PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (Nov. 5, 2010) -- Judging by its size alone, 40mm pivoting coupling may not seem significant. The thumbnail-sized link and accompanying metal ring can literally fit in the palm of a hand.
But when placed in the hands of the warfighter, this small, skillfully-engineered hardware brings a tremendous amount of lethality in the form of continuous grenade fire.
So when Picatinny engineer and inventor Eric Goon received a patent for the device in August 2008, he knew he was onto something "big" for the Army.
"I kind of sensed that it could be an Army Greatest Invention, because from the initial research stage we had been interfacing with the Soldiers, and they loved it," Goon said.
Indeed, the Soldiers have spoken, and Goon's gut feeling was right. They chose 40mm pivoting coupling as one of the <a href="http://www.army.mil/-news/2010/10/15/46599-picatinny-lands-3-of-the-armys-10-greatest-inventions-of-2009/index.html" target="_blank">Army's 10 greatest inventions</a> for calendar year 2009.
"I am thrilled that the Soldier benefits from this invention and any others," said Goon, who serves as the team lead for Special Projects at the <a href="http://www.pica.army.mil/PicatinnyPublic/organizations/ardec/index.asp" target="blank">Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).</a> "It's more confirmation that we are going in the right direction - that we are truly accomplishing things for our warfighters."
The award-winning design is essentially a metal plug, similar to a miniature cufflink, and metal loop that fits around the 40mm grenade round. The design allows Soldiers to easily re-link and de-link 40mm grenade belts in the MK19 weapon system.
Approved for wide-scale production and fielding in August 2009, the invention is now a standard-issue item for both training and combat use.
The key to the invention is the pivoting action. Because the revised link design allows for 90-degree rotation (unlike traditional coupling, which doesn't turn at all), Soldiers can easily attach more ammo belts without having to reload the weapon after the standard 32-round belt has been exhausted.
The re-linking process requires no tools and no advanced training or skill, nor does it modify the weapon design -- so it is compatible with any 40mm grenade ammunition.
"It's not a video game for them -- it's a real, hostile-fire scenario," Goon said. "They can't just pause the enemy fire to open their weapon and reload it. They are always in harm's way. So providing them a simple and easy way to re-link ammunition without having to reload is a tremendous benefit to the Soldier. It's improving his survivability and his lethality."
Soldiers can even use the pivoting coupling to attach partially-used ammo belts or single rounds - meaning that no unused ammunition goes to waste.
With the old coupling design, Soldiers had to use screwdrivers and pliers to the separate grenade rounds if they wanted to reuse partial ammo belts - a process that took entirely too much time and effort in the fast pace of a war zone. De-linking with screwdrivers and other tools also compromises the integrity of the metal, which can ultimately lead to weapon stoppage.
Goon estimates the invention can save millions of dollars annually just in unused grenades, which currently cost about $50 per round.
The Voice of the Customer
The MK19 weapon system has been used by the Army since the Vietnam Era, thus the problem of spent ammunition has existed for quite some time. There were temporary fixes but never a permanent solution.
Providing a lasting solution required coordination between the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as ARDEC, the <a href="http://www.pica.army.mil/mas/" target="_blank">project manager for Maneuver Ammunition Systems, PM-MAS</a>, and partnerships with industry.
"ARDEC initiated the concept, and with support from PM-MAS, the team was able to provide a quality product to the Soldiers," Goon said. "The team enabled a rapid prototyping ability, assessed Soldier feedback, tested its concepts, and developed a design that is not only fieldable, but also transparent to the user without any modification to the weapon system."
"When you are committed to something, you accept no excuse - only results," he added.
From the initial design through the final prototyping and testing, the team worked with Soldiers to get timely feedback.
"The Soldiers' input was the most critical aspect in providing the field solution for the pivoting coupling," Goon said. One example of heeding Soldier feedback was to redesign the loop as a single piece of metal to eliminate the need for welding. Not only does the single loop provide increased durability, but it also weighs 15 percent less than the two-piece counterpart.
Innovation for tomorrow
With a 30-year career at Picatinny, Goon has a wealth of experience and knowledge in both small- and medium-caliber ammunition and weapons systems. He has even worked in the Technical Program Office for the assistnt secretary of the Army for Research, Development and Acquisition, now known as acquisition, logistics and technology, or ASA(ALT) at the Pentagon.
One thing he has learned throughout his successful career is the importance of innovation.
"I believe in the idea of keeping things simple," Goon said. "Sometimes being an innovator isn't always about creating a complex, high-tech solution. There is a great need and benefit for simpler, enhanced features like pivoting coupling."
"My dream is to be a team lead for innovation - to share my experiences with younger folks, to train and develop them so they can see the relevance of ARDEC," said Goon, who will receive the Army Greatest Invention award at the Army Science Conference Nov. 29 . "We are a center of innovation here - and we need innovators - because they are the ones who provide continuous improvement for our warfighters. Hooah!"