What is a Warrior’s Life Worth?

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 9 months ago

The AP recently published an article on the subject of the cost of equipping U.S. soldiers and Marines (picked up later by Australia’s Herald Sun which printed a redacted version of the article).

As official Washington argues over the spiraling price of the war in Iraq, consider this: Outfitting a soldier for battle costs a hundred times more now than it did in World War II. It was $170 then, is about $17,500 now and could be an estimated $28,000 to $60,000 by the middle of the next decade.

“The ground soldier was perceived to be a relatively inexpensive instrument of war” in the past, said Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, head of the Army agency for developing and fielding soldier equipment.

Now, the Pentagon spends tens of billions of dollars annually to protect troops and make them more lethal on the battlefield.

In the 1940s, a GI went to war with little more than a uniform, weapon, helmet, bedroll and canteen. He carried some 35 pounds of gear that cost $170 in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars, according to Army figures.

That rose to about $1,100 by the 1970s as the military added a flak vest, new weapons and other equipment during the Vietnam War.

Today, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are outfitted with advanced armor and other protection, including high-tech vests, anti-ballistic eyewear, earplugs and fire-retardant gloves. Night-vision eyewear, thermal weapons sights and other gear makes them more deadly to the adversary.

In all, soldiers today are packing more than 80 items — weighing about 75 pounds — from socks to disposable handcuffs to a strap cutter for slashing open a seatbelt if they have to flee a burning vehicle.

Several items were added since 2002, when troops in Afghanistan complained that their equipment was outdated and not best suited to the new campaign.

I have not been able to recover the actual cost of an M1-Gerand which was predominantly in use in World War 2, but its predecessor Springfield had a cost of $42.50 in 1932.  Conservatively assuming no change in cost for the Gerand, this means that for approximately $130 the U.S. Army outfitted its troops with a backpack, helmet, shovel, ammunition belt, canteen, boots, socks, fatigues, cold weather gear, rain gear, overcoat, bayonet, etc. (the list above is gratuitously shortened).

This is a mistake, or at least, grossly exaggerated.  We prefer simply incorrect for whatever reason.  However, let’s stipulate the premise, i.e., that the costs associated with modern warfare have increased dramatically.  The corollary to this is that the lethality of modern warfare has increased nearly in proportion to its costs, as has the human costs of conducting that warfare decreased.  Equipment innovations (e.g., ceramic SAPI plates) and medical advances (among other things) have decreased both the battlefield dead and the ratio of dead to wounded.  As for battlefield weight, I have written extensively about the difficulty in movement added by 32 lbs of body armor (Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward), and also recommended that further technological advancements reduce that battlefield weight for the warrior (Body Armor Goes Political).  Ironically, the solution to heavy battlefield weight is the very thing that the author of the article seems to be arguing against – more spending and technological developments.

No Marine or Soldier wants to deploy to the theater with inferior body armor, as evidenced by Marines being adopted by veteran’s organizations to procure Spartan 2 body armor when it became apparent that the Modular Tacitical Vest would not become available in time for recent deployments.  Also, given the success of IEDs as a tactic of the enemy in Iraq, no Marine or Soldier wants to deploy in HMWVVs, even uparmored HMWVVs, in lieu of the MRAP, mine resistant ambush protected V-shape hull transport vehicle.

The Pentagon has argued for more funds to be transferred to the MRAP program (partly at the insistence of Secretary of Defense Gates), but even as this occurs, some Pentagon leadership wonders if the future of new weapons system is not being sold for better protection now.  It is also this thinking that caused the delay in the deployment of the program when it was learned that IEDs were so effective against U.S. forces.  More money spent now, so the thinking went, means less for the future.  Thus did Pentagon thinkers play the devil’s game, with the lives of American warriors hanging in the balance with roadside bombs and IEDs.

Rather than wonder about the morality of future weapons systems and the alleged high costs of outfitting Marines and Soldiers with body armor, ballistic goggles, night vision and tie wraps for detaining individuals, the author – as well as thinkers at the Pentagon – ought better to wonder about the morality of decision-making that sacrifices warrior’s lives for money that is easily raised and spent by the Department of Defense.  Where Congress is culpable, they ought to have the same watershed moral revelation.  When considering money for lives, the decision is simple, assuming that the decision-maker has a moral constitution to begin with.

As for the Marines who are soon to deploy?  The North County Times gives us their current perspective on equipment and preparedness.

When an estimated 11,000 Camp Pendleton troops head to Iraq soon, they’ll be taking a host of new equipment with them such as lighter helmets, better flak jackets and more heavily armored vehicles.

They’ll also be taking a wealth of experience from lessons learned during the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the multiple deployments in the nearly five years since.

That’s been evident at Camp Pendleton in recent weeks, where troops from private to major attend classes and train in the field as they prepare to replace the North Carolina-based II Marine Expeditionary Force in the Anbar province west of Baghdad.

The Pentagon announced in late July that three major Camp Pendleton units would be deployed beginning late this year and continuing into early 2008.

Class themes for the troops heading to the Middle East run the gamut, from how to spot roadside bombs to how to grasp parts of Iraqi culture and language.

In Counterinsurgency: Know Thine Enemy, I argued for just such language and culture training.  Continuing with the North County Times article:

The Camp Pendleton troops will be riding in some new hardware in Iraq, including the Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter, but it flies faster and like an airplane, using tilt-rotor propellers.

The first group of Ospreys, which can ferry troops to hot spots much faster than helicopters, reached Iraq last week. With a history of deadly crashes that has marred its development, the Osprey’s performance will be closely watched with keen attention paid to maintenance issues and how the lightly armed aircraft is able to respond to any ground attacks.

More important for the “ground pounders” is the latest generation of heavily armored vehicles, including the new “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected” or MRAP. The Pentagon is rushing as many of the V-shaped hulled vehicles as it can into Iraq in an attempt to reduce deaths and injuries from roadside bombs to older generation Humvees.

New flak jackets, with more protective gear around the head, neck and back, have also been issued, and the helmets are much lighter than the Marines wore in their first deployments (Editorial note: the flak that he refers to is the Modular Tactical Vest versus the Interceptor Body Armor).

“There’s no question the gear we’re going with is better,” Hughes said.

So agreed Cpl. Samuel Lott, a motor pool specialist heading to Iraq for the second time. He led an overview of the vehicles that will carry Marines around Iraq, pointing out that most have much better protection against small-arms and rocket fire as well as roadside bombs.

“I’m anxious to go back,” Lott said. “Very few of the Marines in my shop have combat experience, so I’m glad I’m going to be with them.”

Thankfully, those who would play “the devil’s game” have not successfully thwarted the expenditure of monies to outfit the Pendleton Marines soon to deploy.

There is no moral dilemma.  Here at The Captain’s Journal, we are in favor of spending now and spending later to equip the American warriors.  Those who are not are playing the devil’s game.

You are currently reading "What is a Warrior’s Life Worth?", entry #641 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Army,Body Armor,Marine Corps,Military Equipment and was published October 8th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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