Affordable dismounted combat equipment enhancement


This blog post will lay out how the cost drivers of infantry equipment can be reduced to such a degree that poorly-funded armies and reservist infantry, support field troops & air force security personnel of well-funded armed forces can be equipped properly for a dismounted fight.

Cost drivers

The #1 cost driver of infantry is the personnel itself, through direct costs, overhead costs and opportunity costs. This cannot be helped much, but you may delete excess personnel from the table of organisation and 'outsource' wartime tasks into reserves. A reservist costs but a tiny fraction of an active duty soldier in personnel expenses.

The historical cost drivers included the firearm (about 45% of a worker's monthly salary for a rifle in 1930's Germany) and clothes (especially the boots), but these aren't really the cost issues nowadays. A good firearm (quality assault rifles can cost about 1,100 € per copy in bulk purchase) and good, functional clothes (hundreds of Euros per soldier) may cost less than 2,000 € per infantryman, an average month's income of an employee in Germany. So the ratio between clothes + gun to monthly average income remained about the same, but these items are merely the basics nowadays.

Estimates about the price of equipment for a U.S. Army infantryman today are well above 15,000 €. 

This infographic is about 15 years old, see also video at 27:51 here.

A proper frag protection helmet and frag protection vest should each cost much less than 500 € combined in army-level bulk purchases. Higher level protection costs more, but is very uncommon in poor army infantry, reserve infantry and among non-combat troops in general (and thus outside the scope of this text).

I don't have detailed data, but by my estimate the new big cost drivers are in no particular order

(a) night vision

(b) radio

(c) firearm sights

Sights can add a lot depending on how ambitious you are, a normal intra-squad radio adds hundreds to thousands of Euros and night vision can cost thousands of €.

Affordable equipment needs to last and have a long shelf life as well. This is necessary because reserves might take items from storage after decades of no use (just with regular counting for inventory bookkeeping). Air force security personnel are wannabe infantrymen and treat their equipment about as harshly as infantry does. Army field support units focus on their main tasks and are at risk to neglect basic infantry-ish soldiering skills and attention to equipment.

So we need long-lasting, long shelf life* affordable equipment for dismounted combat on a modern battlefield.** The price should be divided by the years this equipment lasts, with a bit of discounting of distant future years, as the equipment would stagnate in quality (save for software updates), while competing equipment improves.*** This means a shorter-lasting yet cheaper equipment can be the equivalent to a more expensive equipment in terms of utility for money AND average relative performance.

(A) night vision

The cheapest night vision for short duration is illumination by pyrotechnics, but those burn typically for 30...120 seconds and are thus not a satisfactory solution. Night vision devices have provided superior answers since the 1940's and became standard during the 1990's in decent-funded armies. The cheapest night vision devices are digital cameras, not very much unlike smartphone cameras in nature. They don't come close to the more old fashioned image intensifier tubes in their ability to multiply light, though. Digital cameras would need extra light sources in overcast or new moon nights. Still, the technology CAN be extremely cheap (by comparison to other night vision), and shelf life well in excess of 10 years seems very feasible.

My proposal is a combination of digital night vision goggles, cheap IR aiming lasers, fluorescent bullet bases (tracer-like effect), COTS**** batteries and IR Illumination drones. (Only squad and platoon leaders would get some (cheap) thermal sight.)

Helmet-mounted digital night vision binoculars should be available to a bulk buyer at about 100 € per copy. It should be mentioned that digital night vision is consuming much more electrical power than analogue tech, so the supply and recharging of batteries is quite a burden by comparison.

The cheap IR lasers are visible only with night vision devices. You could have a simple laser trigger on a fore grip with both battery and laser installed in that very same fore grip. Such cheap IR lasers would be very effective aiming aids with helmet-mounted night vision devices at the relevant combat distances for the intended users. Price about 30 €

Fluorescent bullet bases should be more than bright enough with digital night vision goggles. The commercially available fluorescent tracer bullets are indeed too bright; the tracer effect should only be visible to night vision tech from behind. They would allow troops to see what others are shooting at, not just what others are aiming at (which can be shown with the aiming lasers). Every bit less confusion and cluelessness is welcome in nighttime firefight stress. (Cartridges are munitions, not weapons or personal equipment. I won't add the price of this.)

COTS batteries; AA AAA or CR2032 batteries won't become obsolescent anytime soon, and the ability to switch off the lights of red dot sights means that no tritium-illuminated sight is giving you away to night vision users at night. The price of such commercial batteries is negligible.

IR Illum drones; I wrote about IR Illum pyrotechnics weeks ago, and I also mentioned the duration  issue. It's likely MUCH smarter to have an artificial 'moon' (silent, unpredictably-manoeuvering drone at 100+ m altitude below cloud cover with a wide angle LED IR light) with 10...30 minutes on-station time. Someone 2+ km away would have to launch one such drone every 10...30 minutes, recharge the recovered ones and adapt the autopilot programming to changing needs. This should be less effort and cheaper after a night or two than using IR Illum a lot.

The soldiers could additionally deploy their own thrown LED beacons (set to flashing or illumination); a COTS battery coupled with a LED light and almost nothing else (example here). Their costs would be tiny (less than 5 € per copy including the battery) in a huge bulk purchase. Such LED beacons can also be used for communication, such as marking mine-free lanes, communicating to air power, marking cleared rooms and so on.

(B) radio

Intra-squad radios are a great tool, but they can also be quite costly. You can gold-plate them A LOT, up to complete inertial navigation system with occasional GPS/Galileo use, alerting for incoming indirect fires or aerial threats, NBC alert, voice-to-text and text-to-voice for minimizing data transmission needs, encryption/decryption. Alternatively, you could go for really cheap stuff that works under favourable conditions out to 400 m and costs 30 € per pair in toy stores. 

I suppose it's possible to find a middle ground; a bulk order for 100,000 pieces without (AA) batteries should be doable at prices that even the worst-funded NATO armies can afford. 128 bit encryption/decryption seems doable at that price. I say € 10 M including development effort; 100 € per copy for the launch customer for 100k items bulk purchase. This is still multiple times the price of Linux-capable maker computer boards with CPU, graphics and stuff. A self-made software-defined radio with encryption/decryption capability ends up at less than 50 € material cost in retail prices, by the way!

You can't have such prices if you don't encourage non-arms industries offers in your tender, of course. Harris, Thales and the likes would never offer such a price. Their rifleman radios cost thousands of Euros per copy.

(C) firearm sights

I've been arguing in favour of rather short infantry combat distances (at the very most 400 m dismounted vs. dismounted for assault rifles, but only up to 200 m is really relevant) for a while because you did something wrong if you can be seen from more than 100 m distance and you shouldn't give your position away with needless shooting before you were detected. Leave all the 300+ m targets to snipers, AFVs, indirect fires or collect intelligence by observing them rather than forcing them to become more stealthy! Shorter combat ranges also allow for more lightweight weapons, munitions and sights.

The natural conclusion for affordable sights is thus a red dot sight with an integral on/off switch and CR2032 battery power (COTS). Sights for longer ranges aren't needed. The price per red dot sight could be as low as € 50. Quality sights cost a lot more, but this is about making it affordable for troops who would usually not have quality sights anyway. Red dot sights (and their batteries) could be trusted down to -20° C. This would usually suffice, and a very simple (100 m fixed range) folding 'iron' sight could be installed as backup. Even a cheap red dot sight is a huge improvement over iron sights in the stress of battle (not so much on a firing range).

Maybe I'm delusional here, but I estimate the normally just assault rifle + clothes + helmet equipped support soldier of some Eastern European NATO army or Western European army reserves could be turned into a much more effective and thus much more confident (and this is the real value here!) night combat-capable rifleman at the staggering price tag of  about 300 € plus 300 € per infantry squad and platoon (COTS thermal imagers for small unit leaders to enhance detection) and another 20,000 € at unit or battalion level (for the illumination drones set). (This leaves frag protection vests out as they are already widespread in use.)

Let's assume a hypothetical support battalion of  300 personnel with 10 platoons and 30 squads. This sums up to about 122,000 € modernization cost for the whole formation. The illumination drone team of two might need a cheap 4x2 vehicle, let's assume 15,000 € for that as well. The expense per head stands at about 450 €. This is affordable. It would shock our procurement agencies with its lack of mil spec robustness, but the alternative is to have no night vision other than an NCO's flare gun and flashlights, usually only iron sights only, and no intra-squad radios at all.

This applies just as much to infantry of poor non-NATO countries and of course also to stored sets for reservists and 'rear' area troops in well-funded armed services.


Uniforms are an obsolete concept


Everybody nowadays agrees that the red, blue, white uniforms of the absolutism era and even 19th century would be a horrible idea on a modern battlefield. They made troops especially visible and identifiable, which made the commanding of formations on a battlefield easier. Firearms improved in firepower, and it became imperative to seek concealment, cover, camouflage and be dispersed.

The French persisted in using colourful uniforms into WWI
(correctly colourised photo)

The reason why such easily visible uniforms are obsolete is that they're too easy to detect and identify. You cannot afford that on a modern battlefield because firepower has become terribly lethal (and the partial bulletproofing of infantry doesn't change this).

That's EXACTLY the reason why I think that ALL uniforms - including modern ones - are obsolete.

What? You think it's not that easy to see a camouflage pattern-clothed soldier outdoors at 100 m?

Me neither, but you should stop thinking with your eyes. This is the age of electronics. It's a decades-old story that law enforcement uses aerial sensors to find marijuana plants based on their colour spectrum.* This is literally something that can be done with a man-portable drone over several kilometres range.

Likewise, all those exactly military specification-following camouflage clothes and vehicle camouflage paint jobs (and even the industrially-made ghillies and camouflage nets) can (as far as I know) be detected quite easily by their spectral fingerprint. They stand out to a appropriately-prepared sensor and computer as bright red would do.

A typical man is unable to correctly name more than two or three shades of green. Some Amazonian tribe reputedly knows 50 names for different shades of green. A computer can correctly identify ten thousands of shades of green in less than 1/1000th of a second.

Weathering of colours (such as many times washed clothes, or old vehicle paint jobs) is very likely something that the algorithm can simply take into account. The false alarm rate may be an issue, but today's machine learning methods and an ability to zoom in on a first detection for confirmation should render false alarm rates acceptable.

Camouflage patterns are furthermore patterns. Repeat, patterns. Pattern recognition is one of the strengths developed for computers in the past two decades. Camouflages patterns are difficult to discern from certain backgrounds for a human brain at certain distances - but a dedicated computer algorithm can identify such patterns easily regardless of context.


In the end, technology may spell doom for uniforms and standardised vehicle paint jobs for battlefield usage, leaving us with uniforms for non-battlefield troops, which would be a relic - largely devoid of function.

The things that may be redeemable about battlefield uniforms are their shapes (cut) and materials.

Predictability hurts in warfare - and what's more predictable than an army wearing the same clothes and painting all its vehicles alike, for decades?

edit: a somewhat related research paper


Figure 4 shows the problem; the amouflage fabric looks like foliage to us humans, but a spectrum analysis shows something completely different. Figure 6 reminds me of how algorithms can easily discern a small boat from a background of seawater and white spray - the effective contrast is much greater to the algorithm than to the human brain.



 example: channelsystems.ca/sites/default/files/documents/UseofSpectralPropertiesforWeedDetectionandIdentification_Noble.pdf  If still in doubt, look up 'marijuana spectrum detection', but absolutely avoid searching for 'marijuana spectrum'...

P.S.:  Years ago I wrote that camo pattern uniforms are fine for non-combat, non-reconnaissance troops, but combat and reconnaissance troops should strive for better camouflage effect than possible with standard pattern uniforms. Ghillie-like camo jackets modified for the local and seasonal environment, for example. Camo pattern clothing risks suggesting that it's good-enough camo by itself, but both combat and recce troops should strive for better stealth than that. One way to ensure this could be to give them monochrome grey, green or brown camo clothes (at least for the torso). Now I think that maybe the visible parts of such a colour base layer could be very troublesome.



Sensor fusion attack drones

An Israeli firm exhibited a supposedly world-first drone in July*; it is a loitering kamikaze drone that combined a passive radio frequency seeker with rather ordinary electro-optical and thermal sensors.

 (marketing video; don't believe everything you see in advertising)
It appears to be the product of the 'small Harop' development project (I could have checked this, but it's too peripheral and I'm no paid author here).
This drone is no doubt still rather expensive (think: car to super sports car price range) and it's big, but let's assume that costs and sizes go down over time as usual and make such drones/missiles affordable in large quantities. 

The new face of air dominance** would not be thousands of P-47s, Typhoons and other tactical aircraft over Normandy '44 or hundreds of A-10s and supersonic jets slaughtering withdrawing Iraqis in 1991: It could be thousands of loitering (and in case of no success returning for recovery) drones that do not only search for targets with thermal sensors (often based on cues by dedicated recce assets), but also detect almost all*** kinds of radio emissions as a lead for further investigations with IIR and E/O. Multiple communicating drones could pinpoint emitter locations precisely by triangulating, so ceasing emissions is of little help against drones that can look with imaging infrared sensors and know very well where to look.

Movements would compromise stealth as they did in '44 and ever since, but so would also many uses of radar and radio communications.

This is not only a horror scenario for underfunded small country armed forces fearing that their country might be targeted for bullying by some great power(s): Such oppressive use of drone airpower might be the fate of those who neglect updating their idea of air war and reorienting their battlefield air defences in time. An once-a-decade investment of € 1 bn with almost no operating costs might suffice to dull the tip of the spear of two mechanised NATO brigades.

*: This blog post was actually written and scheduled for publication on July 15th.
**: This is about the exploitation of air dominance. How to gain and sustain it is a different issue.
***: Some radio frequencies have so very high atmospheric dampening and some such emitters so very low power that detection is impractical beyond uselessly short distances. This includes wireless communication between personally electronics carried by the same person or vehicle. Other radio links would be directional and some radars would 'look' horizontally with too little emission power upwards to where the drones would be.


Link dump September 2021


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It's a couple years old, but I suppose it could be relevant for windows of subsonic aviation and land vehicles in regard to avoiding the glare that's in daylight more of an issue than whether your camo paintjob is plain grey or some fancy digital six-colour pattern. This glare issue is why AFVs and many battlefield helicopters have only flat glass areas that reflect direct sunlight only in one direction instead of in many like a beacon.

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Don't be a covidiot.

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 FYI gidmk.medium.com/is-ivermectin-for-covid-19-based-on-fraudulent-research-5cc079278602

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This is a humorous collage showing Russian troops on Kabul airport. It made me wonder whether there's a point to having a tail gunner position AND a bow gunner position on military transport aircraft after all.

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I blame Austria for the existence of this joke.

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[German] tagesspiegel.de/politik/heiko-maas-und-der-abzug-aus-afghanistan-wer-wissen-wollte-konnte-wissen/27535630.html

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[German] zeit.de/stoerungsmelder/2021/08/24/goldgraeber-am-rechten-rand_30939

Ich meine ja schon seit Jahren, dass es wichtig ist, über den Schwachsinn der in Amerika abgeht informiert zu sein. Deren Schwachsinn schwappt häufiger mal nach Europa über. Diese Verquickung von rechter Propaganda/Hetze/Angstmacherei mit Verkauf von Büchern, Nahrungsergänzungsmitteln, Gold, Waffen und Post-Apokalypse Ausrüstung (zum Beispiel schwachsinnig unzureichend kleine Mengen von Saatgut) ist dort schon seit langem ein offensichtlicher Bestandteil des rechtsradikalen Subkultur. Beispiele:



Auch beliebt ist die Abzocke als Geschäftsmodell bei weißen Evangelikalen "Predigern" (insbesondere beim 'prosperity gospel' mit dem "seed" Schwachsinn), die sich auch mit Rechtsradikalen vermischen, weil sie nicht blöd sind und wissen, dass der Rechtsradikalismus ein Sammelbecken für Schwachköpfe und andere Leichtgläubige ist. Das ist genau die Zielgruppe, die Evangelikale für ihren eigene Maschen brauchen.

Diese Abzocke mit eigentlich offensichtlichem Schwachsinn erzeugt also ein Profitmotiv und auch finanzielle Fähigkeiten für antidemokratische Gruppen, die einen Großteil ihrer Landsleute einfach nur noch hassen.