Infantry: October 12, 1999


: The Marines have begun receiving their new Kawasaki 650cc (KLR650 or M1030B1) motorcycles, which are used by various units for recon and messenger duty. These will replace less powerful Kawasaki 250s. All 293 motorcycles are to be on hand by the end of 2000. Conversion from gasoline to diesel engines will begin in 2002.--Stephen V Cole

October 12; THE TOP TEN WAYS TO ENHANCE INFANTRY: With a relatively small expenditure and adding only a few pounds to a squad's load, these ten commercial off-the-shelf items could greatly increase the combat efficiency of American infantry (both Army and Marines):

10. KNEE AND ELBOW PADS: If every kid riding a skateboard or roller blades is expected to wear these flexible and effective items, then why don't soldiers and Marines, who are expected to "hit the dirt" on purpose, have them as well? These would eliminate no end of minor injuries (and a few major ones) and would cost only $30 per infantryman.

9. RIFLE SCOPES: These items cost about $250 each (and must be accompanied by a cheek piece since the scope is higher than the normal sights) but can improve the accuracy of even a mediocre rifleman to the point of getting head-shots at 300 meters. This can be devastatingly effective in combat, and in a "peacekeeping" situation can allow a leader to check out a potential threat (and eliminate it with "surgical" precision). Due to the high cost, we could afford to issue only one to each squad, but even that would be a major improvement. Who should carry it depends on the situation. In combat, it should be carried by a non-leader and considered a special long-range weapon. In a peacekeeping operation, it should be carried by the squad leader, who needs to observe the situation and has the maturity of judgment to make the critical fire/no-fire decision.

8. BALLISTIC EYE PROTECTION: Keeping dust, dirt, splinters, and other small debris out of a rifleman's eyes is a good step toward keeping him alive and shooting. While the military issues a bulky set of goggles, they have inferior protection against flying objects. Simple sports glasses with polycarbonate lenses actually work better, and take up no more space than a normal pair of glasses. These would cost $50 each and should be issued to all infantrymen.

7. PERISCOPES: Decades after trench periscopes were common in the trenches of Flanders, the US military has no such item in its inventory. A simple $75 rubberized system would allow a good field of view around corners, into windows, and over obstacles. One should be issued to each squad.

6. POWER BARS: The MRE is too big and produces too much trash for most combat situations. The military needs to reissue something like the old "D rations" of WWII, basically a compressed food bar (bran, nuts, raisins, whatever) that can provide 400-600 calories and keep a soldier moving for a few more hours. Unlike the MRE which is tedious to open and consume, a soldier could simply rip the wrapper off of a power bar, eat it in three bites, and keep moving.

5. SUPER EARS: These are used by hunters. Powered by four batteries, they block out sharp loud sounds (e.g., rifle shots), allow normal conversation to pass unaffected, and enhance small sounds such as footsteps, whispers, and the crunching of leaves and twigs by approaching enemy patrols. These cost $130 each, and while every soldier could not be issued one, they could be issued in small numbers and used by leaders or by scouts.

4. FAMILY RADIOS: There are not nearly enough radios down inside the rifle squad, and plans to issue a new radio to every soldier are incredibly expensive. It might be simpler to give each soldier a cheap commercial "family radio" transmitter, which can be had in any sporting goods or office supply store for under $20. (A more rugged type could cost as much as $75, and it remains to be determined if more cheaper radios, some of which break, would be better or worse than fewer radios that don't break as often.) While these would lack encryption, the odds that a given enemy would have the type of radio to intercept these transmissions, happen to speak English, understand another unit's internal slang, and be able to use the information in the few seconds he would have, is extremely low. While it would be nice to have a radio for every rifleman, we could get by with one for each heavy weapon and one or two in each fire team.

3. SMALL BINOCULARS: The Army and Marines issue a rather bulky pair of binoculars to leaders (so the enemy will know who to shoot first). While binoculars are handy on the battlefield, they don't have to be quite so big. Plenty of small rubberized binoculars exist on the civilian market that fold up and slip into a pocket. These $50 items should be issued to all fire team and squad leaders.

2. LASER RANGEFINDERS: These items are available in the civilian world for $350 (designed for hunters, building contractors, and other uses). These can accurately determine distances up to 1000m. With such a device, a squad leader could quickly lay out the range cards for his heavy weapons with far more accuracy than ever before. That same squad leader, by using this device in concert with the GPS and compass he already has, could radio precise target information on enemy patrols too close to his position for normal artillery (with its fire-and-adjust procedure) to engage. (The unit's mortars, also equipped with GPS, could do so far more safely, quickly, and effectively.)

1. BULLET TRAP RIFLE GRENADES: These are used by most modern armies except the US, which sticks to its beloved M203 grenade launcher with something approaching religious fervor. Bullet trap grenades do not require special ammunition or fittings; they slide over the muzzle of the rifle and are dispatched toward the enemy with a standard cartridge. Using such things could turn every American Army and Marine infantryman into a grenadier (or, more likely, could turn the one man in the squad who happens to be in firing position to target that window the sniper just fired from into a grenadier). Given the amount of dead space (not to mention windows and doorways) in the urban combat environment, the rifle grenade would provide unparalleled advantage over the existing hand grenade.--Stephen V Cole


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