It’s the new, popular, modular pack system. Every new “tactical” item has it. What am I talking about? MOLLE systems of course. MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) webbing is the US Army replacement for the older ALICE system, and it’s technological superiority has garnered it wide acceptance amongst military, police, and civilians. MOLLE systems are based off of the Pouch Attachment Ladder System, “PALS”. The PALS webbing features 1″ wide straps run horizontally and spaced 1″ apart, with 1.5″ gaps between attachment points.
Adaptation from the ALICE system to the MOLLE system began in 1994 when the US Army began having difficulties with the ALICE system in the sand and dust of the first Gulf War. The ALICE system, which had been around since the Vietnam War utilized small ALICE clips to attach modular components. The clips were easy to lose, they broke, and the wear and tear on them was accelerated by the sand and dust of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
Development of the new pack system took place at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, MA. Development by the the Center for Military Biomechanics Research (CMBR) focused on extensive biometric studies examining the most efficient methods for heavy loads to be carried by the human body. Research showed that the taller commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) packs using internal frames reduced the energy soldiers used while carrying a standard 75lb load. In addition, the COTS packs promoted better posture and had an overall better load placement than the older ALICE system
The internal frame COTS pack was rejected as a replacement for the ALICE pack due, in part, to its excessive heat retention. A similar volume configuration was incorporated into the design of the Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) pack. Other biomechanically advantageous characteristics, such as a load-distributing waist belt, were also used in the MOLLE design.
MOLLE systems are based around a load-bearing vest known as an FLC (Fighting Load Carrier) and a pack with an external frame. The FLC was designed to replace the web belt and suspenders that made up the ALICE system’s Load Bearing Equipment (LBE). MOLLE has some distinct advantages over the older ALICE system in that it is worn instead of carried. MOLLE systems are almost completely made from fabric and contain no metal clips or hooks like the ALICE system did. Those hooks and clips would inevitably find a way to poke and dig into the skin of the soldier carrying an ALICE pack.
Quick release systems built into the pack allow the wearer to quickly drop the equipment if necessary. The vest features an H harness in the back that functions to prevent the buildup of body heat. Vests also have plate carriers for ceramic ballistic plates.
Load bearing belts integrated into the MOLLE vest help distribute the weight more evenly to the hips instead of having it all on the shoulders. They also serve as attachment points for more accessories such as drop-leg webbing and holsters. The advantage of the MOLLE system holsters is that they can be attached to a vest, belt, pack, or drop leg webbing. In fact, any MOLLE item can be attached to almost any other MOLLE item because of the modularity of the system. This is one of the distinct advantages of the MOLLE system. Components can be placed in thousands of unique configurations to adapt for any role, load, or body type.
But for all its advantages, the MOLLE system encountered bumps along the way to full acceptance by the military.
Internal frames were studied for use on the MOLLE pack, but were put aside in favor of an external frame due to excess heat retention of the internal frame. Instead of the aluminum frame of the ALICE system, researchers decided instead on a custom-molded plastic frame. The plastic frame soon proved to have some serious pitfalls. Frames frequently cracked and broke from the strain of a combat environment.
Zippers also proved problematic. The first zippers used on the MOLLE system were too weak and burst if packs were overloaded.
The Army gradually made changes to the system, upgrading zippers, and transitioning to a stronger and more comfortable frame system utilizing the same plastic used to manufacture automobile bumpers.
Almost anything with PALS-style webbing is generally referred to as MOLLE, but there are differences. The US Marines currently use a system very similar to the US Army MOLLE system known as the ILBE (Improved Load Bearing Equipment) as they were dissatisfied with the improvements of the US Army in fixing the flaws in the MOLLE system. The ILBE still uses the PALS webbing and shares many of the same attributes as the MOLLE, including a load bearing vest and belt.
While developing the ILBE, the USMC implemented new load ratings for the system that are similar to the ratings specified US Army FM 21-18 manual.
The Assault Load is a very minimal load consisting of little more than the bare necessities required to sustain an assault, such as water, ammunition, and grenades. Maximum assault load weight is one at which a Marine can engage in combat while having a minimal effect on combat effectiveness.
Approach March Load
The Approach March load is designed to give a Marine enough equipment for a full day of combat with daily re-supply. This Maximum approach march load weight is one at which a Marine can engage in combat while being able to maintain at least 90% combat effectiveness.
The Existence Load is the maximum load a Marine will be loaded with while still able to conduct maneuvers. This load is only designed to be carried from a deployment to the assembly area.
The Marines also designed the ILBE to:
- Include a quick-detach patrol pack
- Carry at least 120 pounds
- Limit maximum pack size to 6000 cubic inches
- Carry 60mm mortar shells as well as 81mm mortar shells outside the main pack
There are a number of attachment systems used with the MOLLE and ILBE systems. First is the Natick Snap, which utilizes a plastic reinforced strap with a snap to secure it. The Malice clip is another system that uses a semi-permanent polymer clip which interweaves like the Natick. The semi-permanent clip can be removed using a screwdriver or other flat-tipped tool. In addition to these two systems, there are any number of “Weave and Tuck” systems that use interwoven straps which are then fastened to the backing of the pouch after attachment. Grimloc keepers are also available to make your MOLLE and ALICE gear compatible.
Since it exploded onto the market, manufacturers have designed and built a seemingly endless stream of MOLLE and PALS-compatible products. There is, quite literally, nearly anything you can think of in a MOLLE setup. From iPod/iPhone holders to flashlight holders, hydration packs to radio pouches, EMT pouches and even corsets have been designed with MOLLE-compatible PALS webbing.
Suffice to say – if you can think of it, there’s probably a way to attach it to your MOLLE gear.