Inspiration comes at interesting moments, and for a group of soldiers in Afghanistan, this one came during a two-and-a-half-hour firefight with the Taliban.
After the smoke cleared, the soldiers were talking about what a hassle it was having to use three men to load and use the new Mk 48 light machine gun. “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,” Winkowski said, according to the U.S. Army news website.
One of them mentioned Jesse Ventura from the “Predator” film, who used an M-134 Mini-gun that was fed by an ammo box he wore on his back.
After a short laugh, one soldier, Staff Sgt. Vincent Winkowski realized that making a backpack that could feed a machine gun wouldn’t be that far-fetched. So he welded two ammunitions cans together, grabbed an old ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment), and combined it with a MOLLE (modular, lightweight load-carrying equipment) pouch. The result was a backpack capable of both carrying and feeding ammo to the gun without burning its carrier or getting jammed.
“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.
Initial tests showed it still had some flaws, but “it was much better than the current TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) we employed,” Winkowski said.
Then, on Feb. 26, 2011, their new “Ironman” pack was given its real test. The squad was ambushed by close to 50 enemy fighters in a river valley, “and it worked great!” Winkowski said. The Army doesn’t give much detail here, but it sounds like 50 fighters were greeted by an Ironman backpack feeding a light machine gun as it blew copious amounts of doom in their general directions.
The team reported their new gadget in the combat report, which drew the interest of forward-deployed science advisers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.
“We looked at it,” recalled Dave Roy, of the research center. “My first reaction was, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’”
Roy and his team modified the massive ammo clip-turned-backpack, and 48 days later, they had a new prototype, and put the “High-Capacity Ammunition Carriage System” back in theater.
The troops who built it, from the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa National Guard, are called “Task Force Ironman,” and Roy named the machine the “Ironman.”
“We pretty much took their design and just reverse-engineered it and improved upon it,” said Laura Winters, who headed up the fabrication effort, according to the Army news website.
Roy adds, “We’ve already gotten email traffic from (one of) our science advisers that everybody in theater wants one of these.”
“To allow the gunner himself to be able to have this kind of firepower increases his lethality,” Roy said. “By increasing his lethality, you’ve also increased his survivability by a certain amount. Now that gunner has 500 rounds of ammunition. It’s very difficult for me to make him ineffective.”
[box_light]Photo courtesy of 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Iowa National Guard. All others courtesy of David Kamm[/box_light]