T Nation

Optimal Size for Soldier


#1

Suppose you had to breed a clone army of supersoldiers (infantry), what size would you make them? It would be tempting to just say 7ft 400 lbs, but there are a few things to consider:

  • Strength doesn't scale linearly (5ft gymnasts have a better power:weight ratio than hulk strongmen, but obviously don't have as much absolute strength)
  • High endurance aspect of military life
  • Need to be a certain size to drive/fit into certain vehicles
  • Need to be light enough to be quickly dragged out of action if wounded
  • Need to have a base minimum level of strength to be able to lug around gear
  • Need to be able to quickly cover obstacles while wearing said gear
  • Smaller guy = smaller target

So take, for example, a 150 lb guy vs the 400 lb hulk. The 150 lb guy would have a much easier time rucking for hours and climbing over obstacles with the issued gear (which weighs the same for everyone), but the hulk will have pure brute strength and be better for certain roles (e.g. breaching).

What height/weight would be optimal, assuming everyone in your army had to be 1 size?


#2

Short and wiry for the win. Low to the ground means lower centre of gravity, and harder to hit.

Military vehicles are not made for tall men. Especially tanks.

Negotiating obstacles is trickier the longer you are, and short guys have less digging to do when constructing a fighting position.

Five-six to five-nine would be just about right.

165 to 180 pounds, at around 10 to 12 percent body fat.


#3

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


#4

[quote]Chushin wrote:

[quote]Varqanir wrote:
Short and wiry for the win. Low to the ground means lower centre of gravity, and harder to hit.

Military vehicles are not made for tall men. Especially tanks.

Negotiating obstacles is trickier the longer you are, and short guys have less digging to do when constructing a fighting position.

Five-six to five-nine would be just about right.

165 to 180 pounds, at around 10 to 12 percent body fat.

[/quote]
That kinda sounds like someone I know! ;-)[/quote]

Damn! Busted.

Well, what I described is also the size of the preponderance of Rangers, who are of course the best infantrymen the Army has.

Whether these facts are linked by causality or correlativity one cannot be certain.


#5

[quote]Varqanir wrote:
Military vehicles are not made for tall men.
[/quote]

Very true.

I’m very tall (so tall I got a medical waiver) and had some problems with my Kevlar not fitting, etc.

I do think a good unit has guys of all sizes, however. Small guys, giant guys, mostly middling guys. There are times when brute force rules (e.g., breaking down a door).

The flip side was I was ALWAYS the guy that broke down the door and they shot at me first.

The ability to walk over scramble all day with a pack is far more important than the ability to lift weights, as well.

I was the designated marksman for our unit, which was unusual in that it is typically a very small guy who can hide in crevices. I have been rock climbing my entire life, however, and could free climb into places that other people couldn’t go/didn’t expect (e.g., I’d climb the side of a building using the gutter and drop a grenade through the roof/2nd story window).


#6

[quote]thethirdruffian wrote:
I was the designated marksman for our unit, which was unusual in that it is typically a very small guy who can hide in crevices. I have been rock climbing my entire life, however, and could free climb into places that other people couldn’t go/didn’t expect (e.g., I’d climb the side of a building using the gutter and drop a grenade through the roof/2nd story window).[/quote]

Sounds like you were literally an American Ninja Warrior.


#7

Evolution already asked and answered this question. How many 7ft, 400lb men do you see around? There may be evolutionary factors that don’t precisely come up in the military, but that’s a discussion of scope. If you factor in food consumption, endurance, disease, mobility, as well as conflict ability, it seems that evolution’s answer is about 5’9" 180lbs, on average.

Excluding hand to hand single combat, which isn’t really part of modern warfare, I don’t really see where the giant would have an advantage. Anything where physical strength is that important, you can solve it by adding a couple extra guys. And two 200lb guys is way better than one 400lb guy.

It’s probably true that if you can have a unit with mixed sizes for different roles, that’s probably going to go best.


#8

Wouldnt this depend on the job at hand?

I would want horse jockeys in my tanks, and Hafthor Julius Bjornsson’s as my grunts.


#9

[quote]Silyak wrote:
Evolution already asked and answered this question. How many 7ft, 400lb men do you see around? There may be evolutionary factors that don’t precisely come up in the military, but that’s a discussion of scope. If you factor in food consumption, endurance, disease, mobility, as well as conflict ability, it seems that evolution’s answer is about 5’9" 180lbs, on average. Excluding hand to hand single combat, which isn’t really part of modern warfare, I don’t really see where the giant would have an advantage. Anything where physical strength is that important, you can solve it by adding a couple extra guys. And two 200lb guys is way better than one 400lb guy.

It’s probably true that if you can have a unit with mixed sizes for different roles, that’s probably going to go best. [/quote]

5’9 180 lbs is the average American male, but that is with a mostly sedentary population where 2/3 people are overweight, not necessarily the most ideal build for combat.

A mix of sizes would be the best option, but I think it’s interesting to think about what the ideal build would be for a well-rounded soldier. To add to what’s been said above, you should also factor in the logistical side of it and how much food you need to supply everyone in order to keep them healthy. Obviously the smaller the guy, the less food he will need and thus he will be able to pack more days’ rations on extended missions.

Since hand-to-hand single combat is pretty much extinct now and carrying a firearm does not require much strength, is there any downside to just fielding an army of 130-140 lb guys?


#10

[quote]jjackkrash wrote:

[quote]thethirdruffian wrote:
I was the designated marksman for our unit, which was unusual in that it is typically a very small guy who can hide in crevices. I have been rock climbing my entire life, however, and could free climb into places that other people couldn’t go/didn’t expect (e.g., I’d climb the side of a building using the gutter and drop a grenade through the roof/2nd story window).[/quote]

Sounds like you were literally an American Ninja Warrior. [/quote]

No, I was young and stupid.


#11

[quote]Iron Condor wrote:
is there any downside to just fielding an army of 130-140 lb guys?
[/quote]

besides looking like a bunch of pussies?


#12

[quote]Aggv wrote:
besides looking like a bunch of pussies? [/quote]


#13

[quote]Iron Condor wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:
besides looking like a bunch of pussies? [/quote]
[/quote]

Asian dudes holding knives? so what?


#14

[quote]Aggv wrote:

[quote]Iron Condor wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:
besides looking like a bunch of pussies? [/quote]
[/quote]

Asian dudes holding knives? so what? [/quote]

Those are Gurkhas.

Go look up “Gurkhas”. They are not pussies.


#15

[quote]Varqanir wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:

[quote]Iron Condor wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:
besides looking like a bunch of pussies? [/quote]
[/quote]

Asian dudes holding knives? so what? [/quote]

Those are Gurkhas.

Go look up “Gurkhas”. They are not pussies.[/quote]

I know gurkhas, and im curious how many people had to die in the making of that picture?


#16

[quote]Iron Condor wrote:

5’9 180 lbs is the average American male, but that is with a mostly sedentary population where 2/3 people are overweight, not necessarily the most ideal build for combat.

A mix of sizes would be the best option, but I think it’s interesting to think about what the ideal build would be for a well-rounded soldier. To add to what’s been said above, you should also factor in the logistical side of it and how much food you need to supply everyone in order to keep them healthy. Obviously the smaller the guy, the less food he will need and thus he will be able to pack more days’ rations on extended missions.

Since hand-to-hand single combat is pretty much extinct now and carrying a firearm does not require much strength, is there any downside to just fielding an army of 130-140 lb guys?
[/quote]
You’re right that the ideal is probably lighter than 180lbs. But you also have to consider that many things don’t get smaller as the person gets smaller. Radio equipment, medical supplies, weapons, and ammunition don’t get any smaller. Building fortifications, breaking down doors (as was brought up), and other such tasks don’t get easier. Helmets and body armor get slightly lighter, but it’s probably not proportionate. Also, food demand probably doesn’t decrease proportionately with weight. So there starts to be a point of diminishing returns with smaller soldiers.

Just thinking about 130lb guys, I’d say most of them are either elite athletes or just skinny and weak. Now, that may just be a result of the American population, as you may be right that many gurkhas come in around that weight.

In the end, you’re going to have to be more specific to get the right answer. What type of environment and terrain is the war being fought it and what type of campaign am I waging? What do my supply lines look like? Are my troops motorized, mechanized, or on foot? What kind of weapons do I have available? What amount of resources do I have to procure equipment, supplies, and weapons?


#17

[quote]Aggv wrote:

[quote]Varqanir wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:

[quote]Iron Condor wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:
besides looking like a bunch of pussies? [/quote]
[/quote]

Asian dudes holding knives? so what? [/quote]

Those are Gurkhas.

Go look up “Gurkhas”. They are not pussies.[/quote]

I know gurkhas, and im curious how many people had to die in the making of that picture? [/quote]

The knife doesn’t have to draw human blood. They probably had a lot of fried chicken that day.


#18

[quote]dt79 wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:

[quote]Varqanir wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:

[quote]Iron Condor wrote:

[quote]Aggv wrote:
besides looking like a bunch of pussies? [/quote]
[/quote]

Asian dudes holding knives? so what? [/quote]

Those are Gurkhas.

Go look up “Gurkhas”. They are not pussies.[/quote]

I know gurkhas, and im curious how many people had to die in the making of that picture? [/quote]

The knife doesn’t have to draw human blood. They probably had a lot of fried chicken that day.[/quote]

Who found Waldo in that picture?


#19

On what planet? 35 Iraqis were killed by troops using M3 fighting knives (or whatever the Brits call it) in combat by 20 British troops in Basra because the Brits had run low on ammo, so they went iron age on their asses.

The knife attack worked extremely well because the Brits could close in on the combatants who had zero skill hand-to-hand, so they slaughtered them, even though outnumbered 3-1.

A unit with fixed bayonets is damn effect at crowd control, too.

Also, a rifle may not weigh a lot, but your kevlar and multiple mags ads up very quickly.


#20

[quote]Varqanir wrote:

[quote]Chushin wrote:

[quote]Varqanir wrote:
Short and wiry for the win. Low to the ground means lower centre of gravity, and harder to hit.

Military vehicles are not made for tall men. Especially tanks.

Negotiating obstacles is trickier the longer you are, and short guys have less digging to do when constructing a fighting position.

Five-six to five-nine would be just about right.

165 to 180 pounds, at around 10 to 12 percent body fat.

[/quote]
That kinda sounds like someone I know! ;-)[/quote]

Damn! Busted.

Well, what I described is also the size of the preponderance of Rangers, who are of course the best infantrymen the Army has.

Whether these facts are linked by causality or correlativity one cannot be certain.[/quote]

Sounds like the Jagdkommando, they pretty much look like that.