FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Airborne test NCOs here completed static line Airborne operations of the innovative modular rucksack, specifically designed to accommodate the newly fielded Manpack AN/PRC-155 dual channel radio system.

The Manpack Radio Rucksack Assembly (MRRA) is designed to allow for carry, as well as ventilation of the two-channel AN/PRC-155.

The MRRA also allows the Radio/Telephone Operator (RTO) to configure the rucksack as a radio carrier only, or it can be configured to carry the RTO's personal and required combat equipment items.

"Since the introduction of radio communications systems on the modern battlefield, load management for the Radio/Telephone Operator (RTO) has been a vexing problem for mission planning at the small unit level," said Mike Shelton, test officer at the U.S. Army Operational Test Command's (USAOTC) Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate (ABNSOTD).

"The RTO is required to maintain their assigned radio on their person for the duration of all tactical operations to ensure the unit commander has uninterrupted communications with higher headquarters," said Shelton.

Shelton said this typically forced the RTO to carry a heavier load and carry it constantly.
"The modular design of the MRRA will now allow the RTO to configure their combat equipment to meet the needs of mission," he said.

Due to the MRRA's unique design and the sensitive items it is intended to carry, ABNSOTD test NCOs conducted a series of risk reduction jumps before the formal start of testing.

ABNSOTD is comprised of senior NCOs who have served in airborne and special operations assignments Army-wide.

The risk reduction jumps were conducted to ensure that operational Soldiers were not exposed to undue risks during formalized test procedures.

"With their technical knowledge coupled with experience, they are able to identify potential safety hazards that could impact jumpers during operational testing," said Staff Sgt. Marcus Love, hometown San Diego, Calif., a test NCO with ABNSOTD.

According to the Love, testing often requires the construction of detailed rigging procedures and specific actions inside the aircraft to mitigate inherent risks encountered when jumping new items of equipment.

Love was responsible for the risk reduction effort during recent testing of the MRRA.

"Through our risk reduction efforts and test drop iterations, we seek to provide the basic tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure that the MRRA is safe and effective in delivering communications to the battle field via airborne infiltration," he said.

Love not only developed rigging procedures for the MRRA himself, but was the first Soldier to jump the MRRA to make sure his procedures were safe and effective prior to the start of formal testing with troops.

During early 2017, ABNSOTD, along with the Program Executive Office Tactical Radio System, began exploring methods of how to deliver the AN/PRC-155 radio to the battlefield in support of forced entry operations.

Formal testing of the MRRA began with new equipment training (NET) during late 2017 when Soldiers supporting the test were issued the MRRA and the AN/PRC-155, and were given instructions on rigging and deployment of both.

Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division conducted 22 static line infiltration tests of the MRRA from a CASA 212 aircraft over Sicily Drop Zone on Bragg.

Following airdrop testing, Soldiers were required to conduct a communications exercise to ensure the AN/PRC-155 survived airdrop testing.

The test event allowed the 82nd's Soldiers to have a first look at employing the MRRA and the AN/PRC-155, which is currently being fielded to the entire division.

The emerging technology will provide more timely and accurate communications and allow the RTOs the ability to configure their equipment based on operational requirements.

Team Leader Cpl. Mychal Hortert of Scappoose, Ore., with A Company, 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, participated in the operational testing of the MRRA and was optimistic of the new design.

"It was much more comfortable, compact, and easy to use and a good addition to the current suite of load carriage systems," said Hortert.

Sergeant Christopher Neu, a native of Fayetteville, N.C. said, "The MRRA frame is more comfortable to carry and jump, especially when seated on the aircraft for extended periods."

"Operational tests like the MRRA strive to focus on the needs of specific paratroopers within our Airborne formations, ensuring that they have the best tools to conduct their wartime missions," said Maj. David Dykema, deputy of ABNSOTD's test division.

"The ABNSOTD conducts dozens of operational tests on Fort Bragg annually, which provide paratroopers with not only training, but early exposure to new combat systems specific to their unique mission," he continued.

"Operational Testing is about Soldiers," Dykema added. "It is about making sure that the systems developed are effective in a Soldier's hands and suitable for the environments in which Soldiers train and fight."

"USAOTC is the U.S. Army's only independent operational test organization," said Col. Brad Mock, Director of ABSOTD. "We test and asses Army, Joint, and Multi-service airborne and airdrop related warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. Any time Soldiers and their leaders get involved in operational testing, they have the opportunity to use, work with, and offer up their own suggestions on pieces of equipment that can impact development of systems that future Soldiers will use in combat."

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About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:

The U.S. Army Operational Test Command is based at West Fort Hood, Texas and its mission is about making sure that systems developed are effective in a Soldier's hands and suitable for the environments in which Soldiers train and fight. Test units and their Soldiers provide feedback, by offering input to improve upon existing and future systems with which Soldiers will ultimately use to train and fight.

The Fort Bragg, N.C.-based ABNSOTD plans, executes, and reports on operational tests and field experiments of Airborne and Special Operations Forces equipment, procedures, aerial delivery and air transportation systems in order to provide key operational data for the continued development and fielding of doctrine, systems or equipment to the Warfighter.