Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some interesting numbers on the cost of individual soldiers' gear

Yesterday I heard a pretty wild comparison between the costs of the personal gear that a soldier would wear into combat on 10 SEP 01, during the Iraq Surge, and today in Afghanistan. How significant would you expect the difference to be? I figured maybe a couple thousand dollars, but nothing so significant as what the guy telling the story actually claimed. He said that a pre-GWOT infantryman in an old k-pot, Vietnam-era flak vest, ALICE gear and so on (not including weapons and ammunition) was wearing $370-odd worth of gear. That sounded a little bit low to me, but ok.

Over the last several years, personal gear has changed pretty significantly, getting more sophisticated, lighter, more protective, and thus (obviously) more expensive. Schmedlap (and pretty much anybody else who has served, but particularly Schmedlap because he's got this whole gear-weight-calculator thing) can probably do a much better job of providing specifics on this transition, so I'm not even going to try. So back to the point: a surge-era infantryman in Iraq supposedly wore ~$14,000 worth of personal equipment.

And now infantrymen serving in Afghanistan have added another $3K worth of stuff, apparently, and are wearing $17,000 worth of stuff.

Isn't this a pretty shocking transformation over such a short period of time? I suppose it tells you something about the sophistication of personal protective gear, about the devolution of communications equipment and electronics down to the squad and team level, about the relatively recent proliferation of night-vision devices to every individual, and so on, but I just can't help but draq any more complicated conclusions than "dude, that's a lot." None of which is to suggest that it isn't worth it, obviously, but rather to express my surprise that our guys were so under-equipped on 9/10.

In an only very loosely related bit of news, I also heard it mentioned that an addition of 10,000 troops to overall end-strength costs roughly $1 billion, for whatever that's worth these days. Obviously we're talking about more than personal gear here: training, pay, medical care, other benefits, and so on.

Like I say, there are people much better equipped to go into the details of this little factoid than I am, but I thought it was kind of interesting.

(NOTE: If I didn't suck so bad at the internet or want to save time, I would do a little more research and find some pictures that showed the gear more comprehensively and in more detail. Instead you've got a picture of some 1st ID soldiers from KFOR in October 2001, some 2nd ID guys in Iraq at an unknown date, and another recent one of some guys from the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan.)


  1. $370 doesn't sound right to me if it includes body armor, which those KFOR guys are wearing, even if it was much less sophisticated body armor.

    I wonder what all Abu Muqawama and his 4-31 soldiers carried in Afghanistan in 2002?

  2. A few random points...
    - When I served in Bosnia we did not have SAPIs because the unit couldn't afford them (that class of supply didn't have sufficient funds and they were not carried by our CIF at the time); not that it was necessary, but it was a bit surprising to encounter that in our safety-obsessed Army.
    - I suspect that a lot of the numbers regarding the costs of gear include a lot of the stuff that we are issued, but not that we actually wear. Example - everytime that I deployed, I was issued another two pair of boots. By the time I ETS'd, I had 8 pairs of boots... six of them unworn. I was not permitted to refuse these (even as an Active Duty Infantry Captain) because this was apparently too important of a decision for me to make for myself.
    - A lot of the equipment issued is never even brought on deployment. My storage unit off post had two full duffel bags of stuff - some of it from the "rapid fielding initiative" - that I did not need. This was common for most, if not all, of us.
    - Much of our gear was "nice to have" but not really necessary. In particular, none of us needed the complete ECW sleeping system in Iraq, nor did we need the silkweight undergarments - but thanks to the taxpayers for footing the bill
    - In regard to my weight calculator thingy, yeah, I've been meaning to finish that.

  3. Tintin -- $370 doesn't sound right to me if it includes body armor, which those KFOR guys are wearing, even if it was much less sophisticated body armor.

    I agree, but this guy did mention a flak vest when he was talking about the pre-9/11 gear.

    For reference, the guy who said this makes a ton of public appearances on behalf of the Army and has been in for several decades. Not sure if that gives him any credibility, but it seems like someone would vet his numbers.

    He also mentioned this in the context of telling a story about how things had changed during his time in the Army, and how one of the senior leaders had asked him to arrange for three soldiers to suit up in the different equipment sets for public demonstrations. So I assume that means we're only talking about the gear that one guy would wear at a time (not counting multiple pairs of boots, for example), but probably also including stuff that's in the standard kit but which no one wears out in the field.

    Schmedlap -- In regard to my weight calculator thingy, yeah, I've been meaning to finish that.

    Not trying to bust your ass on that, I just find it really interesting.

    Can you give some specifics on what rapidly fielded equipment you found useless?

  4. Oh, and this: can anyone identify the weapons being fired in the KFOR shot?

  5. Can you give some specifics on what rapidly fielded equipment you found useless?

    Keep in mind that some of these might now be standard CIF issue; when I drew them, they were RFI (and later transferred to the CIF hand receipt)...
    - Bulky gloves (too bulky too be of use)
    - knee and elbow pads (most of us bought our own; individual preference)
    - load bearing vest (most of us bought our own, again, individual preference; I purchased a RACK)
    - fleece pants (the jacket was nice, but pants?)
    - tent

    I'm sure there were other examples, but those are just off the top of my head. Too many IEDs dull the memory.

  6. Back in Kuwait (2002), when I was a tanker with 3rd ID, we sported

    -Old flack vest
    -Old K-pot
    -Wind dust and sun goggles

    Right before we kicked off the race to Baghdad, we were issued the new body armor, but only the infantrymen got SAPI plates (not enough to go around). Additionally, a few pairs of ESS and Wiley-X goggles were passed around. We thought we were high-speed at the time. :)

    The numbers will probably soar even higher if you include the additional sights and lasers we've added to our weapons plus the additional comms packages we've received.

    Back during the initial invasion, many of our vehicles did not have radios. During the Surge, almost every soldier had some type of radio.