Who doesn’t love Predator? Two juiced up governors-to-be on screen simultaneously throwing lead at a common enemy and taking out bad guys. Its a typical late-80s action film, but the reason that it always stuck in my mind was Governor Ventura’s handheld M134 minigun. Nevermind that (if real) the weapon would only have enough ammunition for less than 5 seconds of firing, I thought it was a great concept. Apparently an Iowa National Guard unit (1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa National Guard) thought so too, and that’s why they built one.
Well, not the whole thing — the minigun is impractical. The ammunition backpack, on the other hand, is genius.
From the Army news website…
“When we first arrived in theater in late October (2010), we were issued the Mk 48 7.62 mm machine guns,” Winkowski said. “This was a new piece of equipment for us, and we struggled to come up with a solution for carrying and employing ammunition for it due to our small size and the inability to have a designated ammo bearer, as is common doctrine with the M240B.
“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.”
The same issue has plagued machine gunners since the dawn of full auto fire. The MG crews of WWI used five soldiers just to manhandle a single machine gun around the battlefield — one gunner, one loader, and three minions to carry the ammo (and other gubbins). Larger units had enough manpower to let the machine gunner have a mule for his bullets, but this National Guard unit had to make do with their small numbers. That led Staff Sgt. Vincent Winkowski to come up with a genius solution.
[…] Winkowski grabbed an old ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) frame, welded two ammunition cans together — one atop the other after cutting the bottom out of the top can — and strapped the fused cans to the frame. To that he added a MOLLE (modular, lightweight load-carrying equipment) pouch to carry other equipment.
“We wondered why there wasn’t some type of dismounted (Common Remote Operating Weapons Station) that fed our machine guns instead of a mini-gun as portrayed in the movie,” Winkowski said. “So, I decided to try it using the feed chute assembly off of the vehicle CROWS. We glued a piece of wood from an ammo crate inside the ammo cans to create the decreased space necessary so the rounds would not fall in on each other.
Just days after they welded the thing together it had its first trial by fire, as the small unit came under fire from 50 enemy combatants. And performed perfectly.
A short while later the unit submitted their invention to the Army’s Research and Development wing. Their first reaction? And I qoute: “Wow, that’s cool.” And then they went and improved it a little.
The folks at NSRDEC substituted a MOLLE medium frame for the ALICE frame. The ammo compartment now uses polycarbonate plastic instead of the original tin. Until NSRDEC can come up with a simpler, more cost-effective substitute, the ammo will continue to move through a 27-inch-long, $1,710 feed chute designed for the CROWS, which the Guardsmen had employed.
Word of the backpack has spread through units deployed in theater, and copycat backpacks are starting to pop up and be used in multiple units.
“We’ve already gotten email traffic from (one of) our science advisers that everybody in theater wants one of these — and by in theater, he means his specific area of operation, Regional Command East in Afghanistan — because word has spread,” Roy said. “That (Iowa National Guard) unit is not the only unit on that FOB. As they’re walking around the FOB with that piece of kit, very senior people are taking a look at it. They recognize it as a game-changer.”
The R&D department hopes to have a polished and finalized design ready for full production and deployment by early 2012. This hacked together backpack, inspired by an 80s movie and designed by a rag-tag National Guard unit, represents a leap forward in the capabilities of machine gunners on the battlefield and might just be a “game changer” for our troops overseas.
UPDATE: It seems that a similar system has been available for years, from TYR Tactical. For $4k. So instead of being a story about Army being forward thinking, this seems to be a story about how the Army spent thousands of dollars re-inventing the wheel. Very nice. (Thanks to GA Koenig for bringing it up.)
All pictures (C) U.S. Government.