stan isnt neer peer, which isnt neer peer, which isnt about deterence.

      Stans deus ex machina comes via predator, reaper and spooky not from spg or mrls. Again, assume CAS isnt possible in near peer.

      Playing 'whack a mole' okay. But against Russia or China forget it.

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  7. Indeed, ultra-light infantry should be especially well-supported by heavy firepower coming from higher up and further away.

    In WW2 Stukas were supporting indivual squads of mountain infantry creeping up to bunkers of the Metaxas line with their bombs. After hits the mountaineers would rush in with satchel charges.*

    Today various off-the-shelf PGM solutions delivered by indirect fire are available for long-range assets. Those can far more easily be supplied efficiently and can quickly bring precise and heavy firepower to bear.

    Basically this ultralight infantry with a focus on stealth tries very hard to outsource firepower whenever possible. Batteries to keep all the electronic stuff from thermals to radios running are arguably in many cases more important then the additional 30 bullets just in case.°

    Firn

    *https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3fyqvfL6rA

    °Running out of bullets will of course happen in a war but this is no reason to carry always large amounts of them.

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  8. I have sympathy for your ultralight campaign. I worry about resiliency

    Resiliency of course isnt free, where to draw the line? How long can a leg infantry unit survive isolated from their rear echelon or higher formation

    Food, water and environmental threats cause attrition and in prior wars caused more casualties among infantry than combat. Reducing the carried weight of life sustainment increases the possibility of that returning

    What will the effect on a unit isolated for 12-24 hrs longer than expected be? Loadout choice can change that from an inconvenience to a serious problem

    Routinely carrying only 2-3lt of water comes at a cost. Relying on purifying local water comes at a cost (incorrect purification, poisoned sources, agricultural run-off etc) Food is less important, yes, but what are the effects on infantry who march/patrol/'recon to contact' without sufficient food, for months?

    The US have admitted their IBCTs are not foot mobile (5kms is what Ive heard the planning limit is). Their solution is fully motorised infantry units, GCV. Now they need underway protection, so escorts, LRV. Then you cant rely on light arty, so SPART/MPF. Cost escalation. Death spiral

    They've created a medium weight force with light weight weaponry

    The weight reductions should be used to create a truer form of modern light infantry than we've seen. Increase the manning of infantry battalions with ammunition bearers. Keep the march load 'light' -30Kg, but share it out

    EUR desires controlled defence spending. EUR also designs and produces capable AFVs. Production of those AFVs cannot be quickly (-1 year) increased enough to alter balance. Russia knows that EUR will fight a potential war with what it has

    Light infantry formations are important because they give the most width per unit cost (wage spend comes with a recycling decimator far higher than materiel spend going to the defence industry). Holding a width advantage over RUS causes them a headache for obvious geographic reasons. The primary doctrinal and equipping focus of light infantry formations should be to create strategically relevant units whos number could be increased if a 1936 style march to war is spotted

    Signal using; doctrine, expected mission, 'as equipped' resiliency. Also that should a country attempt to rapidly arm leading towards an inevitable war, the number of such units can be sufficiently scaled up to a level that causes strategic problems

    If its all about deterrence offer them with the prospect of facing this force, deployed and ready, before they can generate their second wave

    How do you avoid being 1940 France. The BEF. The RUS army in Finland, broken up into mottis and starved? How do you plan for the fact that the current iteration of untried technologies will unavoidably cause an initial period of strategic chaos similar to the opening months of WW1. I would say creating infantry that is too light, that requires a higher frequency of resupply, that has more fragile specialised equipment, would complicate operations. The more time that a formation spends serving its own unattacked survival the less time it has to be strategically useful. Are those ISO containers shipping an infantry units 'too hot for summer, too cold for winter, gear' or is it something useful?

    Present RUS with width, make them think about having to scale up their forces. More conscription? Longer period of conscription? More contract soldiers? A larger RUS military allowed by increasing the size/number of infantry formations wouldnt be something they would support for political, security and (current or aspired) cultural reasons

    Join the new improved RUS military. We've got Armata and T50s. Our EW can kill every radio and Aegis system in the hemisphere from a 0.5m antenna. Buy into that, then on to some newly reopened cold war base and get handed a clapped out AK74 and a tin of kasha just before Sasha shows you what a brown hat is

    Doesnt deal with RUS arty but I havent read anyone else who does sufficiently either

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    1. Historical infantry did not carry several litres of water into battle, so it's safe to say this is no necessity. Resupply arrangements need to be made, but they were proved to be satisfactory in many conflicts.

      Supply is influenced by the degree of dispersion. Very much dispersed infantry will find it easy to hide caches and will also be able to live off the land to some degree (including siphoning fuel from left-behind cars, heating oil tanks).
      Very much concentrated infantry would either be with a mechanised force (then their supply needs are but a small share of the overall supply needs) or in urban areas.
      It's fashionable to believe that the latter is very important, but maps of Eastern Europe suggest that the German armed forces should instead consider urban warfare to be less important than it used to be.

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