For members of the U.S. Army, individual warfighter equipment is developed, fielded and upgraded through the specialized project and product management offices under the auspices of that service’s Program Executive Office - Soldier.
Though it’s always dangerous to generalize over any category as broadly diverse as U.S. soldiers, it’s a safe bet that each individual has their own favorite pieces of tactical gear. Here’s a quick look at 7 great individual soldier items likely to be found on many of those “favorite” lists.
1. Individual weapon: Most all soldiers would agree that their individual weapon is the most critical “bit of kit” that they carry in operational settings. For many U.S. warfighters, that specifically translates to the M4 series, the carbine variant of the 5.56mm M16 rifle.
Current model M4 carbines feature dozens of enhancements over earlier systems. The most recent modification effort focuses on the conversion of approximately 500,000 U.S. Army M4 carbines to M4A1 designs. Modifications will include the following: an ambidextrous selector switch, a more consistent trigger pull, increased sustained rate of fire, increased durability, reduced muzzle climb, improved accuracy, reduced recoil, and a heavier barrel with improved barrel life to address reported barrel temperature issues.
2. Combat optic: While some will always debate the tactical merits of the caliber of capabilities of the individual weapon, most tactical users will favor some type of combat optic. In the case of the U.S. Army, preferred optics include the M68 Close Combat Optic (CCO) [Aimpoint] and M150 Rifle Combat Optic (RCO) [Trijicon].
The M68 is a red dot-aiming device that enhances target acquisition speed. Soldiers can engage targets up to 300 meters away with both eyes open to maintain situational awareness. The M68 CCO is compatible with all current night vision enhancements, and is the standard issue sight for the M4 and M16.
In terms of magnified optics, the M150 Rifle Combat Optic (RCO) [Trijicon] is a rugged, battery-free, 4x magnified optic that provides full mission profile optical capability and range estimation for the M4, M16 and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Along with the bullet drop compensated reticle, this provides trained Soldiers with accurate target engagements from 300 to 600 meters.
3. Weapon aiming lights: A myriad of weapon aiming lights have also entered the tactical arena over the past decade. Current state-of-the-art technology can be seen in the Multifunction Aiming Light (MFAL) family, which includes the AN/PEQ-15 Advanced Target Pointer Illuminator Aiming Light (ATPIAL), the AN/PEQ-15A Dual Beam Aiming Laser-Advanced 2 (DBAL-A2), and the AN/PEQ-16B Mini-Integrated Pointer Illuminator Module (MIPIM).
The AN/PEQ-15 and AN/PEQ-15A class IIIb MFAL devices replaced the AN/PAQ-4C, and have co-aligned IR and visible aiming lasers. Soldiers can use the visible laser to bore sight the device to a weapon without needing night-vision goggles.
4. M14 7.62MM Enhanced Battle Rifle: For longer range tactical engagements, U.S. Army units have been equipped with the M14 7.62MM Enhanced Battle Rifle (EBR), which provides infantry squads operating in Afghanistan with interim capability to engage enemy targets beyond the ranges of M4 and M16. This air-cooled, gas-operated and magazine-fed weapon is a modern M14 rifle mated to an enhanced aluminum billet stock, tactical scope and cantilever mount, and is effective in close quarters combat and in the conceptual Squad Designated Marksman role.
5. M240 “Lima” 7.62mm Medium Machine Gun: For enhanced firing rates at greater ranges, Soldiers have been carrying the M240 “Bravo” 7.62mm Medium Machine Gun. The ground-mounted, gas-operated, crew-served machine gun with a cyclic rate of 550 to 650 rounds per minute. The maximum effective range against area targets is 1,800 meters.
Most recently, the Army has introduced the M240 “Lima” 7.62mm Medium Machine Gun, weighing approximately 5 pounds less than the existing M240B while meeting all of its reliability and operational characteristics. The weight savings come from the incorporation of titanium construction and alternative manufacturing methods and a shorter barrel to reduce the soldier load.
6. Pelvic Protection System: In terms of personal protection, U.S. warfighters will soon benefit from the Pelvic Protection System (PPS), a two-tiered system composed of a Tier I Protective Under Garment (PUG) and a Tier II Protective Outer Garment (POG). The system is designed so that the soldier wears the PUG next to the skin to stop small fragments, reduce the penetration of dirt in wounds and minimize the risk of infection from fine debris, and wear it over the ACU. A female-sized PPS is reportedly under development.
7. Improved First Aid Kit II: Another bit of new kit in the fielding pipeline is the Improved First Aid Kit II (IFAK II). The IFAK II enhanced the capabilities and effectiveness of the original IFAK, which was described by the acting Surgeon General of the U.S. Army as “the first major improvement in individual soldier care in the past 50 years.”
Developed in response to the tactical combat casualty care doctrine, the IFAK was designed to increase an individual service member’s capabilities to provide self-aid/buddy aid and provides interventions for two leading causes of death on the battlefield—severe hemorrhage and inadequate airway. Improvements in the new IFAK II will include two combat tourniquets (instead of one), a Bolin chest seal, and padded “eye shields” to keep pressure off a wounded eyeball.