By Mr. Mike Shelton, Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command Public Affairs
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — 82nd Airborne Division Soldiers recently completed the final phases of the Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) 4000 rucksack operational test here.
“The new MOLLE 4K is a compilation of the best parts of the legacy ALICE pack and the newer MOLLE,” said Capt. Fritz Carr, commander of the U.S. Army Advanced Airborne School.
The 4000 “moniker” addresses the cubic inches of load volume, and is scheduled to begin replacing the All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) rucksack in 2019, which has remained the favored approach load system of the Airborne community for over four decades.
“With the ability to integrate air items and the sewn in external pouches, it is my opinion that the MOLLE 4K is the common sense advanced solution for the Airborne warfighter in the air and on the ground,” said Carr.
Initially fielded in 1973, the ALICE rucksack was part of an effort to modernize the post-Vietnam force which included a suite of combat gear developed from lessons learned in Southeast Asia.
The smart design with three outer pockets, external frame and large volume carrying capacity, was an instant hit with Army paratroopers and has seen service in every conflict since the Cold War.
The U.S. Military sought to replace the ALICE rucksack in 1997 with the MOLLE system. However, it did not see widespread issue until after the September 11, 2001 attacks where it was used by U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.
Early criticisms of the MOLLE system emerged particularly from paratroopers, centering on the sustainment-load pack and frame due to the external plastic frame being too fragile and subject to breaking in the field, which has since been mitigated.
Zippers were prone to bursting open when stuffed full, and the pack’s straps lacked sufficient length to be used with bulky body armor.
During this time period, paratroopers continued using the old ALICE packs while employing the other components of the MOLLE system.
It was apparent to the 82nd that a new rucksack was needed and more evident that the Soldier’s input and acceptance of this new endeavor was vital for its success.
Early in 2013, the 82nd, in conjunction with the Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Command (NSRDEC), Natick, Massachusetts, began diligently seeking an enduring replacement for the ALICE rucksack.
Coupled with an effort to reduce the Soldier’s load, a series of potential replacements underwent operational testing at Fort Bragg; one design quickly rose to the top of the list. The MOLLE 4000, like the ALICE pack before it, consists of a top loading design with outer accessory pockets and an external frame.
Named the MOLLE 4000 because of its cubic inches of load volume, the new design also featured an integral lightweight harness single point release (HSPR) used to attached the MOLLE 4000 to the paratroopers parachute harness during static line Airborne operations.
Once the MOLLE 4000 was selected as the prime candidate for the paratrooper’s new rucksack, it was issued to elements of the 82nd for a trial period of service.
This approach allowed Natick Research Labs to continue collecting data using Soldier feedback and make product improvements identified by users in the field. After this trial period was completed, final design changes based on Soldier input were implemented in the MOLLE 4000.
In October 2017, 22 members of the 82nd’s, 2nd Brigade Combat Team became the first Army paratroopers to jump the final design.
“The purpose of this operational test using paratroopers was to collect data to evaluate the suitability and safety of the MOLLE 4000 when employed during static line airborne operations,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan O’Rourke, Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate test NCO for the MOLLE 4000.
Over the course of several weeks, paratroopers performed 22 airdrops with the MOLLE 4000 without incident or injury to any test participants.
During the test, paratroopers participated in new equipment training which included familiarization with the system, rigging of the MOLLE 4000 and lowering procedures with the T-11 parachute system, followed by a live parachute jump from a U.S. Air Force C17 high performance aircraft at 1,250 feet above ground level over Bragg’s Sicily Drop Zone.
During Airborne test trials, paratroopers incorporated their individual combat equipment loads based on their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), mission requirements and the 82nd’s Global Response Force (GRF) packing list.
One strength paratroopers see with the MOLLE 4000 is its large volume and external pockets, since they are often faced with the challenge of packing and rigging their combat essential equipment in limited space.
The MOLLE 4000 will allow paratroopers to configure their equipment to best suit their needs while ensuring critical items are easily accessible throughout the Airborne operation.
“Operational Testing is about Soldiers. It is about making sure that the systems developed are effective in a Soldier’s hands and suitable for the environments in which Soldiers train and fight,” said Col. Brad Mock, Director of the Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate.
“Soldier acceptance for the MOLLE 4000 is extremely high,” said O’Rourke. “Soldiers having confidence in their combat systems is one of the ultimate goals of operational testing.”
Upon completion of testing, the MOLLE 4000 could potentially be issued to Army Airborne Forces worldwide; signaling the first steps in modernizing the combat loads of thousands of paratroopers.
About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:
The U.S. Army Operational Test Command is based at West Fort Hood, Texas and its mission is making sure that systems developed are effective in a Soldier’s hands and suitable for the environments in which Soldiers train and fight. Test units and their Soldiers provide feedback, by offering input to improve upon existing and future systems.
The Fort Bragg, N.C.-based ABNSOTD plans, executes, and reports on operational tests and field experiments of Airborne and Special Operations Forces equipment, procedures, aerial delivery, and air transportation systems to provide key operational data for the continued development and fielding of doctrine, systems or equipment to the Warfighter.