Since 2004, the Air Force has worked to reduce the physical load of gear carried by its Special Operations Forces — the superheroes who seize hostile airfields and rescue captured troops behind enemy lines. Those airmen are often weighed down on these missions, lugging as much as 160 pounds worth of stuff. Since much of the bulk comes from their communications gear, the Air Force opted to cut out heavy batteries to power it, fueling the gear through methanol fuel cells that get lighter as the charge dies. That allows elite airmen to essentially wear their gear like a scaffold, a concept the Air Force calls a “Human Chassis.”
Except a human chassis isn’t a cool enough name. So the program, pursued at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, bears a moniker that strikes fear into the heart of villains everywhere. It’s the Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge (just go with it). Yes: the BATMAN.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Many years ago, a recent college graduate then known as Recent Graduate Anonymous attempted to join the United States Army. He had wanted to be a Marine, but his wise old uncles talked him out of it. (The words "just damn cannon fodder" were used freely).
Apart from a genuine streak of patriotism, the then-RGA was probably inspired by his lifelong passion for Army surplus camping equipment. This seemed like a great way to stock up on steel mess kits and canvas tents. More inspiration, though, came from the stories his uncles told -- the first training jump; calling in a napalm strike on the Georgia woodlands; selling your CO that pretty white Benz just after the cylinders seized.
And, okay, there were the comic books and pulp novels. While you didn't need to serve your country in order to become a rugged he-man on the order of Doc Savage or Alan Quatermain, it certainly seemed like a good first step. If you looked closely at a GI's kit, it was all the sort of stuff Batman carried, except much, much bigger. And nobody, but nobody, loomed bigger in the RGA's formative years than Batman.
How did it turn out? Well, the RGA was not an entirely promising specimen. Although trim and flexible after eight semesters of college fencing, he was not then -- nor is he now -- what you would call a large man. Nor average-sized. Not even "a bit on the small side." His intellect had been liberally stimulated with English poetry and German opera; he had a fair grasp of Machiavelli and David Hume and a working knowledge of art history from classical times to about Picasso. On the other hand, he was a bit weak on practical things like mathematics, chemistry, geology, firearms, and taking orders. Oh, and he couldn't drive a car.
Anyway, it was the atopic dermatitis that ended his military career, literally five seconds after it had begun. The doctor signed on the line that said "fit for duty," then paused, flipped back to page 3 of the form, and started asking questions. That was all there was to it. Turns out that American soldiers are required to have excellent skin.
Well, you can never know about the road not traveled. We doubt that our military career would have been long or distinguished. Either a dead first lieutenant in Gulf One or a major who resigned in fury over Gulf Two, most likely. Maybe -- just maybe -- a lieutenant colonel now, popular neither among his troops nor among his peers, who stuck around after retirement age because of stop-loss, an eccentric egghead writing obscure War College documents on things like "the application of Machiavelli's Discorsi to Pasthun tribal politics." We are better off, and so is the world, with things as they actually turned out.
So what, you may wonder, is the point of all this? Nothing, except that nearly every major development in military doctrine or technology creates a brief fantasy, somewhere between wistful regret and spiteful jealousy -- "Damn that Petraeus! I should have written the new counterinsurgency manual. Me, me, me!" That sort of thing.
So imagine our response to the headline above, which we have borrowed whole from the awesome Danger Room article to which it is linked.
Oh, well. As Mother A. often says, "You still get to put on a black suit and fight evil." But somedays we do wonder what it would have been like.