MechWarrior was a popular game back in the Stone Age.

We’re inching our way toward it now.

Of the many risks dismounted Soldiers face in the field, one of the most common is injury from carrying their gear—often topping 100 pounds—for extended periods over rough terrain. Heavy loads increase the likelihood of musculoskeletal injury and also exacerbate fatigue, which contributes to both acute and chronic injury and impedes Soldiers’ physical and cognitive abilities to perform mission-oriented tasks. To help address these challenges, DARPA seeks performers for the last phase of its Warrior Web program.

Warrior Web aims to develop a soft, lightweight undersuit that would help reduce injuries and fatigue and improve Soldiers’ ability to efficiently perform their missions. The garment would protect injury-prone areas and promote efficient and safe movement over a wide range of activities (walking, running, jumping, crawling, etc.). Comfortable, durable and washable, the garment would not interfere with body armor or other standard clothing and gear. DARPA seeks to create a working prototype that significantly boosts endurance, carrying capacity and overall Soldier effectiveness—all while using no more than 100 watts of power.

“Many of the individual technologies currently under development show real promise to reduce injury and fatigue and improve endurance,” said LTC Joseph Hitt, DARPA program manager for Warrior Web. “Now we’re aiming to combine them—and hopefully some new ones, too—into a single system that nearly every Soldier could wear and would provide decisive benefits under real-world conditions.”

The decreased mobility, shortened endurance, and much higher risk of injury imposed by the extraordinary loads today’s infantry must carry have made them far less effective, in the close fight than in the past. This is, of course, offset to some extent by the much greater survivability provided by the modern body armor, and by increases in their sensors and targeting capability.

The key hurdle for any such exoskeleton system is power. How to power the system without the battery or other source becoming an even greater burden, either directly on the soldier or simply on the logistical pipeline, has been the biggest challenge.

I think we’re a long, long way from seeing a practical system fielded throughout the force, but the progress made in the last decade is pretty impressive, for relatively modest sums of money.

Roamy roundup

A little outdated (Curiosity passed 1 km in June), but still a pretty neat graphic.
h/t Col. Chris Hadfield, who also brings us this bit of trivia. “With no gravity to compress the soft tissues in the throat, astronauts don’t snore in space.”
The astronauts onboard the ISS were able to recreate the leak in Luca Parmitano’s spacesuit, so now they know what to ship back to Earth for failure analysis.
Cool pic of a Delta IV Heavy launch on Wednesday from Vandenburg Air Force Base. Payload was an NRO satellite.

Air Force Anti-Alcohol Campaign moves into high gear.

Young people drinking exercise poor judgment. Virtually everyone in the service knows someone who did something stupid, got in trouble, and embarrassed themselves, their unit, and their service. And so, it’s not surprising the services have taken measures to discourage drinking.

The Air Force might be getting a bit carried away though.


Prosecutorial Reachback

Back in 2008, Congress passed a law that allows federal prosecutors to  pursue cases against discharged servicemen who are alleged to have committed crimes under the UCMJ, and yet were discharged before any proceedings.

There’s some sound reasoning behind this. Let’s say a notional service member committed an offense while deployed, say murder of a foreign national, and yet managed to escape detection until he was beyond the reaches of military law. Absent an ability to try him in federal court, it’s conceivable he could get away with murder.

But here we have a case where a Marine either negligently discharged his weapon, or purposefully shot another American.

When the gun went off inside the trailer at a Marine outpost in Iraq in 2008, the bullet pierced the left temple of a Navy hospital corpsman who was seated on his cot, rupturing his left eye and exiting though his right cheek. He survived, but was left partly blind.

Wilfredo Santiago

A Marine corporal who was present, Wilfredo Santiago, then 23, first told the authorities that he had heard a shot but not that it came from his own gun. About a week later, he admitted to a Navy investigator that while unloading his weapon, it accidentally discharged, copies of his statements show.

“I froze for a moment,” Corporal Santiago said, adding that he looked at the corpsman and “saw blood begin to form on the left side of his face.”

Corporal Santiago said that the corpsman, who acted as a medic for their team of Marines, which was stationed at Camp Echo and periodically rotated to the outpost, had been a close friend, and that he “would never do anything to intentionally hurt him.” He regretted not coming forward sooner with the truth, he said, adding, “I was afraid, and did not know what to do.”

The military took no action against Corporal Santiago, who was honorably discharged some months later and now lives with his wife and child in the Bronx. But last January, federal prosecutors in Manhattan had him indicted on charges of assault resulting in serious bodily injury and of lying to military investigators, all stemming from the Jan. 26, 2008, shooting of the corpsman, Michael Carpeso.

At the time of his discharge,  no punitive measures were taken under the UCMJ, neither judicial nor non-judicial.*

I tend to believe the prosecution’s assertion that an administrative error lead to Santiago’s discharge without any punitive actions.  In my experience, a negligent discharge of any type is grounds for some adverse action, and certainly one which sees a fellow servicemember**  severely wounded and disabled.  My own negligent discharge of a blank round on a training mission lead to a Summarized Article 15 (5 days extra duty, in my case). And a friend who negligently discharged 7 rounds from an M249 SAW badly wounded two other soldiers. He was sent before a General Court Martial, and sentenced to 18 months, reduction to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge.***

But here’s the thing. The government had its shot at Santiago. It is not his fault that the Marines dropped the ball on flagging his records (preventing him from being discharged while under investigation) or otherwise meting out some punishment to him. It isn’t like the Marines didn’t know the incident had taken place.  The 2008 act by Congress was clearly not meant as a way for the state to get a second bite at the apple.

Further, a delay of five years from the incident certainly seems extreme.  The government has vast resources with which to locate and interview witnesses for the prosecution, but the defense rarely has more than the barest assets with which to merely review the government’s case, let alone locate and depose witnesses for the defense. Especially, in this case, when the unit interpreter, an Iraqi national, will likely prove quite difficult to locate, let alone bring to trial as a witness.

I’m all for the vigorous prosecution of wrongdoing. That’s a keystone of a stable democratic society. But I’m even more for the concept of a fair trial, in which the vast powers of the state are constrained, and laws intended for one purpose are not imaginatively applied by zealous prosecutors for entirely different reasons (RICCO, anyone?).

What say you?

*Punishment under Article 15 of the UCMJ is handled by the unit commander, and is non-judicial in nature. That is, while it has adverse administrative effects and is often the basis for separation from the service, it does not count as a conviction, unlike a court martial.

**The Navy provides medical services to the Marines, including attaching Hospitalmen to the Fleet Marine Forces as combat corpsmen. They wear Marine uniforms, and are generally accepted by the Marines in a way no other sailors are.

***Upon review by the convening authority, his sentence was commuted to 6 months, reduction in grade to E-1, and forfeiture of pay and allowances. I forget the exact nature of his discharge, but I do recall it wasn’t a Dishonorable.

Paralysis by Analysis

Robert Kozlowski, writing at the US Naval Institute’s USNIBlog has a good post that shows a startling graphic.

Open the graphic in a new tab to see the whole thing.

I’m curious what happened to the acquisition process in 1975 that lead to such a sharp increase in the time needed to field a weapon system.

But the key thing is, time is money. Lots and lots of money. Now, you’ll say, XBrad, the items like the B-2 and the F-22 are pretty cutting edge technology. And so they are. But so were things like the B-58, and the F-111. Notice also, the F-117, a cutting edge technology, had minimal oversight, and yet it reached IOC well below the trendline.

I’d expect to see some increase in the trendline of development times. But I’d expect to see something more like that commercial aircraft timeline, or even a little steeper. But clearly, something in the process of acquisition has changed. And Kozlowski argues that it is the intense oversight. I’m agree. And I’ll note that the purpose of the oversight was to ensure money spent was well spent. Oddly, the oversight, both within DoD and from outside, be it the GAO or Congress or whomever, has stretched the timelines to untenable lengths. We’ve already seen programs such as the RAH-66 Comanche that ran so long in development that they were obsolete before they were even ordered into production.  And I’d argue that the drawn out development and oversight costs more than simply mismanaging programs in the first place would have.

What Might Have Been: The Polish PZL P.50 Jaszdrab (Hawk)


Salamander’s encore FbF today was a tribute to the suicidally brave pilots of the Polish Air Force, who rose in small numbers and outmoded machines to contest the modern and lethal Luftwaffe of the Third Reich, seventy-four years ago this week.


The aircraft that the Polish pursuit (fighter) pilots took to the skies in on that first September morning of 1939 were thoroughly obsolete vestiges of another era.  The PZL P.11 featured on Sal’s porch was a parasol-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear that was a derivative of a design dating back to the late ‘Twenties.  With a top speed of barely 235 mph, it was no match for the German Bf 109D and E models, which were some 120 mph faster and much more heavily armed.


The Poles watched the once cutting edge P.11 fade into complete obsolescence with the rapid advances in aircraft and engine technology of the mid 1930s (Bf 109, Spitfire, Hurricane, Curtiss Hawk 75), and in 1936 proposed their own all-metal low-wing monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear.  This was the PZL P.50 Jaszdrab (Hawk).   Design work included the mounting of a 870 hp Gnome-Rhone radial, giving the aircraft a designed top speed of around 270 mph.  A more powerful engine, of British design, would have increased performance considerably.  Unfortunate delays in acquiring retractable landing gear and in engine delivery (the 1,350 hp Bristol Hercules radial) slowed development to a crawl.  The first prototype flew only weeks before the German invasion, and the only other airframe never flew.

Plans were to build more than three hundred of the P.50B with the more powerful British engine to replace the outmoded P.11.  The Hercules would have given the Hawk a top speed of around 340 mph.  With a higher power/weight ratio and considerably lower wing loading (26 lb/sqft vs 40 lb/sqft) than the Bf 109E, the Hawk would likely have had excellent maneuverability, climb rate, and acceleration.  The sturdy construction of the P.11 would certainly have been carried over to the P.50.

While the P.50 Jaszdrab most probably would have still been somewhat outclassed by the German fighter, the brave Polish pilots would have been at least in a modern aircraft much more equal to their foes.   Three hundred P.50s in the hands of the brave and skilled Polish pilots, fourteen squadrons instead of ten, may have given the Luftwaffe pause.  The toll they might have taken on the cream of the German fighter strength may have given the equally brave and equally outmatched Polish ground forces some respite from the onslaught.

Perhaps, perhaps not.  But the P.50 in the hands of the Polish Air Force is one of those “what if?” scenarios one cannot help but ponder.

So much for loosening the belts – Stripes

SEOUL – Just days after the 2nd Infantry Division said in a Facebook post that its troops in South Korea wouldn’t have to wear reflective physical training belts — a subject of ridicule by some soldiers — the 8th Army is saying the belts are still required attire.

Some see the belts as an example of military overkill — especially when they must be worn during PT on roads closed to traffic and in broad daylight.

There are even Facebook pages dedicated to the issue. One, titled “The Reflective PT Belt” calls itself a “military humor page, and a support group for wearers of the reflective PT belt.”

Another, “I Hate Reflective Belts,” says it is open to “members of the U.S. Armed Forces who see the continued use of reflective belts becoming ridiculous.”

In a Facebook notice posted Monday, 2ID said “guidance” from the division command sergeant majors of 8th Army and 2ID “is that the PT belt will no longer be part” of the improved physical fitness uniform that consists of a gray Army T-shirt, black trunks and, in winter, black sweatpants with black-and-gray running jacket.

via So much for loosening the belts – Stripes – Independent U.S. military news from Iraq, Afghanistan and bases worldwide.

The reflective belt mania has become the poster child for risk aversion in the Army.Worse, this risk aversion, as exemplified by this inability for 8th Army and 2nd Infantry Division to get their stories straight, shows an unwillingness to allow subordinates to lead. If a division commander and his Command Sergeant Major can’t have the authority to decide whether or not the damn PT belt needs to be worn, maybe we shouldn’t trust them with weighty issues such as training for combat.

I’m sure somewhere, sometime, some soldier was run over by a vehicle on a dark post overseas, and the reflective belt would probably have prevented it.

But in years and years of running PT on various installations, not once did I ever come close to being hit by a vehicle. As the article notes, virtually every post in the Army closes major roads so troop units can use them for running during the morning. And the picture also tells a tail. Senior leadership is requiring soldiers to wear the reflective belt even when the Improved Physical Fitness Uniform has reflective panels on it, specifically so the soldier wouldn’t have to wear a reflective belt.

It is a military truism to never give an order you know won’t or can’t be obeyed, as it diminishes your authority. A corollary would be to never institute a policy that sees you mocked mercilessly for little or no gain. The contempt soldiers have for the reflective belt is reflected, if you will, with contempt for supine leadership that will not take the almost infinitesimal risk associated with paring back the fetish for the near useless policy regarding the belts.

Were I the Chief of Staff of the Army, my first order would be to ban the things.

Free Money!

No, not from the Nigerian Royal Family.  Or a lottery win from a soldier overseas.  No siree.  But, I would argue, a scam just the same.

The “free money” is courtesy of the printing presses of the Federal Reserve.  And the consequences of the uncontrolled flood of dollars into the world economies, especially the so-called “BRICs”, has not been good, and is about to get worse.  The Telegraph explains.

The Fed has a duty of care to emerging markets, since its own hands are hardly clean. Zero rates and quantitative easing were the cause of dollar liquidity flooding these countries. It was the biggest reason why net capitals flows into emerging markets doubled from $4 trillion to $8 trillion after 2008, much of it wasted in a late cycle blow-off.

Yes, China, Brazil, India and others handled the liquidity bath badly. They ramped up credit without generating much worthwhile growth.

The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy of printing currency is a major player in the destabilizing of large but immature markets that relied almost solely on labor competitiveness for their seeming economic explosion.  With that all but gone, and profligate borrowing because of artificially available cash ratcheting up debt in significant emerging economies, stand by for heavy swells.