A group of Iowa National Guardsmen, fresh from a harrowing two-and-a-half-hour firefight in Afghanistan earlier this year, found itself questioning the effectiveness of some of their new equipment. They had been issued M240B light machine guns for support fire, but they found themselves constantly reloading with new 50-round belts, which necessitated a ammo bearer with a bunch of belts at the ready. “The ammunition sacks that came with it made it too cumbersome and heavy to carry over long, dismounted patrols and especially when climbing mountains. Initially, we came up with using 50-round belts and just reloading constantly, which led to lulls of fire and inefficiency,” said Staff Sgt Vincent Winkoski.
While discussing the shortcomings of their setup (as you might do if your lives depended on it), someone mentioned the movie Predator, in which Jesse Ventura’s character had an ammo box for his minigun strapped to his back. They laughed about it, but Winkowski got to thinking, and with a can-do attitude that becomes of a soldier, decided to put something like it together.
He took some modular gear they had lying around (a carrying frame, all-purpose pouch), combined it with some parts from a remote weapons station, and with a little tinkering and glue, he had himself a working ammo backpack.
They tested it on the range, and it worked. And when their squad was ambushed in a valley by a group of enemy fighters, it proved it was more than just an experiment. Winkowski sent pictures and a description to science advisers in the Army’s research division. They loved it.
Within 48 days, they had redeployed a new, lighter, stronger prototype into the theater. “We were able to put everything together very quickly and were able to prove that with a combat load — that’s 43 pounds with 500 rounds, inclusive of the weight of the kit itself — that still gives the Soldier 17 pounds worth of cargo weight to attach to the frame and still be within the design specifications for the MOLLE medium,” said Dave Roy, who received the design and oversaw the prototyping.
I don’t post this just in the “cool new guns” spirit, though it’s certainly a neat gadget from that perspective. I just thought it was fantastic how the spirit of innovation pops up when you least expect it, and it seems that even within the tightly-regulated world of the Army, a good idea occasionally can take root and be on the ground fast enough to save a few lives. The freedom to create and hack is important and powerful, and providing the tools for people to do it (in this case, forward-thinking modular systems and a willingness to experiment) is an advantage in industry as well as battle.
Thanks to the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa National Guard for their hard work overseas.
[via TechZwn; images courtesy of the 133rd]