MOLLE: Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment

PART I: Fighting Load Carrier or FLCS

Bradley's Military President - William McKinney By: William McKinney President, Bradley’s Military Enterprises

MOLLE (pronounced MOLLY as in the female name) is an acronym for MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. It is used to define the current generation of load-bearing equipment and rucksacks utilized by the United States armed forces, especially the United States Army, and its use is also growing in the British Army in the form of the Osprey Modular systems. The system's modularity is derived from the use of PALS webbing, rows of heavy-duty nylon stitched onto the vest as to allow for attachment of various MOLLE-compatible pouches and accessories. This method of attachment has become a de facto standard for modular tactical gear, replacing the older ALICE equipment.  It is produced for the United States Government under contract by several contractors, such as Specialty Defense, Armor Holdings, and Ehmke Manufacturing/High Ground Gear.  This introduction was found on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOLLE_(military).  You can find other valuable information about the MOLLE system on this sight.

The MOLLE system can be broken down into 4 categories that consist of the following items:

• Rucksack & Assault Pack System • Hydration System • Field Loading Carrier (FLC) • And a Wide Assortment of MOLLE Attachable Pouches

In this first article on MOLLE gear I will discuss the FLC or Field Loading Carrier.  In layman's terms this is a tactical vest.  This tactical vest has removal pouches, and it can be assembled to suit a soldier's needs.  Allow me to describe the evolution of web gear, load bearing vests and today's MOLLE system.

Web Gear:

In 1982 I was issued a web gear. Soldier commonly referred to their web gear as LBE or Load Bearing Equipment.  They also used the terminology LCE or Load Carrying Equipment. The system consisted of the following items:

Standard Configuration Items:

• Pistol Belt • Y-Harness • Ammo Pouches • 1-Quart Canteens • Canteen Cup • 1-Quart Canteen Pouches • Utility Pouch Optional Items:

• Fanny Pack • Angle Head Flashlight • Ear Protection with Carrier • 2-Quart Canteen • 2-Quart Canteen Pouch

The genuine issued pistol belt has a series of large circular garment holes running along the belt.  Using straps with fixed metal clips, the Y-harness could attach to the holes in the pistol belt creating a carrying system.  Two 1-quart canteens would be placed inside of the canteen cups, and then the 2 combined items would fit snuggly into the canteen pouch.  Using a combination of metal clips or "ALICE Keepers" the 1-quart canteen systems would be attached to the left and right sides of the pistol belt. In a similar fashion, 2 ammo pouches would attach to the pistol belt in the abdomen area.  Finally, the utility pouch would clip onto a metal link attached to a shoulder strap on the Y-harness system.  When all of these items were assembled as described it would create a standard web gear configuration.  Each ammo pouch would hold up to three 30-round magazines, and the utility pouch would house a compression bandage or compass.  The ammo pouch also had built in straps on each side of the pouch that had the ability to carry 2 fragmentation grenades.

Soldiers had the option to attach a fanny pack to the back side of the pistol belt and Y-harness using metal ALICE keepers.  The angle head flashlight had a built in metal clip that could be attached to a metal link on the Y-harness.  A small ear protection case was commonly attached to a Y-harness shoulder strap.  Finally, using a strap the 2-quart canteen system could be worn around the waist, carried over the shoulder or attached with metal ALICE keepers to the pistol belt.

The web gear I have described was the equipment carrying system of choice from World War II until the early 1990's.  In the early years, the various components were made of heavy cotton.  The harness system was called an "H-harness" in these days because it was shaped like the letter H.  All of the components were attached with metal links and clips, and few changes were made over the years.  Eventually cotton was replaced with nylon, and the pistol belt adopted a plastic quick release buckle.  This quick release buckle was eventually replaced with the plastic Fastex buckle.  The changes in buckle systems  allowed the equipment to be put on or removed more quickly.  Despite these changes for convenience, the military's web gear system basically remained the same for many decades

The Load Bearing Vest or LBV:

In the mid 1990's the military institution revolutionized how fighting equipment was carried when it introduced the Load bearing Vest or LBV.  Instead of using a series of straps a vest system was created.  This vest was made of lightweight nylon fabric with foam padding in the shoulders. The nylon material had a Woodland Camouflage pattern.  Two plastic quick release buckles were used to open or close the front of the vest.  The vest was intended to be attached to a pistol belt using a series of nylon straps.  To ensure these straps remained closed both Velcro and a metal garment snap was incorporated.  Similar to the older load bearing equipment canteen systems, ammo pouches and a fanny pack were regularly attached to the pistol belt.

The vest consists of suspenders, a left, right and back panel that are connected with adjustable draw cords in a corset lacing system secured by cord locks. The vest weighs 1.8 pounds empty.  It provides space for six 30 round magazines in four permanently attached ammunition pockets (two each in the outside pockets, and one each in the inside pockets) and two fragmentation grenades in two grenade pockets.  Using a draw cord system, the vest offered a one size fits all approach.

G.I. Individual Tactical Load Bearing Vest:

Individual Tactical Load Bearing Vest

In the mid-1990s, the ITLBV was redesigned due to problems with ventilation and redesignated as the Enhanced Tactical Load Bearing Vest (ETLBV) with slanted ammunition pockets and mesh panels.  Despite these shortcomings, the LBV system was significantly more comfortable than the older web gear system. This newer system could carry more equipment, it carried equipment more quietly and its broad shoulder padding system supported the weight load better.  Perhaps the standard web gear system was cooler, but this is one of few advantages the older system possessed.

Around the same timeframe that the LBV was introduced the M-203 vest was also issued to soldiers.  This vest was similar to the LBV in many respects except it had 20 pockets to carry the M-79 and M-203 grenade launchers' 40mm ammunition.  Similar to the LBV, the pockets on the M-203 system was sewn directly into the vest.  This inability to remove pouches or customize the 2 systems would lead to the introduction of the MOLLE Fighting Loading Carrier or FLC.

* Note: A substantial amount of the information was found at ciehub.info/equipment/loadbearing/IIFS/ITLBV.html.  I encourage you to read this article.

The MOLLE Fighting Load Carrier or FLC:

In the early 2000 era the Load Bearing Vest spun off the Fighting Load Carrier or FLC.  Made of Cordura material and nylon mesh this vest was first offered in woodland  and 3-color desert camouflage.  Today it is also offered in Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) and in Multi-Cam camouflage officially known as Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern or OCP .  The major upgrade that seperates the newer FLC from the older LBV is the removable pouches.  The FLC integrates a modular approach using a PALS grids system.  The PALS grid consists of horizontal rows of 1" webbing, spaced 1" apart, and reattached to the backing at 1.5" intervals.  These series of sewn in straps leaves small loops that can weave in various MOLLE pouches.  MOLLE compatible pouches have long straps on the back of the items.  A snap is also built into the straps.  Therefore, the pouch straps can be woven into the PALS grids that are on the face of the FLC vest.  Once the pouch is firmly woven into place the metal snap is snapped closed securing the pouch to the vest.  This improved attachment system allows soldiers to use a wide selection of pouches, and they can configure their vest in a manner their best suits their needs.

There are 3 general modes of attachment in the MOLLE arena, they are "Natick Snap", that uses a polyethylene reinforced webbing strap with the 'push-the-dot' snap for security. There is the polymer "Malice" clip developed by Tactical Tailor as an alternative to the Natick Snap concept, which interweaves like the Natick Snap but terminates in a semi-permanent closure that requires a screwdriver/flat tipped object to disengage. Finally there are a variety of attachments that fall into the "Weave & Tuck" category in which the end of an interwoven strap is tucked into an item's backing after attachment to a vest or pack (Paraclete's SofStrap and Spec Ops Brand's hybrid attachment).

MOLLE POUCHES:

There are many MOLLE compatible pouches that can be used with the FLC system, and this list of products continues to grow longer over time.  Some of the pouches and attachments that are available are as follows:

Standard Ammo pouches    -    Grenade Pouches    -    Canteen Pouches / Utility Pouches

9mm Pouches    -    IFAK Medical Kits    -     40mm Grenade Pouches

 

3-Mag Pouches    -    ALICE/K-BAR Adapters      -     Sheaths/Holsters

  ...and much more!   Any piece of equipment that is MOLLE compatible can be attached to the FLC system, and even older military equipment can be used with an ALICE adaptor.  This new technology is becoming so popular that it is even being used in the civilian sector.  As a result of this growing popularity many new civilian products are springing forth that can be used with the official MOLLE systems.  Without a doubt, the highly versatile nature of the MOLLE FLC makes it unquestionably the best tactical vest the military has ever issued. MY OPINION: PROS:
  • The attachment process used in the MOLLE system is grossly superior to the ALICE system.  The older metal ALICE keepers were prone to spring open, and it was common to lose your field equipment.  This problem was so bad that soldiers would commonly use 550 cord or "dummy cord" to tie down their equipment.  The introduction of the MOLLE attachment system substantially reduces the need for dummy cord.
  • The older cotton web gear items were highly durable, but it became heavy when wet.  Furthermore, these older cotton items were prone to mildew and odor.
  • The metal link systems used with older web gear was difficult to put on or take off.  The introduction of plastic quick release buckles and Fastex buckles allows faster & easier  access.
  • You can load far more equipment with the LBV and FLC systems than you ever could with standard web gear.
  • The shoulder strap systems with the LBV & FLC systems are far superior to the older Y or H harnesses.  It supports weight better, and it reduces pressure on your neck and shoulders.
  • There is far less chaffing associated with the new vest systems.
  • The LBV and FLC is substantially quieter than the older web gear.  Even after tying and taping down older forms of web gear it rattled about making a lot of noise.
  • The modular system associated with the MOLLE FLC makes it superior to the older LBV.  The FLC is more versatile, it has more accessories and it can hold more equipment.  The fact that it can be configured in many ways makes it more suitable for the different branches of the military.
  • The newest versions of the FLC is well constructed, and it is more durable than the older LBV.
CONS:
  • "Old School" web gear was substantially less expensive to purchase than today's MOLLE gear.  MOLLE equipment is expensive, and it is hurts your wallet to replace.
  • You can assemble or disassemble web gear quicker than a FLC.  MOLLE gear is a bit complex, but it holds in place better preventing equipment loss.
  • Web gear is also lighter and cooler, but I'm confident the vast majority of soldiers would agree the newer tactical vest systems are far superior than what we had "back in the day."
  SUMMARY: I'm impressed with the evolution of the military's clothing & equipment.  For the most part, each generation demonstrates significant improvement. This trend holds true with various equipment carrying systems. Closing out the web gear era and introducing tactical vests was a very wise decision.  Introducing interchangeable modular equipment and improving the attachment systems was another step forwards.  As a result of this new technology soldiers can carry more fighting equipment comfortably.  There is less rattling and noise.  There is less chaffing and abrasion, and today's new materials can reduce past problems associated with overheating.  The improvements I have witnessed in tactical gear over the past decade is truly amazing, and this trend doesn't appear to be coming to an end.  As I am writing this article the Army is in the process of introducing the Tactical Assault Panel or TAP.  The Tactical Assault Panel is to replace the Fighting Load Carrier. It is a bib like chest rig that can mount to the Improved Outer Tactical Vest or Soldier Plate Carrier System, or on its own.[4] The T.A.P. is covered with PALS webbing and storage for up to six rifle magazines. Although I have seen and held the new TAP system, I don't feel I possess enough knowledge to write about this new chest harness.  Allow me to speak with my customers and gather more feedback about this equipment.  When I have enough information I will discuss this product in another article.  For the time being I will repeat my message that the trend in military equipment is moving in a positive direction, and I anticipate I will have good things to say about this "Tactical Chest Panel" in the near future.  In my next article I will discuss the advantages and shortcomings associated with the MOLLE ruck system.  Until then, go outside, stay active and may you remain warm and dry! Sincerely;   William G. McKinney Bradley's Military Enterprises President *NOTE:  For more information about MOLE equipment check out the following articles at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individual_Integrated_Fighting_System   MOLLE Care and Use Manual(PDF)