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Army conducting 'full-court press' to reduce weight Soldiers carry

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 11, 2011) -- As part of its modernization efforts, the Army is doing everything it can to reduce the weight of equipment and gear now carried by Soldiers.

"We have a full-court press on lightening the load of Soldiers and will continue to work that," said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, during testimony concerning Army budget and modernization, March 9, before the House Armed Services Committee, subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.

The general told concerned lawmakers that Army studies show a fully equipped Soldier can carry anywhere from 50 to 120 pounds in equipment, depending on his mission.

Chiarelli said the Army has given Soldiers the option between the Improved Outer Tactical Vest and the new light-weight plate carrier. That provides a weight savings of 8 pounds, he said.

"That's a significant improvement over the weight we had before," Chiarelli said.

He also said at Yuma Proving Ground, they are demonstrating a new 60mm mortar tripod and 60mm mortar that's 8.7 pounds lighter than what it would replace. Additionally, a new 81mm mortar is 20 pounds lighter than its predecessor.

"For the one who does get caught with the base plate of the mortar, to have a 20 pound savings in the weight is a heck of a lot, which allows that Soldier to carry something else," Chiarelli said.

Cold-weather gear is also getting less bulky and lighter, the general said. And the Army "continues to look at ways to further lighten body armor," though he told lawmakers it's not likely that the most common protective gear for Soldiers, the ceramic protective plates worn close to the body, could become lighter -- because the technology isn't there yet.

"I have not heard of any technologies now that will give us the required protection -- as enemy capabilities continue to increase -- at a lighter weight," Chiarelli said.

Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) said the Army added to the Fiscal Year 2012 budget request a $5.8-million line for research, development, testing and evaluation on Soldier body armor. He also said U.S. Army body armor is the "most tested in the world."

Phillips also pointed out that the Army's new combat boot -- the Danner boot, is 1.2 pounds lighter than what it replaces. "We're looking in every way possible to lighten the load of Soldiers," Phillips said.

Another key modernization issue for the Army is the ground combat vehicle, or GCV. The new vehicle will be designed with four capabilities that have been characterized as "non-negotiables" for the GCV. Those include capacity, force protection, full-spectrum operations and timing.

"We've worked very hard to ensure that this is a full-spectrum vehicle," Chiarelli said. The vehicle offers "capability packages" that give it an ability to work in Afghanistan or Iraq, the general said, and it can be made lighter by taking some kinds of armor off.

Charelli also said GCV will be able to carry an entire squad -- something the Bradley cannot do.

"Finally in the GCV, we'll be able to put the entire infantry fighting squad," he said. "And in addition to that, we'll be able to provide an interpreter and a medic a place to be -- critical on today's battlefield."

Phillips reminded legislators that in August, the Army pulled back the original request for proposal on the GCV to re-characterize the requirements on the vehicle. Of about 900 requirement for the GCV, only about 130 were needed to meet the "big four" capabilities the Army wanted to focus on. That different focus on requirements will help ensure the Army meets its deployment goal for the GCV.

"That will allow us to get this vehicle in seven years at an affordable cost," Philips said.

Chiarelli also addressed congressional concerns regarding the Bradley fighting vehicle, saying the Bradley would be "around for a long time."

The Army's vice said that the Army network "represents the centerpiece of the Army's modernization program," and added "we're past talking concepts -- we are making the network happen."

Lt. Gen. Robert P. Lennox, deputy chief of staff of the Army for G8, said in the FY12 budget were two programs key to supporting the Army network. First, he said, there was about $1.3 billion requested for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical.

"That's the big pipes that get us from satellites down to core/divisions/brigade and battalion and even to the company level that start providing the big pipes and capacity for Soldiers," he said. The next is for the Joint Tactical Radio System. The Army has requested $800 million in the FY12 budget to support that program, "for a variety of radios that take the communications from the brigade and battalion level down through the company and platoon to the individual Soldiers."

The AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio is part of JTRS and the "program has made enormous progress and we think it's on the verge of providing the capacity we need for Soldiers in the future," Lennox said.

Chiarelli recently visited with Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. Some of those Soldiers had used the Rifleman Radio and passed their thoughts on to the general.

"I tell you it made me feel so good talking about a capability we had put in their hands as part of the JTRS family," Chiarelli told lawmakers. " (They) say this fills a capability gap that they have had for the longest period of time. They were just ecstatic about this radio and how it works... the ability to pass data and have voice communication with all the members of that squad... to hear those Soldiers was wonderful."