What’s on the wish list for underground operations? Retired Army Maj. John Spencer, who served as an officer and enlisted soldier in the infantry, is now chair of Urban Warfare Studies with the Modern War Institute at West Point. He commanded troops in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Military Times asked Spencer what he would want, beyond standard kit, for an underground fight. He said most gear already in the tool bag centers around the important breaching and communicating tasks. But he adds these:
1. Thermal goggles: Or any other non-light dependent goggles. Normal NVGs require ambient light. I know there are thermals NVGs begin fielded, but not everyone has them.
2. Blinding light source: I want the ability to take away visibility from others. I want blinding light with a dependable long-lasting power source.
It is the most primitive and close combat a fighter may face. Welcome to the subterranean.
3. Sound non-lethals: Sound travels differently underground, it may provide an advantage to incapacitate threats with sound.
4. Ground penetrating radar (GSR): A widely used device in other fields. I would want the ability to see through walls of the tunnel and to be able to know my distance to the surface.
5. Bat Vision Sonic Radar: Bats use radar that bounces off of stuff in their path to see and fly, on top of GSR presses up against a surface, I am sure it would be easy to use existing sonic technology to have a small device that shows what is to a patrol’s front down the tunnel.
6. Guardian Robot Dog: Similar to the “guardian angel” concept of having a loitering UAV overhead to provide situational awareness and in some cases fire, I would want a robot above ground that is offset of the moving element. When called electronically, it moves to my location and drops a wrench, supplies, etc.
A range of updated technology is now used for underground spaces and threats.
7. Guide ropes: When the New York firefighters go into tunnels they use a guide rope (a rope tethering each other, or a rope laid down that they keep between their feet) to maintain their team even when spread out. Helps stay together and how to get back.
8. Robot Rat: A tunneling robot I could use to make my own path underground. Plenty of situations may arise where following the existing tunnel may not make sense, why not have a way to create a different path?
9. Foam grenades: I want the ability to seal different branches of tunnels as I pass them. A quick forming industrial foam might do the job. What is the option for distress underground? Troops can’t pop smoke, can’t dive to cover. Could foam be used to create an immediate wall so that troops could have time to egress?
10. A canary: There are major issues with oxygen levels, carbon monoxide and many other air concerns underground. I know there are plenty of air monitoring devices out there, but even if I had one, I wouldn’t totally trust them. Miners have carried canaries underground for a long, long time. If the bird goes down you have a problem.
The possible emergence of a new era of tunnel warfare will challenge the Air Force to think of new ways to find, and defeat, a hidden enemy.