Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants. Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains 92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.
Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.
Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles. An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.
My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979. We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle. In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left and the water-bottle on the right. Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right. In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.
Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran. It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.
This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment. Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body. The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool. These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.
The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen. A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march. This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937. It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.
After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83. This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002. While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.
The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle with a screw-on cap. It had a plastic cover on top with handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer . Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,
These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi. Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste. Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march. That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks. By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.
The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame. The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water. A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.
In 1989, a former paramedic preparing to participate in a bike race was concerned with getting enough water to sustain himself during the race. Reaching for the water-bottle mounted on his bike was dangerous, and water stops were two or three hours apart. So he designed a portable hydration system using a medical tubing attached to an intravenous (IV) drip bag. He stuffed the bag into a sock and sewed the sock onto the back of his T-shirt. Thus the idea for the commercially available CamelBak® water bladder hydration system was born.
The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.
The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system. A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier. Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.