At the end of 1959 came out Robert Heinlein’s novel «Starship troopers», which became almost a classic in the genre of combat fiction. The author described in detail the army at the beginning of the XXI century: soldiers in armored suit, equipped with radar, jet engines for long jumps and the most incredible weapons — up to small atomic charges. But even a few years before the publication of this novel, officers of the real U.S. Army were seriously offering much more incredible projects.
The equipment of the soldier
In November 1956, the “Army” Magazine published an article by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rigg about the future U.S. Army — as he had seen it by the mid-1970s. The author provided the article with his own illustrations.
Note that the officer had an extensive military experience. In 1943 he was a watcher in the Soviet army: In front of him the Red Army fought against the Germans in Europe and against the Japanese in Manchuria in 1945. He was allegedly arrested twice by the NKVD. In 1945, Major Rigg was an adviser to Kuomintang during the Civil War in China until he was captured by Communists in 1947. In 1951, Rigg participated in atomic weapon maneuvers on Eniwetok Atoll, and later commanded the American tank units from Fort Knox to Germany.
According to Rigg, in the future a characteristic thing of the western army would be soldiers sitting in deep fortified bunkers and pushing buttons to launch long-range missiles, including intercontinental ones. However, most of the soldiers of the 1970s would be such «land spacemen», fighting in three elements — on the ground, at sea and in the air. These soldiers will be able to seize or neutralize enemy missile bases and even use enemy missiles against themselves.
The “uniform” of the soldiers will be light plastic armor, that can protect against bullets and shrapnel. Of course, such high-quality armor will be the most expensive protection for a person since the time of knight's armor. It should have cost the government about $700 apiece. For comparison, the cost of an average house was 22,000 dollars, a Ford car was from 1.5 to 3 thousand dollars, and a six-pack of beer — 1 dollar 20 cents. On the other hand, only the initial training of a soldier in the 1950s cost $3,200, and the cost in case of his death exceeded $21,000. Therefore, the protection of the soldier justified itself at least in the commercial terms.
It was very important to protect the head: as demonstrated by the recent wars in which the United States was involved, about 40-45% of deaths on the battlefield were due to head wounds. The helmet, made of several layers of metal and plastic or nylon, with a built-in radio transmitter and a microphone attached to the soldier's throat, was supposed to be a masterpiece of electronics. The helmet was equipped with movable interchangeable lenses, depending on the situation, to protect the soldier's eyes from dust or the blinding flash of an atomic explosion. With just one press of a button on your wrist, the infrared lenses turned night into day. The binoculars were also replaced with special lenses. Even ordinary glasses could be built into the helmet. And a pocket radar, not exceeding the size of a golf ball, would warn of approaching cars or enemy soldiers. The helmet was equipped with movable interchangeable lenses, to protect the eyes of the fighter from dust or the blinding flash of an atomic explosion. With just one press of the button on your wrist, the infrared lenses turned night into day. The binoculars were also replaced with special lenses. Even ordinary glasses could be built into the helmet. And a pocket radar, not bigger than a golf ball, would warn of a coming car or an enemy soldier.
Literally every inch of the American Soldier's uniform was considered by Rigg from a scientific point of view, he wanted to place the necessary equipment optimally. Even the glove cuffs were useful: vitamin capsules could be placed there. A 25-cm (9,8 inches) tube was attached to the fighter's shoulders like a backpack – A cumulative charge could create with an explosion a personal trench almost instant. On his chest were pockets for ammunition, provisions, personal stuff and cigarettes. Most likely, an army that did not smoke would have seemed an impossible fiction to the theorists of the fifties.
The soldier was armed with an automatic carbine with a telescope sight and with a folding bayonet knife. A transparent respirator, a first-aid kit, a towel and a flask were attached to his belt. Grenades were also hung on the belt. The grenades were unusual — with a brittle plastic case, broken glass and metal needles inside. One can only imagine the wounds from such grenades.
The waterproof plastic tent, wrapped in a cigarette packet-size capsule, protected not only from a regular rain, but also from radioactive rain. The compact coat, which consisted of several layers of synthetics, could be connected to a miniature battery for heating. The zippered shoes were also made of plastic. A pocket for storing clean socks was sewn on the hip. Ankle pockets were intended for first aid and survival kits. Soldiers had a stock of atropine for injection in case of nerve gas poisoning.
Bump! And your capsule jerks ahead one place – bump! And it jerks again, precisely like cartridges feeding into the chamber of an old-style automatic weapon. Well, that’s just what we were…. Only the barrels of the gun were twin launching tubes built into a spaceship troop carrier and each cartridge was a capsule big enough (just barely) to hold an infantryman with all field equipment.
Heinlein “Starship Troopers”
The wars of the future have no limits. Huge aircraft with nuclear engines and intercontinental range, can drop triangle flying platforms with soldiers to attack missile bases and other strategic targets hundreds of kilometers from the carried aircraft. Each open platform accommodates a pilot and about 15 soldiers. After reducing the high to a lower level flight, these platforms drop the troops near to the target, not above it, thus not entering the air defense zone.
The platforms land and take off more than once a day, which means that they hit several targets. Small TV cameras on each platform keep commanders informed of the operation. Hundred air-launchers lift about 1,200 platforms off — 14,000 soldiers with equipment. Aircraft carriers become alternative carriers for troopers — let's not forget about the disagreements between the U.S. Army and Navy.
To the aircraft carrier «moored» and «Centaurs» — special jet batteries with fire support. «Centaurs» with a delta wing, will be capable of vertical take-off and landing, will be able to attach with a variety of missiles and can easily replace artillery and support aviation. In addition, these batteries dock back to their carrier to resupply fuel and ammunition. The helicopters served as repair shops, air headquarters and hospitals.
But before the Centaurs be exploited, airplanes and missiles drop thousands of small robots. On landing, they automatically extend their antennas and report information about the location of enemy tanks and aircraft. Capturing these «spies» will not give the enemy anything: the robots are equipped with TNT and can self-destruct.
For the readers of the 1950s, it seemed fantastic. But already at the beginning of the decade, the U.S. Navy to collect meteorological data in Antarctic used a miniature automatic parachute station «Grasshopper». After landing, one explosion fired off the parachute, another shoots the spring supports op, the third spread the antennas. The battery power supply was enough for 15 days.
In 1958, Rigg published a book called «War 1974». In it, the «reds» attack first as usual. On New Year's Eve, the Eurasia communists, release four intercontinental missiles to the United States. Three of them fly past the target, and the fourth falls on Chicago and It becomes a thermonuclear crater. The United States strikes back — eight missiles at once. And then what happened is what the book was created for: the victory of the few but perfectly armed soldiers in titanium helmets over the red hordes (literally).
The grenades, that were mentioned in the book, are fired from hand-held 30-cm mortars with compressed air charges. The splinters flies in all directions, so you even don’t have to aim. Another miracle weapon is the advanced napalm, which was pumped into the underground shelters of the enemy. The wheeled tank of the future not only launches guided missiles, but also is able to fly, due to the relatively thin titanium armor. Missiles with a 5-ton payload deliver fuel and ammunition to the advance units. The transport warheads of the missiles are equipped with rotors for soft landing.
From fiction to reality
It’s interesting, how the next year the U.S. Army did indeed show the stunned public a prototype of the soldier of the future. Photographers of several popular magazines, from Life to Popular Science, willingly shot the futuristic fighter. This soldier had nylon armor, a protective mask, a radiated helmet with night vision and a new automatic rifle with a firing rate of 700 shots per minute.
In those same years, a jet pack was undergoing serious tests, theoretically allowing a soldier to jump 7 Meter (~23 feet) high. However, the tester ended the first experiment with a lot of bruises. Soldiers flying on jet remained on the pages of fantastic novels.
But much more has become a vital part of the equipment of soldiers of the 21st century, and not only for American soldiers.
The ceramic plates covered my vital organs in the front and back. I had two radios mounted on either side of the front plate. (…) I set the helmet on my head and pulled down my night vision googles, or NVGs. Unlike some of the conventional units, we had NVGs with four tubes instead of the usual two. This allowed us a field of view of 120 degrees instead of just 40 degrees. The standard goggles were like looking through toilet-paper tubes. Our NVGs allowed us to clear corners more easily and gave us greater situational awareness. (…) Aiming at the wall near my bunk, I tested my red laser, which was visible to the naked eye, and I flipped down my NVGs and tested the IR laser.
Mark Owen, “No easy day”.
Autonomous scout robots are essential in the modern army. During a recent operation in Syria, domestic deminers used the Uranus-6 robot system, a lightweight remotely operated armored vehicle with hinged blades and trawls of various types, to defuse mines and unexploded shells. The operator, while operating the robot, remained at a safe distance while the trawl system removed the mines from the ground and destroyed them. Sappers used a wireless inspection device, when clearing particularly hard-to-reach areas. A device called “Sphera”, a small ball with four video cameras, a microphone and a transmitter. Such a ball was thrown into the right place, from where it passed the video image to the operator. The “Scarabay» was also used — a remote-controlled wheeled platform with video cameras.
At present, the Central Research Institute for Precision Machine Engineering (TSNIITOCHMASH) is developing promising combat equipment. The bulk of the armor and equipment is relying on the exoskeleton, due to this the soldier get less tired. Such passive (without power source) exoskeletons have already been used by sappers in Syria. The equipment also includes modular ballistic protection, an armor mask with a built-in gas mask, a communication system and a sighting information system.
What recently seemed like absolute fiction has become the everyday reality of war.
- «Grasshopper» Spies On The Enemy. — Popular Science. — June 1951.
- Lieutenant colonel Robert B. Rigg. Soldier of the future army: ausa.org
- The Grasshopper: The Army Jet Pack That Wasn’t: deborahteramischristian.com
- War 1974 by Lt. Col. Robert B. Rigg: forums.spacebattles.com
- Owen, M. No easy day / Mark Owen, Kevin Maurer.