MPLC: Bringing the Boom to Beat the Boom
In December 2011, Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense in Simsbury, CT received a $10.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for 3,000 Man Portable Line Charge Systems that can fire rope-shaped plastic explosives for remote detonation, and 206 Inert Training Systems. Work will be performed in Graham, KY; Simsbury, CT; and Sterling, CT, with an estimated completion date of April 8/12. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by US Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W91CRB-12-C-0012).
In August 2011, an FBO.gov RFI explained the rationale behind the MPLC: US forces needed a system for quickly clearing paths through land mines, which was lighter and easier to carry than existing gear. To be specific…
“US Maneuvering elements… [in] Afghanistan are encountering mine[s that]… impede their ability to conduct tactical movement and covered infiltration on selected targets in urban or complex environments. US Maneuvering elements conducting dismounted operations need a munitions system to counter trip-wire activated IEDs and mined antipersonnel obstacles that offers a more precise lightweight and compact design and that is easier to transport than the Mk7 Antipersonnel Obstacle Breaching System (APOBS) currently being used. The ISAF “Rules of Engagement” require the use of precision fires in the deliberate targeting process to minimize collateral concern and effects on non-combatant personnel, structures and property. The system must be light weight and man-portable, weighing less than 30 lbs and easy carried by one Soldier. The system must provide a lane of at least 25m in length. The system must be rocket launch [sic] and reach a height of greater than 6 feet from the ground. The system must be command detonate only and initiate via a NONEL system. The system must provide the Soldier with 100 ft of standoff. The system must be safety confirmed by the Army and have an Interim Hazard Classification (IHC).”
This 30 pound weight compares to APOBS’ carry load of 2 backpacks, weighing more than 50 pounds each. Ensign-Bickford used to own the rocket-propelled ABOPS contract as well, but in 2011, that contract shifted to Chemring Ordnance, Inc. MPLC is a separate product development, though it draws on the firm’s previous APOBS expertise. As Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense explains:
“Composed of an 84 foot plastic bonded explosive line charge, a small rocket motor is used to deploy the line charge, an arresting strap, a launch rod, and 100 feet of dual shock tube housed in a skin pack. The shock tube is initiated by two – M81 firing devices. The shock tubes are connected through an Energetic Transfer Assembly that contains a PBXN-5 Booster. All of these items are contained in a backpack with a total system weight of 28 pounds.”