Soldiers tailor load for different missions with new rucksack
Rifleman, grenadier, pistol, Squad Assault Weapon gunner and medic configurations of the fighting load carrier are examples of the versatility of the MOLLE.
The nylon mesh vest has removable pockets to accommodate different carrying needs and is one of the main components of the MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) system developed at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick) that will be issued to Army units beginning in October.
MOLLE is an Army and Marine Corps item that replaces the aging ALICE (All-purpose, Lightweight, Individual Carrying Equipment) pack and Integrated Individual Fighting System introduced in 1988. Soldiers and Marines took a survey in 1996 resulting in a project to design a load-carrying system that’s modular, durable and comfortable, which led to the MOLLE.
“ALICE has served its purpose for 28 years,” said John Kirk, project engineer at Natick. “It was time for an upgrade with changing threats. Now we’re more specified in fighting requirements and applying advances in technology.”
New technology centers on the MOLLE’s frame, which was first built as a model in Natick’s Rapid Prototyping Facility. Instead of the tubular aluminum used with the ALICE, a new anatomically-contoured frame made with plastic originally used in automobile bumpers has dramatically increased durability, functioning in temperatures ranging from -40 to 120 degrees F. Kirk has several ALICE frames that cracked after a single drop at 33 feet per second, while the MOLLE frames took the same abuse five times without any damage.
“A lot of (ALICE) frames broke in airborne operations. You won’t see those failures with MOLLE. You can drive a tracked vehicle over it, and it will not break,” Kirk said.
A small percentage of MOLLE frames developed cracks at the bottom under heavy soldier loads, but Kirk said changes were made to strengthen it after stress testing on a flexing machine isolated the weakness.
MOLLE also advances load-carrying ability with its new suspension system. Heavily-padded shoulder straps and waist belt are adjustable for varying torso lengths, eliminating the two sizes of ALICE. The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, located at Natick, assisted with biomechanical studies to find the most efficient way to carry loads and investigated the interaction between different load-carriage equipment and human performance. More weight is distributed at the shoulders and hips, and during a prolonged road march, soldiers can shift the weight to where it feels more comfortable.
The Fighting Load Carrier (FLC) replaces the Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) web belt and suspenders of the ALICE. Kirk said soldiers can significantly increase the amount of ammunition they carry, and weight is evenly distributed across the torso. The vest has no metal clips or hooks that can be awkward and dig into the skin, and has an H-harness in back to minimize heat buildup. It’s adjustable to all sizes, and because the vest sits high, soldiers can fasten the MOLLE frame waist belt underneath the FLC to distribute some of the load to the hips. Three flap pockets on the FLC each hold two 30-round magazines, two grenade pockets and two canteen pouches.
The rucksack has a front pocket to hold a claymore antipersonnel mine. Inside is a bandolier with a capacity for six 30-round magazines and a removable tactical radio pocket. A detachable sustainment pouch on each side is big enough to hold a Meal Ready-to-Eat with room to spare, and underneath the rucksack, a sleeping bag compartment was designed to hold the Army’s new modular sleeping bag.
Every MOLLE comes with a tube-delivered water pouch for on-the-move hydration to supplement the one-quart canteen. “It’s not for use in a chemical or biological agent-contaminated environment,” Kirk said, adding that efforts are ongoing to develop a mobile hydration system for all conditions.
Adapting to the mission will be easier with a detachable pack. The pack holds gear such as extra water, rations and ammunition soldiers would need for 72 hours or less without other items that might get in the way.
“They can move to the objective, dump the big pack, take off the detachable pack and then go to the fight,” Kirk said. “The side sustainment pouches can be removed from the rucksack and placed on the patrol pack to give the same carrying capacity as the medium ALICE.”
Based on user feedback on the original system, the MOLLE requirements were modified to eliminate the need for a quick-release frame that integrates into the load-bearing vest. The change allowed developers to replace the probe and socket mechanism, which caused problems in donning for some soldiers and Marines, to a quick-release mechanism for a more traditional permanently-mounted waist belt on the frame.
All of the larger pouches of MOLLE, such as the outside rucksack pouches, have D-rings for carrying with a sling and use plastic see-through identification windows so soldiers don’t have to marker or tape their name onto the MOLLE’s camouflaged, urethane-coated nylon fabric. Each system comes with two 6-foot lashing straps for carrying large objects, such as a mortar plate or five-gallon containers. If one of the plastic buckles breaks, a repair kit carries a bag of spares for simple replacement.
Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii tested the MOLLE for six months, and it was well-received even with loads exceeding 120 pounds. A two-hour block of new equipment training on the system will be given to troops during initial fielding.
“When they get it issued, soldiers must get the new equipment training and learn its features,” Kirk said. “Soldiers who don’t receive training may be frustrated at first because it is much different than ALICE.”
Specialty Defense Inc. in Dunmore, Penn., is manufacturing 216,000 MOLLE systems for the entire Marine Corps and initial Army fielding. Evaluations will be conducted after fielding to see if improvements are needed based on soldier feedback, said Kirk.