Army Continues Working to Improve Warfighters’ Gear, Equipment
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 15, 2007 Today’s soldiers have the best equipment available, and the Army keeps striving to improve it, the general who oversees the equipping effort said.
“In the history of warfare, there has never been a ground soldier as well equipped and capable as the U.S. Army is today,” Army Brig. Gen. R. Mark Brown told Pentagon reporters during a roundtable briefing yesterday.
The weapons, clothing and other gear used by warfighters today make them “more capable, more survivable, more lethal and with better communications than any time in history,” Brown said.
“Even though that’s the case, we never rest on our laurels,” he said. “We’re always looking for something better. … We get the state-of-the-art, and then we immediately start going on to the next thing.”
As commander of the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier program, Brown oversees the production of everything soldiers wear or carry. That ranges from uniform items, protective gear and weapons to optical equipment and communications systems.
With a $1 billion annual budget for research and development and $4.4 billion for procurement, PEO Soldier’s 400 programs all work toward a common goal. “The eternal challenge in PEO Soldier is to balance size, weight and power consumption with soldier capabilities,” Brown said.
That means giving troops the highest-quality, most dependable, lowest-maintenance gear possible, but with the lowest weight and least bulk. It’s a constant balancing act between lightening equipment without losing capability, while adding new systems as they come on line, he said.
Brown’s goal is to limit the maximum fighting load to one-third of a soldier’s body weight. That’s a huge challenge, he acknowledged, when some missions currently require as much as 100 pounds of equipment.
Even the latest Interceptor body armor and outer tactical vest now being fielded weigh about 27.8 pounds. This figure varies slightly depending on size and doesn’t include the added weight for throat and groin attachments or deltoid protection.
Brown said he’s impressed with the speed in which new equipment is reaching the force. The Army has introduced nine body-armor improvements in the last five years and four helmet improvements in the last three.
“What we try to do is develop these things as rapidly as we can and do the research and development, the test, the acquisition as simultaneously as we can,” he said. “A lot is being done and being delivered to the soldier at the right place and right time.”
Brown visibly bristles when asked about news reports that more capable gear is intentionally being kept from the troops. That’s flat-out wrong, he said, and shakes the confidence of soldiers in harm’s way.
“I want to assure the American public, the soldiers and their families that they have the best equipment when and where they need it,” he said. “If there were something better, we would buy it, and we’re always looking for something better.”