In 2017, the US Army announced their modernization priorities as a means of maintaining their military strength. Six specific areas were targeted for focus improvement and development, with the first five being specific technologies or end products. The sixth was “Soldier Lethality” or a soldier’s ability to shoot, move, communicate, protect and sustain by improving human performance and decision making. In an effort to support this priority area for those trying to make clothing and individual equipment (CIE) acquisition and development decisions, there is a desire for an integrated or holistic objective tool to measure soldier performance, specifically mobility, lethality and survivability incorporating underlying measures of human factors, biomechanics and cognition.

Diagram of the LEAP-MLS test platform layout, starting in the lower left with the static shooting. The soldiers depicted in red indicate the survivability assessment points.

Defense research organizations from Australia, Canada, Singapore and the United States use the Load Effects Assessment Program (LEAP), a military mission obstacle course originally developed by the US Marine Corps, to assess the impact of CIE on dismounted warfighter performance and, specifically, mobility. The standardized LEAP test platform includes a 10-station obstacle course, in addition to static simulated rifle firing, vertical jump, and weight transfer activities.

Previous studies investigating completion times for military task-oriented obstacles (i.e., jumping, running, crawling, climbing) and obstacles courses have been able to differentiate CIE designs and configurations. In the last 5 years, a number of studies have been completed using similar versions of the LEAP obstacle course. That testing has shown that course performance is affected by differences in CIE. The LEAP course has also shown to be sensitive to changes in gross weight and in percent body weight carried.

Additionally, previous marksmanship performance research had shown sensitivity to CIE encumbrance when using live fire. Multiple studies have shown that weapons simulator/training systems are predictive of live-fire qualification scores. Moreover, simulated marksmanship has also shown to be sensitive to CIE encumbrance level comparisons and allows testers to assess compatibility and performance degradations in an easy, quick, low cost, and safe manner. The simulated marksmanship tasks have used static and on-the-move shooting at single and multiple targets to demonstrate these differences in performance when wearing CIE products. They have also integrated basic cognitive decision-making elements (go-no-go tasks), but with only high-level mobility differences seen across CIE encumbrance levels.

By integrating these mobility and marksmanship methodologies, with additional developmental methodologies in the areas of cognitive decision-making and survivability metrics, the LEAP Mobility, Lethality and Survivability (LEAP-MLS) was conceived. This research provides an initial proof of concept of this developmental test platform. This study is a first step in developing a methodology that incorporates objective measures of performance and is sensitive to changes in soldier-system equipment, thus helping to inform the soldier performance trade space during product development and acquisition, using a single, standardized and controlled event.

Twenty active duty soldier volunteers executed the course in three levels of CIE encumbrance, in a repeated measured design of experiments. All participants were active duty Army personnel, with a majority (all but three) having an infantry military occupational specialty. The test participants had a mean age of 24.85 ± 5.11 years. Their years in service ranged from less than a year to over thirteen, with a mean of 4.5 ± 3.48 years. Five had combat deployment experience. The test participants had a mean weight of 189.15 ± 27.27 lbs and mean height of 69.68 ± 1.96 inches.

All twenty participants executed the course in three configurations that represented three levels of CIE encumbrance: unloaded, minimal-encumbrance, and maximal-encumbrance. The baseline (natural unloaded body) included the participant, their duty uniform, a helmet, and a surrogate (training aid) M4 weapon (with sensor and optics). The minimal-encumbrance configuration included all the components of the Unloaded in addition to body armor weighing approximately 23 kg. The maximal-encumbrance configuration included the components of the minimal configuration kit and additional items that are associated with the Grenadier duty position, such as additional 40 mm grenade, with a weight of approximately 25–30 kg. Although this kit is not much heavier than the minimal-encumbrance, it has the maximum amount of bulk around the torso of the body that a dismounted soldier could experience when wearing body armor.

This work was done by Stephanie A. T. Brown and K. Blake Mitchell for the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) below. ARL-0230

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Preliminary Development of an Integrated Mobility, Lethality, and Survivability Soldier Performance Testing Platform

(reference ARL-0230) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the August, 2020 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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