• Prior to evening patrol in Iraq, AH-64 Apache pilots don survival gear after being instrumented.

    Photo courtesy / Charles Dean

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The things they carry


A mechanical engineer and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who serves as liaison to MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) is conducting the first-ever analysis of the loads soldiers actually carry into combat, using current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as his laboratory.

Lt. Col. Charles Dean (S.M. 1993), the soldier-scientist leading the groundbreaking study of soldiers' loads, is currently leading a seven-member team in collecting data on Army aviators stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dean's data bears out decades of anecdotal evidence that soldiers carry backbreaking loads, often well over 100 pounds. In addition to hampering mobility, carrying such a burden is physically exhausting, and "comfort" items--like cold-weather clothing or extra food--are often sacrificed.

This is the second phase of a three-part study. The first phase, which took place in 2003 in Afghanistan, focused on dismounted infantry soldiers. Dean collected detailed data on nearly 800 paratroopers having 29 different duty positions, weighing them with and without their equipment and noting exactly what equipment they carried. Nearly every soldier carried a fighting load of 60-70 pounds, and most carried more than 100 pounds during approach march (the approach march ends when ground contact with the enemy is made or when the attack position is occupied).

The research is part of an overall Army effort to modernize the individual soldier through technology. Part of this effort is taking place at MIT's ISN. Nanotechnology will help lighten the soldier's load through miniaturization and multifunctionality, and Dean's study is a powerful motivator for the MIT research.

Dean's report concluded the Army must address weight reduction systematically, noting that drastic action would be required to meet its 2010 goal of reducing the approach march load to 50 pounds.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 1, 2004 (download PDF).


Topics: Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Security studies and military, National relations and service

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