New tech­nol­ogy to re­duce sol­dier’s load


Cur­rent and fu­ture de­vel­op­ments in en­ergy pro­duc­tion prom­ise to lower the sol­dier’s com­bat load and re­duce the lo­gis­ti­cal foot­print, said an army sys­tems ex­pert. Cur­rent tech­nol­ogy could al­low sol­diers and their ve­hi­cles and equip­ment to one day pas­sively cap­ture so­lar en­ergy, which will au­to­mat­i­cally charge bat­ter­ies used for net­work com­mu­ni­ca­tions and other tasks, said Ma­jor Mark Owens.

Owens, a sys­tem co­or­di­na­tor at the Of­fice of the As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of the Army for Ac­qui­si­tion, Lo­gis­tics and Tech­nol­ogy, spoke at an Op­er­a­tional En­ergy fo­rum, in the Pen­tagon.

Now in re­search and de­vel­op­ment is an ap­pa­ra­tus Sol­diers would wear to re­duce mus­cu­loskele­tal in­jury and in­crease per­for­mance. The de­vice would also gen­er­ate en­ergy for bat­ter­ies when the sol­dier is walk­ing down­hill and “brak­ing,” he said, much like en­ergy-re­gen­er­a­tion brak­ing used in elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Another pos­si­ble sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ment in the fu­ture would use the os­cil­lat­ing mo­tion of a sol­dier’s rucksack to cap­ture en­ergy – up to 50 watts worth, Owens said. “You ob­vi­ously wouldn’t want to os­cil­late when go­ing down a moun­tain, so it could be locked in place.” A sim­i­lar pas­sive-en­ergy col­lec­tion de­vice could be in a ve­hi­cle seat. The weight of the sol­dier could gen­er­ate power, he said.

Some­day, ther­mal elec­tric de­vices could line sol­diers’ ar­mour, pro­duc­ing a mild air-con­di­tion­ing ef­fect of cool­ing down a sol­dier by about five de­grees Fahren­heit, he said. It would have an added ben­e­fit of re­duc­ing wa­ter in­take and the as­so­ci­ated weight of car­ry­ing a lot of wa­ter.

Smart tex­tiles could some­day route en­ergy through the fab­ric of the sol­dier’s com­bat uni­form, re­duc­ing the need for ca­bles and other de­vices con­nect­ing the bat­tery and net­work­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions, he of­fered.

Why the Army’s sud­den in­creased in­ter­est in re­duc­ing weight and in­creas­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency?

New net­work com­mu­ni­ca­tions gear worn by sol­diers keeps get­ting heav­ier and heav­ier, he said. The army pre­dicted that in the fu­ture, the power needed to gen­er­ate th­ese de­vices will in­crease from the cur­rent 3 to 4.5 kg to 6.3 kg for a 72-hour mis­sion.

That doesn’t seem like much, but the ef­fect of new gear dis­mounted sol­diers carry makes the load heav­ier and heav­ier, Owens said. At some point, the army be­gan to ask it­self “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Con­sider that dur­ing World War II and Viet­nam, the av­er­age sol- dier hauled about 36 pounds of stuff, he pointed out on a slide. Dur­ing op­er­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan, that load in­creased to 35 kg.

“If you have loads for dis­mounted in­fantry­men of from 30 to 60 kg, you be­gin to de­grade their abil­ity to ma­noeu­vre, de­grade their sit­u­a­tional aware­ness and there’s tremen­dous im­pact to the mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem, with in­creased prob­a­bil­ity of in­juries and longterm con­se­quences,” he said.

Owens was quick to point out that much of that added weight in­creased the chances of sol­dier’s sur­viv­abil­ity on the bat­tle­field in the form of in­creased sit­u­a­tional aware­ness through bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions and more ef­fec­tive fire­power. How­ever, at some point, a sol­dier can only carry so much, so there has to be a sweet spot.

To get to that spot, the army in 2009, started look­ing at how tech­nol­ogy could con­trib­ute to de­creas­ing the sol­dier’s load from a power per­spec­tive, since food, wa­ter and body ar­mour were al­ready at their lim­its in pos­si­ble weight re­duc­tion, he said.

In 2003, 90 per cent of the bat­ter­ies pur­chased by sol­diers were non-recharge­able, he said. So, if a sol­dier went out on pa­trol, he’d come back with maybe 60 per cent of the charge still in his bat­ter­ies, but toss them and get new ones for the next day’s pa­trol, just to be on the safe side.

The army is rev­ers­ing that trend to­day, with lithium-ion recharge­able bat­ter­ies that are more pow­er­ful, weigh less and come with charg­ing sta­tions, he pointed out. The newer bat­ter­ies also last about 25 per cent longer.

The charg­ers that were used in 2003 could not be run by so­lar or ve­hi­cle power and they were less rugged than the ones now be­ing pro­duced that can use al­ter­nate en­ergy sources, and can run off AC or DC cur­rent.

Another prob­lem is that the 2,590 bat­ter­ies sol­diers have been wear­ing, while pow­er­ful, are also a po­ten­tial safety haz­ard when pen­e­trated by rounds or shrap­nel. They’re “not some­thing you want to have on your body when that hap­pens,” he said.

An army pro­gramme of record for 2016 through 2020, will re­sult in bet­ter bat­tery and charg­ing tech­nolo­gies get­ting out to sol­diers in the field, Owens said. For ex­am­ple, recharge­able bat­ter­ies that are flat­tened out and flex­i­ble with charge in­di­ca­tors on them will be worn by sol­diers to sup­ply their net­work com­mu­ni­ca­tions and other gear.

Univer­sal charg­ing sta­tions are part of that pro­gramme, ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing off al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources or even draw­ing en­ergy from par­tially charged bat­ter­ies, he added.

A US sol­dier demon­strates Lock­heed Martin’s Hu­man Univer­sal Load Car­rier, de­signed to al­low sol­diers to more

eas­ily carry up to 90 kg

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