Load carriage: Reductions in soldier task performance and the risks posed
Date of this Version
Australian military personnel are required to carry load as part of their occupation. Research suggests that these loads are increasing with reports that Australian soldiers have carried mean loads of around 30 kg in the World Wars, 36 kg in Vietnam and 48 kg on operations over the last two decades. While acknowledged as causing soldier injuries, the impacts of load carriage on task performance are often forgotten.
As soldier loads increase, the mobility, lethality (marksmanship and grenade throw ability), general task and attention-to-task abilities of the carrier have been found to decrease. Decreases in soldier mobility have altered the battle tactics of armies and increased casualties in previous and current conflicts. Through reducing a soldier’s ability to engage and suppress an enemy, decreases in lethality can be postulated to reduce the potential for mission success and increase the risk of battle casualties during an engagement. Considered concurrently, reductions in both mobility and lethality reduce the effectiveness of the basic military combat manoeuvre, being fire-and-movement. This in turn further augments the risk of battle casualties. Reductions in attention-to-task (most notably visual cues) can impair a soldier’s ability to detect an improvised explosive device on a patrol or a hidden weapon at a checkpoint. Overall, these reductions in task performance highlight the potential force degeneration risk afforded by current load carriage practices.
This paper will commence with a brief historical review of Australian soldier load carriage practices before discussing the impacts of these loads on soldier task performance. The possible consequences of these impacts will be reviewed and potential force degeneration effects examined. Discussed strategies will focus on improving military conditioning and training practices to mitigate these impacts.