The U.S. military is trying to figure out whether certain heavy weapons are putting U.S. troops in danger. The concern centers on the possibility of brain injuries from shoulder-fired weapons like the Carl Gustaf, a recoilless rifle that resembles a bazooka and is powerful enough to blow up a tank. The shell leaves the gun’s barrel at more than 500 miles per hour. And as the weapon fires, it directs an explosive burst of hot gases out of the back of the barrel.
In 2011, the Army equipped thousands of troops with blast gauges — coin-sized sensors worn on the head and shoulders. Last year, the military quietly pulled the blast gauges from wide use, saying they hadn’t been useful in detecting brain injuries. Last year, a military study showed that firing heavy weapons could temporarily impair learning and memory. Now the military needs to find out whether these short-term effects can lead to long-term injuries among members of the service.