Remember in Predator when Jess Ventura is unleashing his M-134 Mini-gun into the forest? It was being fed by an ammo box strapped to his back. Turns out, that wasn't an actual piece of Army kit, at least until members of the Iowa National Guard created it themselves.
The National Guard division had been recently deployed to a forward operating base in Afghanistan and were issued Mk 48 machine guns when they arrived. The problem was, the belts of ammunition were extremely cumbersome and difficult for the gun's operator to carry while on foot-patrol. The initial solution of chopping the belts into 50-round lengths and reloading constantly was abandoned after a harrowing 2.5-hour long firefight proved it untenable.
So, Staff Sgt Vincent Winkowski welded two ammo boxes atop one another (with the upper case's bottom removed), lashed them to an all-purpose ALICE pack frame, and mounted the feed chute assembly from a vehicle-mounted CROW to the top of it. This allowed the gunner to carry a full load of ammo — 500 rounds — unassisted. Even with ammo, the entire system weighed a mere 20kg.
The pack, dubbed The Ironman, proved so reliable in combat that Winkowski submitted the design to Army science advisers who also immediately recognised its value. Within 48 days, the Quick Reaction Cell of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering centre (NSRDEC) had created an improved, lighter-weight version of the pack.
As, Dave Roy, a current operations analyst at NSRDEC, explains,
We've already gotten email traffic from (one of) our science advisers that everybody in theatre wants one of these — and by in theatre, he means his specific area of operation, Regional Command East in Afghanistan — because word has spread. 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 recognise it as a game-changer.
While The Ironman is still a prototype at this stage, Roy hopes to have acquisition funding secured by early next year. [US Army]