Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division found their two options for rucksacks either too small or too big. So the Army has created a new design that's just right. And while they were at it, Army officials were able to lighten the load and make the rucks easier to access, without having to de-rig.

In March the Army will test the MOLLE-4000, a 4,000-cubic-inch ruck. Existing options are 3,000 cubic inches or 5,000 cubic inches. The Army hopes to begin sending production orders for the new Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment by Sept. 30, with production starting soon after, according to program manager Maj. Eric Mendoza.

The new rucksack represents part of a broader update to jump gear that hadn't moved much since the 1980s — or for some elements, much longe. In the last few years the Army rolled out the T-11 parachute to replace the T-10 (mainly because a better chute was needed to accommodate additional weight of soldiers and gear), and the Modular Airborne Weapons Case (MAWC) to replace the bulkier M1950 weapons case. Both replaced models dating to the 1950s.

The new MOLLE differs from current rucksacks in that its main compartment faces upward, which allows soldiers to access its contents, even as they prepare to jump. With a parachute on their back and reserve over their chest, jumpers have their rucksacks harnessed to their front, hanging below the waist.((((((KJ)))))) The current, 5,000-cubic inch airborne standard is harnessed from the bottomm with the opening hanging down. This makes it difficult to remove supplies before a jump.

Aside from access, soldiers complained about the bulk and length of the 5,000-cubic-inch ruck, according to Winhoven, and the heft made crowding onto a cramped aircraft difficult.. The frame of the new unit is three inches shorter — "not everyone is six-foot-10," Winhoven said.

Did they cut too much space?

"I would say we've optimized the capacity rather than reduced it," Yancey said. "It accommodates the packing list, plus a little wiggle-room for other mission-essential kit that may not be covered in the packing list."

An earlier prototype of theThe original version of MOLLE-4000 had a zipper enclosure on top, but the developers found the top-load drawstring more practical and flexible than a half-moon shaped zipper on top, which has to be able to close completely.

The developers hope the rucksack becomes the standard for jumpers beyond Army airborne units.((KJ)) Mendoza said there is interest from special forces and other branches, though nothing has been decided.

Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center headed the development of the ruck, but Program Executive Office Soldier and the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning also contributed to its development and preliminary testing. Among those working on the project was Rich Landry, an equipment designer at Natick. The former 82nd Airborne soldier stressed the soldiers' role in the design of the rucksack that stemmed from a request from the airborne community.

"That's my past," Landry said. "This is my favorite kind of work, because the whole parachute (piece) is just such an interesting dynamic when you start talking about load and how all the pieces have to work together."

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