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Tactical Gear Developments for Lessening Soldiers' Loads, Reducing Injuries

April 26, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 165

Are soldiers' loads getting too heavy? Results from a report done by the Seattle Times, published in a February Army Times article titled "Report: Combat soldiers carry too much weight," show that the number of soldiers retiring with at least one musculoskeletal condition, such as degenerative arthritis or cervical strains, increased 10 times from 2003 to 2009. Soldiers, according to a 2001 Army Science Board study, should carry no more than 50 pounds; most, however, regularly support 87 to 127 pounds.

In response, House Representative Roscoe Bartlett suggested in March 2011 that the Army and Marine Corps find cost-effective methods for lightening soldiers' loads, especially as carrying a larger load limits a soldier's mobility and is correlated with the development of leg, neck, back, or shoulder disabilities. According to Army Times article "Hearing to focus on troops' heavy combat packs," using donkeys and mules to move heavy loads has been one approach; using wheeled vehicles or sleds has been another.

Donkeys, mules, and sleds, however, cannot be used in all terrains, and the Human Universal Load Carrier, or HULC, may be an alternative. Part of an effort to develop a "super soldier," HULC is one type of tactical gear being tested by the Army for integrated capabilities. According to Army Times article "What a 'super soldier' could wear, carry," a "super soldier," in order to have an edge over the enemy, should be able to easily lift 200 pounds, find a shooter's location after only one shot is fired, see behind walls, see heat signatures at night and in bad weather, and be able to distinguish between allies and enemies beyond his visual periphery.

An anthropomorphic exoskeleton, HULC is a tactical device that allows a soldier to carry 200 pounds of supplies, weapons, ammunition, or another person. Developed by Lockheed Martin in conjunction with Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center, HULC is battery powered and equipped with an onboard microcomputer and hydraulic-driven titanium legs, which align with a soldier's movements. The tactical gear is also adjustable without tools, conforms to the 95th percentile of men, and gives soldiers the strength to carry 130 pounds over the maximum standard weight for 20 kilometers. Because conditions in the field can vary, HULC can be fitted with custom attachments, such as armor plating, heating and cooling systems, or sensors.

According to Lockheed Martin's website, HULC can be used over all terrains and is built to handle deep squats, crawls, and upper body lifting. Although similar tactical gear built for lifting has been developed by other manufacturers, HULC does not need a control mechanism, as it senses where the user wants to go and what he wants to do, and is able to operate on battery power for extended missions.

Phase 2 testing for HULC began in May 2011 in Fort Benning, Ga. and at an undisclosed Marine Corps' base, but the tactical gear, however, is not entirely new to soldiers. HULC appeared in 2008, and according to a press release from Lockheed Martin in July 2010, the company received a $1.1 million contract from the Army to test the device. Field trials and tests measuring how the device affects soldiers' performance, how much energy a soldier uses when employing HULC, and how quickly users adapt to it are currently being planned.

Source: EzineArticles
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