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A Lost History: 30 Years of the Eagle A-III

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

There are times when a backpack becomes a trendsetter because it is on the forward edge of a fashion trend, creating a bump for an entire industry of companies chasing the idea of “the perfect pack”.  They have cutting-edge styling and advertising campaigns that seem to push the boundaries of art.

Others meet at the intersection of a fitness craze and superb marketing techniques that hook the customer with an idea of quality and durability.

Then there are packs that are the sole survivor of gear purges because—as a veteran acquaintance said—they are like that favorite pair of jeans or broken-in jungle boots that you just can’t throw out.

Merrimack Webster defines the word icon as an emblem or symbol, and the Eagle Industries  A-III assault pack has become an icon of the tactical gear Wild West of the late 1980s, when the military began to veer away from designing equipment in-house and started to procure load-carrying solutions tailored to fit a broad range of requirements. Most veterans who have owned an A-III will tell you without hesitation that it falls into the same category as their favorite pair of jeans and jungle boots.

During prior research on the history of the military pack, I uncovered bits and pieces of the story surrounding the A-III, but it was complicated by so much conjecture, third-hand knowledge and “I know a guy” commentary that I did not make mention of the A-III in the article. I knew it would have to wait for another day, when its full story could be told.

(Original version Eagle A-III. Photo by Steve S.)

I am a history junkie, so when I began the hunt for primary sources, it became difficult to discern the ground truth about a pack which was produced and sold in the hundreds of thousands over its lifetime. I’d come across chatter in tactical gear forums that the A-III was a knockoff of a Gregory design, so I’d spend time down that rabbit hole. Then I would hear whispers about the infancy of Eagle Industries and its relationship with the military, and drop into another rabbit hole for a while.

I caught my first break during a conversation with Kory Brown, product designer at Eagle Industries and owner of the tactical gear outfit Bergspitze Customs. He routinely interacts with some of the staff who were at Eagle when Carver was in charge.

He eventually walked out onto the sewing room floor one day in mid-2019 and spoke with one of the original seamstresses who had worked at the original 4,000 square foot facility in Webster Groves, MO. She told him that the first production model of the A-III was stitched up in November, 1989.

I had my first primary source!

Carver would eventually sell Eagle Industries to ATK/Vista after producing massive quantities of holsters, backpacks, rifle cases and assorted products for military and law enforcement customers during his stewardship of the company. It became the world leader in tactical gear and the industry standard for innovation, durability and functionality. He eventually moved on to other pursuits, opening a new company—Atlas 46—in Fenton, MO. This new venture produces tool storage, tool carriage, tool organization and personal workwear items, while also providing industrial design services. They even produce their own version of the A-III, the A3 Legacy, under the leadership of John’s son, Brian.

(Photo courtesy of Atlas 46)

(Photo courtesy of Atlas 46)

(Brian and John Carver – photo courtesy of Atlas 46)

The A-III was coming up on its 30th anniversary, but even armed with the date it was first stitched up, I wasn’t ready to write up a story about it. The online debates about the lineage of the A-III remained unresolved and this article missed the original publishing date, because I wanted to know the full story. A few knowledgeable folks in the industry had commented that the A-III actually evolved from a Lowe Alpine Systems design, but they could not remember what the original Lowe pack looked like, or how many modifications were made to make it meet military expectations. And there were still the folks who argued that it evolved from a Gregory pack.

The A-III is significant for being one of the first packs which were mass-produced for military customers without any design input from a military engineer, as was the process from years past. It is in fact a simple design, despite it sparking a revolution in load carriage across every branch of the military at the small unit level.

The key elements of the original are:

— A clamshell opening to the main compartment (approximately 16” x 20” x 7”) which allows it be opened about 3/4 of the way by dual zippers;

— A sturdy top carry handle;

— A 12” x 16” x 2” smaller front compartment which opens halfway down by its own dual zippers;

— Curved and padded shoulder straps;

— Side compression straps;

— Dual, covered openings on the sides of the carry handle which were sized to accommodate radio antennae (and eventually hydration bladder hoses)

(Photo by Steve S.)

(Photo by Steve S.)

(Photo by Steve S.)

A slim, zippered slant pocket at the front measures 12” x 16” and is designed for quick access to maps, notebooks and writing instruments. A long strip of loop velcro runs along the upper edge of the pocket and can be covered with a velcro-backed nametape or luminous tabs. An accompanying square of loop velcro on the face of the pack and several inches above the slant pocket is sized for a flag or similarly-sized patch. The removable waist belt is not often seen on original examples of the pack, unless the user is trying to keep the pack original to full specifications or carries a lot of weight in it on a regular basis.

The back panel on an original is occupied by an elasticized pocket that can hold a frame sheet if the user requires a more rigid shape. It worked with varying degrees of success, depending on the role that the user employed the pack in.

(Photo by Steve S.)

The original A-III was slick inside and out, but future iterations were produced with an internal webbing array to secure a long-range radio or similarly bulky item, along with side pockets and sections of webbing sewn to the outside to allow for canteens, binoculars, first aid kits, and ammunition to be attached by smaller pouches. More recent versions were updated with sections of Pouch Attachment Ladder System webbing, to accommodate Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment pouches.

(Photo by Steve S.)

An oversized version was eventually developed with input from both Army and Marine Corps subject matter experts, resulting in an airborne version that could be rigged to a parachute harness. This capability required the design to meet a set of exacting safety certification standards, resulting in a pack that looks markedly different from the original version.

(Photo credit, Eagle Industries)

Kory Brown confirmed that the A-III is not currently available for retail sale at the Eagle website. However, SSD reported on a possible 3-day assault pack prototype at the Eagle booth during this year’s SHOT Show, so hopefully an updated version of the A-III will return to the retail sales lineup in the near future.

The A-III became a hit among the troops because it was available in subdued colors as well as the standard woodland pattern camouflage of the era. It had lashing points at the bottom and its side compression straps allowed for a wide range of accompanying gear to be attached, giving troops a capability to patrol with it for short-duration operations without dragging out a standard-issue pack. It also had a chest strap that was superior to anything on the issued packs of the day, making it at least marginally more comfortable when worn over body armor.

“The Hizara Province” by Elzie Goldman, illustrates use of A-IIIs in the opening years of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan.

Even I owned an A-III, purchased from a postal exchange at Ft. Story when I was a junior member of the United States Marine Corps Fleet Antiterrorism (there is no hyphen) Security Team Company at Norfolk Naval Air Station in 1993. I eventually sold it some years later, either for beer or gas money and never acquired one again. The simplicity and clean lines of the pack stuck with me though and spurred me to learn the backstory behind this icon.

After almost a year of searching for contacts, nudging Mel Terkla (former lead designer at Kifaru and current owner of PocketUp) to make an introduction on my behalf to Carver, and multiple queries at the Atlas 46 website, I received an email out of the blue that Carver’s assistant would refer my queries to him at his Montana home. She forwarded my questions to John in the hopes that he could recall the A-III’s origins story, something created over 30 years ago.

I crossed my fingers and breathed a sigh of relief, even if ever so slightly.

I now had my second primary source, and what a goldmine of knowledge John Carver turned out to be! He sent me a document which laid out the history as best he could recall, and it filled in many of my gaps of knowledge about the A-III.

Over a series of emails, John laid out how the Eagle A-III came to life and I grew more excited that my search might be coming to an end. While he admitted that his memory has faded in patches, John distilled the information into a clear timeline, mentioning a few of the giants in the tactical gear world and the quiet professionals at the highest tier of American counterterrorism efforts who would use his packs.

John and his mother, Lorene Pyles, began operations in the basement of her St. Louis, Missouri home in 1974, where they produced nylon gear for motorcycle racing, including assorted bags, fanny packs, motocross pants, and a variety of other packs. By 1977, the company was building assault ladder covers for Arnold’s Welding Service (AWS) out of Fayetteville, NC for specialized Tier One military units and SWAT teams.

His memory gets a little less clear here, but as he recalls, Lowe Alpine Systems was a subcontractor to AWS for a pack which AWS in turn sold to satisfy equipment requirements for the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. I know there are going to be eye-rolls out there, but yes, THAT Delta. Because this branch of the Eagle story no longer influences his connections to military sales, I have no reason to doubt his statements.

As John recalled, Lowe had moved components of its manufacturing to Ireland and could not make their usual pack in the four or five colors that Delta required. They needed to be produced in black, olive drab, khaki and other subtle variants, so as to not resemble a full unit deployment when carried by the operators during parts of a mission. Lowe’s minimum order requirements were just too high for Delta to meet, because the unit only needed small batches.

Enter Bill Arnold at AWS, who contacted John about making modifications to the Lowe pack, in the colors which were required. John did that and the A-III was born. The first packs were made with an AWS logo on it, because Arnold didn’t want customers to take notice that he didn’t have the in-house sewing capability to fill the purchase order contracts. At John’s insistence, the classic Eagle logo eventually found its way onto the pack.

(Photo by Steve S.)

The Eagle A-III started showing up everywhere and Eric Graves (owner of SSD) recalls that in the early 1990s, the black A-IIIs were called “Ninja  Bags” by the members of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command who were issued them. Other U.S. Army Special Forces veterans have recounted to me that their teams were outfitted with one or more of the bags per each team member. It eventually made its way into the general purpose forces, post exchanges and base clothing sales stores, ultimately becoming a pack that a slew of other manufacturers emulated, putting their own slant on the design with side pockets and cosmetic changes.

With each email I exchanged with John, I sensed his pride swelling when he mentioned his staff at the original Eagle facility. He was happy to retell the story of an amazing symbol of American entrepreneurship and dedication to customer service. He was remembering the heydays of a good company and good people.

Unfortunately, the discussion sent me back down another rabbit hole because I was left with the core question which I still felt compelled to answer: what inspired the A-III 30 years ago?

Claims by outside observers that Eagle had copied the Lowe pack still nagged at me, so I reached out to Lowe Alpine to see what someone there could say on the matter. I was assisted by an enthusiastic gentleman who informed me that Lowe had fallen on hard times through mismanagement at several points and was purchased by the company he now worked for as a customer service representative. Unfortunately, the last standing Lowe Alpine System employee had left two years prior to our discussion and he might not have even had knowledge of Lowe’s relationship with special operations units from that era.

I ended the email exchange with the Lowe rep feeling a bit defeated and frustrated. I had come so far, discussing the history of the A-III directly with the former owner of Eagle Industries, but was now left standing at the base of a very high wall.

I went back to John Carver with several photos of 1970s and 1980s Lowe designs, but none of them jogged his memory. The bag he had been asked to modify by Bill Arnold looked very much like the first A-IIIs which Eagle eventually produced. None of the product pictures we talked about came close enough.

On a cold and rainy April day in 2020, I used the collaborative capability of an internet chat tool to have a discussion with three giants in the tactical gear world: Darin Talbot of Extreme Gear Labs, Stephen Hilliard of Blue Force Gear and Eric Graves of SSD.

They knew that I had been on the hunt for the full story behind the A-III and each had contributed a breadcrumb here and there along my three-year path to enlightenment. They also knew my frustrations and had often witnessed the moment when I hit a dead end in a backpack forum, while trying to elicit details on the pack.

As we chatted, I described my communication with the Lowe rep and Eric began digging into his computer to produce some really old catalogs that are now hosted on vintage outdoor gear websites. He linked in the Lowe catalog from 1988 and flashed an example of a blue pack that was rectangular, but only had a few features similar to the A-III. We looked at it for a moment but decided it was too different to have inspired the Eagle version.

We had a nice chat and I decided to take a nap, feeling a bit tired from once again concentrating so hard on the Lowe angle of my search that seemed like just another dead end. Before I shut down my iPad, I went back to the link Eric had provided and started browsing, intrigued by just how many bright blue packs Lowe used to make back in the day.

I flipped a few pages, pinched the screen and zoomed, then flipped another few pages. There were a lot of boxy packs made in the late 1980s, worn by young backpackers wearing tube socks and really shiny nylon shorts.

I yawned, flipped another page and then froze. It couldn’t be. But there it was, on page 15. Offered in black and gray and coming in at 2,190 cubic inches and a weight of 2 lbs, 14 oz, the unmistakable teardrop shape and slant pocket of the  “Adventure III” was staring back at me.

Lowe Adventure III…Eagle A-III. I felt a bit like Indiana Jones and went back to the chat to share my discovery. Everyone agreed that I had found the ancestor to the A-III, and the connection was now indisputable, settling all of the forum debates once and for all.

(Source:1988 Lowe Alpine catalog hosted at Larsonweb.com)

I emailed a picture off to John Carver immediately and he concurred that I had finally found it.

So what have I learned along the way during this three-year expedition into the history of a pack that became an icon, surviving for over 30 years and continuing to be held in the highest of regard by veterans who own one?

John Carver and his old Eagle team are another example of what I like to call “essential patriots”. They delivered a product that met the customer’s needs and became an example of American manufacturing along the way. Thousands of American warriors went to war with this pack slung over a shoulder, conducted combat missions and used it during their off-duty hours when they were safely back at home.

John closed one of our email conversations by adding a note that every modern soft goods manufacturer should follow:

“Listen to the customer, build what he asks for, build it to last and sell it at a fair price.”

The A-III lives on because an essential patriot listened to his customer.

I want to thank everyone who reads this article and knows that they assisted me along the way, even in what they may have thought was a minor aspect. It would not have been possible without your insight and patience.

Jon Custis is a veteran Marine infantryman who writes on a variety of tactical equipment, training, and leadership topics.

FirstSpear Friday Focus – Asset Technical Field Shirt

Friday, May 15th, 2020

Today we are getting the first look at FirstSpear’s all new color way on the Asset Technial Field Shirt. Originally available in Black and Sand, FS has rolled out an all new Commando green now in-stock. Aside from the new color the Asset has garnered serious attention within US Special Operations thanks to a long list of performance features, materials, and overall comfort.

The torso is constructed from FirstSpear’s proprietary ACM 100 Merino wool and is not only extremely light and comfortable but also does an exceptional job at wicking moisture and offers the naturally inherent antimicrobial and flame resistance of wool.

The sleeves and shoulder yoke are built with a highly breathable Para-Arimid that is double reinforced at the elbows offering impressive heat and flame resistance. FirstSpear used an anti-friction NanoGlide mesh in the arm pits to help keep you cool in the hottest environments.

Adjustable cuffs and generous sleeves can easily be rolled up. The torso is longer than usual to help keep it tucked in during long days and exaggerated movement. Bicep pockets and loop fields for IFF attachment come standard. The high collar helps to save your neck from sling rub. Like most FirstSpear products the Asset is 100% Berry compliant, made in the USA with USA Materials. In-stock and now shipping in Commando, Sand, Black/ Graphite.


In Modernization Push, Army Researches Integrated Power Cables for Soldiers

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Army Futures Command (AFC) is bolstering dismounted Soldiers’ power capabilities by developing integrated, flexible cables for a new generation of modernization priorities.

Enhanced Soldier maneuverability and mobility on the battlefield are among the initial improvements resulting from new cables that will be incorporated into a tactical vest, according to Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) researchers.

CCDC’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center partnered with the CCDC Soldier Center to investigate integrated power solutions in support of programs across the Army. These include Nett Warrior, Next-Generation Squad Weapons (NGSW) and Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS).

As the Army increases the number of electronic devices that Soldiers need to carry, more cables are required to connect equipment to power sources and share data. In addition, the Army’s modernization initiatives will demand continually increasing rates of Soldier-worn power.

The integrated cables are one solution researchers are developing for a holistic approach.

“This new flexible cable is up to 50 percent lighter than the legacy version,” said Ethan Wise, a C5ISR Center electronics engineer who is leading the project. “It’s much more flexible, less bulky and removes cabling that encumbers a Soldier’s motion when connected to a Conformal Wearable Battery.

“It reduces snag hazards because it can be looped through a tactical vest several times. The new cable feels like the fabric of a standard Army uniform and blends in seamlessly with the camouflage pattern.”

A United Kingdom company initially developed the new cable, and the U.S. Army has been investigating its potential uses through the Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) Program. The FCT works with Army science and technology organizations to find and evaluate solutions to meet the operational needs of U.S. Soldiers regardless of the technology’s country of origin.

The FCT Program initially focused on the Nett Warrior system, and the CCDC team is now leveraging that science and technology knowledge for high-priority programs such as NGSW and IVAS.

IVAS is a Microsoft-designed heads-up display that functions as a fight-rehearse-train system, among other roles. Its high-tech features, such as augmented reality and aided target recognition, will require continuous power loads for extended time. Flexible cables are a potential fit for IVAS power delivery, Wise said.

For the NGSW program, researchers are investigating a rifle sling composed of materials similar to those used in the new cables, according to C5ISR Center research mechanical engineer Dr. Nathan Sharpes. The benefits would include reduced battery weight on the weapon, more flexibility and greater run times.

In addition to the sling, Sharpes and his colleagues are prototyping new ways of storing energy and routing power on the weapon. These features collectively give the Soldier options to power weapon-mounted enablers to meet changing mission requirements.

“These new weapons will be equipped with sophisticated technologies, likely requiring more power,” Sharpes said. “The straight-forward solution would be to tether the weapon to a larger battery on the vest. However, this introduces a snag hazard and historically hasn’t been popular among Soldiers. Routing power through the sling should yield a more acceptable and familiar-feeling solution.”

C5ISR Center engineers will continue to work on prototypes throughout 2020 for potential use with IVAS and NGSW offices.

By Dan Lafontaine, C5ISR Center Public Affairs

DAF ACT Contracting Executes N95 Mask Production for DoD

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

The Department of the Air Force’s Acquisition COVID-19 Task Force (DAF-ACT) executed a $126 million contract on May 1 for expanded production of N95 masks—26 million per month—starting in October. The contract, awarded to 3M, will increase the supply chain of N95 masks and resupply the Strategic National Stockpile following increased demand due to COVID-19.

Coordinated through the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF), and funded through the CARES Act, the contract increases N95 mask production by at least 312 million within the next twelve months. 

A team of contracting officers at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, finalized the deal.

“As an Air Force contracting professional, it’s always a great feeling when you are able to help secure a critical investment in U.S. manufacturing capacity for items that will serve a greater good,” said Nathan Shrider, AFLCMC contracting officer. “It’s an honor to serve with such a dedicated team that is making a difference.”

3M has already placed orders for raw material and two new N95 manufacturing lines. To meet increased production capacity, 3M plans to expand its facility in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and also perform initial production in Wisconsin.

“The Air Force is pleased to execute recent contracts to expand N95 mask production for our nation,” said Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics. “Our past initiatives to empower our acquisition workforce and to accelerate programs have put us in a good position to respond to the present crisis with speed and agility. We are proud to be an important part of the solution.”

Roper established the DAF-ACT across the service’s acquisition enterprise to execute requirements from the JATF and to collect and consolidate funding requests needed to recover programs from COVID-19 impacts.

“Our acquisition management and contracting professionals are working seamlessly as part of a whole-of-government response and with industry to ensure we effectively and expeditiously align resources with requirements,” said Maj. Gen. Cameron Holt, DAF-ACT director. “Our team is proud to support critical acquisition efforts that will continue to fortify our nation’s supply chain and resilience.”

MATBOCK Monday Berserker Plate Carrier

Monday, May 11th, 2020


Good morning and Happy MATBOCK Monday,

Weighing in at only 14 ounces the Berserker Plate Carrier is made from MATBOCK Ghost Material. This makes the carrier extramely lightweight, tough, 100% waterproof and quickly transfers heat away from the body keeping the operator cooler.

Carrier includes:

– Internal dual comms pouches
– Side armor plate pockets
– Shoulder pads
– Integrated reinforced drag handle
– 4-way stretch material around the front and back armor pockets allows for variety of plate cuts, like swimmer cut and ESAPI.


Image B3

Don’t forget to tune in on Monday at 4:30 PM EST as we go live to demo the Berserker Plate Carrier and answer any questions you may have!

Study Shows How Microorganisms Survive in Harsh Environments

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — In northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, microorganisms are able to eke out an existence by extracting water from the rocks they colonize.

An Army-funded project by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, Johns Hopkins University and University of California, Riverside gained an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms by which some cyanobacteria, an ancient group of photosynthetic microbes, survive in harsh environments.

The new insights, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrate how life can flourish in places without much water in evidence – including Mars – and how people living in arid regions may someday be able to procure hydration from available minerals.

“The Army has a strong interest in how microorganisms well-adapted to extreme environments can be exploited for novel applications such as material synthesis and power generation within these harsh fielded environments,” said Dr. Robert Kokoska, program manager, Army Research Office, an element of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. “This study provides valuable clues for uncovering the evolved design strategies used by these native desert-dwelling microbes to maintain their viability in the face of multiple environmental challenges.”

Through work in the field and laboratory experiments, the research team focused on the interactions of Chroococcidiospsis, a desiccation-resistant species of cyanobacteria that is found in deserts around the world, and gypsum, a water containing calcium sulfate-based mineral. The colonizing lifeforms exist beneath a thin layer of rock that gives them a measure of protection against the Atacama’s extreme temperature, high solar irradiance and battering winds.

Co-author Jocelyne DiRuggiero, JHU associate professor of biology, traveled to the remote desert to collect gypsum samples and brought them back to her labs in the United States. She cut small pieces, where microorganisms could be found, and sent them to UCI for materials analysis.

In one of the most striking findings of the study, the researchers learned that the microorganisms change the very nature of the rock they occupy. By extracting water, they cause a phase transformation of the material – from gypsum to anhydrite, a dehydrated mineral.

According to DiRuggiero, the impetus for the published work came when Wei Huang, a UCI post-doctoral scholar in materials science & engineering, spotted data showing an overlap in concentrations of anhydrite and cyanobacteria in the gypsum samples collected in the Atacama.

“Our analysis of the regions of rock where microbes were colonized revealed a dehydrated phase of calcium sulfate, suggesting that they extract water from the rock to survive,” said David Kisailus, lead author and UCI professor of materials science & engineering. “We wanted to do some more controlled experiments to validate that hypothesis.”

DiRuggiero’s team then allowed the organisms to colonize half-millimeter cubes of rocks, called coupons, under two different conditions, one in the presence of water, to mimic a high-humidity environment, and the other completely dry. In the midst of moisture, the gypsum did not transform to the anhydrite phase.

“They didn’t need water from the rock, they got it from their surroundings,” Kisailus said. “But when they were put under stressed conditions, the microbes had no alternative but to extract water from the gypsum, inducing this phase transformation in the material.”

Kisailus’ team used a combination of advanced microscopy and spectroscopy to examine the interactions between the biological and geological counterparts, finding that the organisms bore into the material like tiny miners by excreting a biofilm containing organic acids, Kisailus said.

Huang used a modified electron microscope equipped with a Raman spectrometer to discover that the organisms used the acid to penetrate the rock in specific crystallographic directions – only along certain planes where they could more easily access water existing between faces of calcium and sulfate ions.

Kisailus said the project was a great demonstration of interdisciplinary research between microbiologists and materials scientists that may, one day, open doors to other forms of scientific discovery.

“Scientists have suspected for a long time that microorganisms might be able to extract water from minerals, but this is the first demonstration of it,” DiRuggiero said. “This is an amazing survival strategy for microorganisms living at the dry limit for life, and it provides constraints to guide our search for life elsewhere.”

Researchers said this study can benefit the Army Research Lab’s efforts in synthetic biology.

“These findings have drawn the interest of our lab as microbial survival mechanisms can be leveraged for biomanufacturing or sensing platforms in harsh military environments,” said Dr. Matthew Perisin of the lab’s biotechnology branch.

In addition to the Army, NASA also provided funding for this project.

Kit Badger – Compact Carbine Deployment with Bill Rapier: Part – 1

Friday, May 8th, 2020

Ivan at Kit Badger spent some time with Bill Rapier, of AMTAC Shooting. Bill goes over some of the important parts of Compact Carbine Deployment from a vehicle.

MCSC, ONR and CD&I Collaborating to Inform ARV Path Forward

Friday, May 8th, 2020


Marine Corps Systems Command is working toward the next phase of replacing the legacy Light Armored Vehicle with a modern Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle.

Armored Reconnaissance was the subject of a Capability Based Assessment, the results of which were summarized in a 2019 Joint Requirements Oversight Council-validated Initial Capabilities Document produced by the Marine Corps’ Combat Development and Integration. The CBA pitted Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions against a peer threat, and identified shortfalls and gaps in capability.

CD&I emphasized the need for a modern, purpose-built ARV. As the core-manned, next-generation system, ARV must possess transformational capabilities to enable LAR Battalions to gain contact with and collect on peer-threat forces. It must accomplish this goal without becoming decisively engaged, while also successfully waging the counter-reconnaissance fight.

After the analysis and various other supporting activities, the ARV concept emerged as a transformational required capability. The characteristics differentiating the ARV from current systems include the incorporation of a battle management system, enhanced vision technologies for increased situational awareness, and target tracking and engagement capabilities.

The Program Manager for Light Armored Vehicles is pursuing this capability to support LAR Battalions, provide them with additional capabilities and set the conditions to transform the way they fight.

“Any ARV path forward will continue to be informed by the ongoing [Office of Naval Research] Technology Demonstrator effort, the ARV Analysis of Alternatives, Phase III Force Design outputs, additional Government [Requests for Information], senior leadership direction and industry feedback,” said John “Steve” Myers, Program Manager for MCSC’s LAV portfolio.

A collaborative effort

In the early planning stages, the Marine Corps envisioned the ARV as a replacement combat vehicle for the LAV. Over time, officials began to view the ARV as a vehicle platform equipped with a suite of advanced reconnaissance capabilities, with an open system architecture that can sense, shoot, move, communicate and remain transportable as part of the Naval Expeditionary Force.

PM LAV is leading the acquisition planning effort to help realize this next-generation reconnaissance vehicle. The portfolio is collaborating with ONR and the Capabilities Development Directorate of Headquarters Marine Corps, CD&I.

Capitalizing on their Detroit Arsenal location, PM LAV is working with Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center to update the ARV concept as a tool to analyze impacts of capability changes. Recognizing commonalities exist among the ARV and the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps are working together to ensure collaboration for those capability gaps.

ONR is conducting research on advanced technologies to inform requirements, technology readiness assessments and competitive prototyping efforts for the ARV.

In 2019, ONR selected two vendors to design, fabricate and test full-scale technology demonstration platforms. Both platforms are expected to be ready for government evaluation in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020.

Through ONR’s efforts, the Ground Combat Element Division of CDD has been refining a set of requirements for the ARV to meet the future reconnaissance mission of the Marine Corps. PM LAV will leverage this information in a performance specification to be released to industry partners to build the ARV.

The collaboration between PM LAV, ONR and CD&I is crucial to the success of the ARV.

“Effective collaboration between the materiel developer, technologist and combat developer is essential to achieving the next-generation capabilities required to transform legacy armored reconnaissance into a modern, combat credible force,” said Kurt Koch, GCE Division, CDD.

Koch noted how the strong partnerships forged over the last three years set the conditions to develop the core of a next-generation, combat vehicle system—mobile on land and water—to serve as a manned hub coordinating the actions of unmanned ground and aerial robotic sensor, and weapon systems.

The path forward

PM LAV has taken several steps to ensure the success of the ARV.

In 2019, PM LAV released a Request for Information to industry comprising a set of attributes for a transformational vehicle. Based on responses to the RFI, the program office met with several vendors interested in becoming a prime vendor for ARV.

PM LAV originally planned to hold an industry day in May 2020 for the Competitive Prototyping Phase. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused the event to be rescheduled to the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020.

“We still want to hold an industry day so we can have an open discussion with industry, provide more clarification and answer any questions from our industry partners,” said Maryann Lawson, MCSC’s project lead for ARV.

In addition to industry engagements, the evaluation of Science and Technology efforts as well as ongoing CDD and performance specification refinement should yield the information necessary to move into the Competitive Prototyping phase.

“PM LAV will focus efforts targeted on industry RFIs and strategic small group engagements,” said Myers.

The Marine Corps plans to use the Ground Vehicle Systems Other Transaction Agreement with the National Advanced Mobility Consortium to release a draft request for prototype proposal, or RPP, for the ARV base variant in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020.

The government is interested in industry feedback and collaboration to shape the requirement and statement of work for the final RPP release in spring 2021. Industry partners are encouraged to periodically check beta.sam.gov and engage with the NAMC for future RFIs and program updates.

Story by Matt Gonzales, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication | 10th Marine Regiment

Photo by photo by Cpl. Corey A. Mathews