Infantry: A Pain In The Back

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May 3, 2011: The search for a better rucksack continues. Many troops are buying civilian gear, and more of that stuff is showing up to feed a huge civilian market for better outdoor backpacks. Some of the civilian gear is designed with troops in mind. An example is the HG730 Modular Pack. This is a flexed, internal-frame pack that is designed for maximum personalization. The basic ruck weighs 2.16 kg (4.75 pounds) and costs about $300. This is the kind of rucksack the troops are always asking for, and the HG730 delivers these capabilities more than any previous rucksack system. If popular enough with the troops, the army, marines or SOCOM may make large purchases. But in the meantime, there's the numerous individual civilian and military customers.

Meanwhile, the military equipment development organizations keep trying to compete. Two years ago, in its continuing effort to lighten the load of the infantry in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army introduced yet another rucksack. This medium size backpack was based on civilian equipment used by mountaineers, and intended for troops who will be out for up to three days, on foot and on their own. The new pack holds about 50 liters (3,000 cubic inches), and has fifty percent the capacity of the current assault pack (for day trips). The standard rucksack (MOLLE) holds 82 liters (5,000 cubic inches) and weighs 3.85 kg (8.5 pounds).

It was eight years ago, after a quarter century of complaints, that the U.S. Army finally replaced the All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) rucksack with the Modular Lightweight Load Bearing Equipment (MOLLE) rucksacks. Years of research and testing went into the development of the new equipment. The marines were so impressed that they adopted MOLLE as well.

Then everyone went off to Iraq with MOLLE and used the gear in combat. Somehow, flaws that do not appear in the most strenuous peacetime training, jump out at you in combat. The marines were so dissatisfied with their newly acquired MOLLE that they decided to chuck it and replace it with civilian gear. Army troops had also been singing the praises of civilian gear from firms like London Bridge, Blackhawk and Tactical Tailor. The civilian "combat rucksacks" were developed by talking to the troops and dispensing with the vast bureaucracy the army employs to develop equipment. So while the marines will get rucksacks that work, the army decided to stick with MOLLE and attempt to fix the flaws. The troops are not pleased. Which is why the new pack arrived a few years later. Many troops scrounged up old ALICE gear which, for all its flaws, performed better than the new MOLLE equipment. Either that, or they bought civilian rucksacks with their own money. An uncomfortable and inefficient rucksack can be a matter of life and death on the battlefield, a point the army procurement bureaucrats appear to have overlooked.

 


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