September 25, 2010: The U.S. Air Force pararescue (who go into enemy territory to rescue downed pilots) troops are getting equipment that makes it easier for them to carry the up to 73 kg (160 pounds) of gear they need to do their job. This includes communications equipment, medical gear, ropes and the like. Normally, this stuff is carried in a backpack or attached to the harness (“webbing”) that is worn over the shoulders and chest. The air force sought a better way to hang all this stuff off a pararescue operator, and still leave him mobile enough to accomplish their mission.
The solution was to make more use of the webbing, belt and numerous pockets in the combat uniform. Combat troops have long improvised this way, wrapping gear around forearms and the lower leg. The new air force approach, called BATMAN (after a similar approach pioneered by the fictional character of the same name), sought to hang this gear off the pararescue man’s body deliberately, using scientific measurements, and feedback from users.
The BATMAN project is part of a trend, in which simultaneously tries (without much success) to lessen the weight of the load troops carry into combat, and to make the load easier to manage. The latter effort has had much more success, and the same weight is easier to carry with today’s webbing and packs, than it was a decade or two ago.
Making life easier for pararescue operators is also expected to help recruit more of them. Until four years ago, the pararescue troops belonged to AFSOC (Air Force Special Operations Command), but has now been transferred to the Air Combat Command (which controls all the combat aircraft). Losing that connection with Special Operations didn't help. But maybe Air Combat Command will have better luck in recruiting, because the special tactics units are always under their authorized strength. That's largely because standards are very high and, unlike the army, the air force does not have a large pool of combat trained people to recruit from. The pararescue training is commando quality. This training typically washes out 40-80 percent of the candidates, takes up to two years to complete, and costs up to half a million dollars. BATMAN would make it easier for some recruits to get through the training, and a lot easier for graduates to get their job done.