- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

FORT STEWART, Ga. U.S. troops who are returning to the Persian Gulf in the coming weeks say some of their equipment is head and shoulders above what they had in the 1991 Gulf war.
While much of the heavy artillery used by the Army's 3rd Infantry Division is the same as it was 12 years ago, battalion commanders cite major improvements in their capacity to manage a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.
"Our equipment is a thousand times better than what we had at the Gulf war and the training we've had to use it has been a thousand times better," said Maj. Michael D. Oliver, a Gulf war veteran who will deploy to Kuwait from Fort Stewart this month. "In terms of what we have now compared to what we had then, there's no comparison."
Maj. Oliver, an operations officer in the 3rd Infantry Division, said that during the past decade there has been so much focus on training to respond to biological or chemical weapons that "now soldiers look at it as just another weapon."
Every soldier heading into the Kuwaiti desert will carry an improved gas mask and two Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) suits, in addition to more than 60 pounds worth of other gear, including an M-16 rifle and night-vision goggles.
During the Gulf war, some soldiers complained that their MOPP suits were too bulky to carry easily.
"The new MOPP suits are vacuum-packed, more compact and easier to carry," said Sgt. Lascelles G. Cuff, a specialist in nuclear, biological and chemical equipment.
The suits are capable of protecting a soldier for 24 hours in a contaminated environment. Troops wear test paper on the arm of the suit and carry special kits to check for blood, blister and nerve agents that may arrive suddenly by air.
Sgt. Cuff said special equipment carried by each platoon to detect chemical-vapor hazards has improved vastly since the Gulf war.
"The equipment is a lot more compact, electronic and easier to use and a lot more accurate," he said.
There are more automatic chemical-agent detectors, making them easier to monitor as they are now connected directly to an alarm system that is triggered whenever hazardous agents are detected.
"I could show you how to put this piece of equipment into operation, that's how easy it is," Sgt. Cuff said.
As part of advanced preparations for Kuwait, soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division have executed combat-training missions in desert conditions at the National Training Center in California. As part of the training, they were hit at least once a day with an unexpected, simulated attack. Many said the training infinitely improved their confidence and ability to quickly use their MOPP suits and other new equipment.
Another major advancement in equipment since the Gulf war has been the implementation of laser technology in the gun system atop the Bradley armored troop carriers used by mechanized infantry units, such as the 3rd Infantry Division.
"While the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is now a product of Desert Storm, it has been equipped with positioning system and a laser system capable of actually acquiring the distance of targets by laser," said Lt. Col. Scott E. Rutter, a battalion commander in the division's 1st Brigade.
Lt. Col. Rutter, who rode in a Bradley as a company commander during the Gulf war, said the laser technology advances a gunner's ability to hit a target with the first shot. Twelve years ago, a target's distance had to be calculated manually.
Perhaps the most expensive equipment advancement average ground troops say it also is the most important has been the implementation of the Javelin, a hand-held "fire and forget" anti-tank missile. It was developed with several system improvements to outshine its predecessor, the Dragon.
Equipped with an infrared site and a range of 2,500 meters, the Javelin, which costs about $80,000, uses thermal energy to detect its target. A soldier needs only to lock on a target once and fire; a "seeker" inside the missile remembers the direction.
Soldiers at Fort Stewart said it's a vast improvement over the Dragon, which was used during the Gulf war, because it cuts down the amount of time they would be vulnerable in the battlefield.
Instead of having to stand and guide a missile, as was the case with the Dragon, soldiers now can pop up, aim, fire and get back under cover well before the missile hits its target.

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