Wet Ops Gun Gear

By Timothy Kast

The ill effects of the Clinton Administration, residual or otherwise, are beginning to manifest themselves in the most unusual ways. One of these stories begins with Special Operations personnel during the mid-Nineties, where disenchanted and disgusted, SEAL and Special Forces cadre left at an astonishing rate. Tasked with cleaning up clandestine boondoggles of a Commander In Chief they virtually loathed, the Teams lost many personnel, many officers. A major factor in this is also the civilian market for these highly motivated personnel. The upshot of this, (there’s an Upside to this?) is that these men joined the civilian workforce with very strong, impressive credentials. As a SOCOM general explained, these former Spec Ops folks will become teachers, private detectives, pilots, instructors and cops. Law enforcement in many cities will be enhanced by the capabilities of these young men who bring their qualifications with them to comprise some of the toughest SWAT shooters in history. Many metropolitan areas bordered by marine environments are realizing the need for SRT operators trained in wet ops. The specialized gear, once the peculiar domain of Special Operations only, is now being required by the Special Response Team members trained originally by our military. They are familiar with this maritime tactical equipment from their training and are able to pass along their experience to conventional law enforcement personnel. There has been a major demand explosion for quality equipment manufacturers who understand that their gear’s performance often relates to a team’s longevity.

I spoke at length with Steven Bronson from Tactical Watreborne Operations about the dry bags on display at the USIA booth (Undersea Institute of Aqua Technology) during the S.H.O.T. Show this year. He stated that water damaged weapons and ammunition can often compromise a mission. Keeping the gear as dry as possible for as long as possible is becoming a distinct priority. The often overlooked “Murphy” factor inherent in many elaborate operations is reduced to a minimum. USIA waterproof bags are all custom made allowing for a variety of weapons and carry styles. Equipped with a unique oral inflator they can be stuffed with the necessary guns and magazines, then inflated after being zipped closed. Chief Bronson (former Navy man) sent me several bags to examine and test for Small Arms Review, knowing that SAR is becoming the cutting edge journal for military and law enforcement alike.

The first thing you will notice that sets these bags apart are the zippers. Massive YKK dry suit zippers that seal the opening as they are being zipped shut grace the edges. Looking inside, you can see the painstaking work on the sealed seams over all of the sewn and glued borders. The oral inflators also add to the business-like appearance of these bags, not to mention the ability to float a weapon into the area of operation. The volume of air can be adjusted to the individual mission to either float the bag above or just below the surface. Made of 420-denier junior ballistic urethane-coated pac-cloth they are glued, sewn, and double heat vulcanized. Each bag is made to military specifications, and is finally tested to guarantee air, gas and water tightness.

Steven included a Sniper Rifle Bag, a large Weapons Bag, a Violin Case Bag (that is suspiciously similar in shape and size to an M60 barrel bag), a Small Weapons Bag and two different styles of gas mask bags. The Sniper Rifle Bag was engineered to accommodate an Eagle or Blackhawk Drag Bag inside to be used in a wet ops role for the tactical sniper. The Large Weapons Bag can handle anything from an M16 to an M60 with relative ease, but the truly innovative case is the Small Weapons Bag, otherwise known as a Shoot Through Bag. This item carries an H&K MP5, a CAR-15, or like-sized weapon. Inside the case is a sewn-in rubber glove intended to grip the sub-gun with. The bag is carried in a wet water op into the area of operation with the operator’s trigger finger on the ‘button’. If the mission’s element of surprise is compromised, the warrior simply shoots his weapon to maintain the integrity of the operation. The resulting hole from the shot can later be patched at a more opportune moment. These are genuinely products for professionals, by professionals.

The Violin Case bag is another ingenuous item obviously thought up by a firearms enthusiast. Shaped like an oversized M60 barrel bag, its originally intended cargo was probably a Spec Ops spare M60 barrel or two. Just about any Knob Creek veteran knows the wisdom of using M60 barrel bags to house their errant Swedish K or full-sized Uzi. Some of the rain-soaked episodes that I’ve seen at the Knob Creek Range could benefit from an inflatable violin case bag like this.

The smaller gas mask bags are really an excellent sized case for a length of belted machinegun ammo, pistols or a Mac-10. Many special operations units are noted for using Ingram subguns along with a plethora of law enforcement agencies, so this would be a handy bag for a mission specific piece of equipment. They are, of course, good for carrying gas masks too.

The second style gas mask bag was a drop-leg pattern bag made famous initially by the British SAS. Available of recent in Desert Tan, it comes replete with a drawstring cover to protect the exterior and the zipper from sand. USIA recommends that you avoid beeswax based zipper lubricants in favor of a good paraffin lubricant. The detrimental effects of sand become clearly obvious once you observe the design of the heavy-duty zippers; the granules would become meshed into the zipper and rubber. However, the size and quality of zippers outweigh any rough usage these bags might be subjected to. They are designed with a velcro secured cover over the zipper as well. All of the hardware, including the oversized nickel-plated D-rings are overbuilt anticipating that these products will receive a steady diet of inclement weather and abuse.

The revelation among law enforcement agencies that criminals are not restricted to dark alleys and low rent districts, has brought training and equipment into the computer era. These simply keep pace with the law breakers, who have discovered the benefits of high-tech weaponry and gear. Even obscure townships have had to face the fact that modern day outlaws can often be interested in rural areas when it befits the scope of their crime. This demands that law enforcement retains the edge to do the job.

I did a bit of research and found out that the SEALs were using rubber gear bags as early as 1964 in Vietnam. These bags however, employed a roll-up opening held shut by metal buckles still found on some of the outdoor sports bags available through various outfitters. These bags are usually meant to preserve the materials inside from moisture and spray, not an immersion case like the USAI bags.

As a basis for my tests, I chose the muddy French Broad River in the mountains of Western North Carolina during the raw, crappy weather days of late March. The French Broad has mud, sand, rocks, broken glass and choppy, quick currents. It is also the subject of frequent inspections and searches due in part to its deceiving, unpredictable nature. As a former handler on the North Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Team, I have assisted in several missing persons searches in conjunction with the local law enforcement agencies. The hard value of a dry gear bag at a riverine environment in mountainous terrain becomes readily apparent for the many involved in a full-scale search and rescue effort. Depending on the type of search and the weather, a variety of water sensitive equipment can be required. Weapons, cameras, and medical supplies are usually very expensive, hence the need for extra precautions in a no compromise, no give situation. Protection seems to be the sure-fire, if you will, treatment to rely on.

This is the emerging tactical evolution of today’s well-equipped warrior. Sure, many weapons are unaffected by moisture, but I think it is a universal conclusion that it doesn’t do them any good either. When your job is strategic planning, it makes sense to eliminate that possibility from happening in your war planning.

While I was evaluating these USIA dry bags, I was examining Durability, Mission Requirements, and Construction. Looking at the ‘What If’ factors helps a purchasing agent, or operator to fully comprehend what a piece of gear is being asked to do. A component’s durability is often a lead-in to how that particular part will function under pressure. Categorizing the stress that piece will undergo in operational use complements the actual mission requirements; or what does the mission scenario demand? Finally, the construction of the gear provides the essential information to make your decision.

These things are built tough. Once inflated with a bit of air their durability becomes enhanced along with their more obvious ability to float. They brushed off brambles, driftwood and a winter’s worth of flotsam scuttling about the eddies at riverside. Most weapons of war are a utilitarian thing of beauty to begin with. Wrap them in dry suit material and a puff of air and their ability to function properly exceeds your expectations. Vehicle beds, concrete, and mud didn’t really phase the urethane much at all. The water aids somewhat, making them more slippery and harder to gaff or puncture. All in all, short of bullet exit holes, durability shouldn’t be that much of a problem. If indeed you have bullet holes in your equipment, your conundrum might not simply end with spoiled gear.

Everyone’s mission requirements may differ, but some key elements remain the same. You have a difficult, thorny task to complete in what is usually a compact time frame under the worst circumstances and weather. Face it, no one calls SOCOM or ERT for a milk run, right? The aforementioned equipment has to fall out of helicopters, get knocked around in fast attack boats and get dragged back home on the cleated deck of an evac truck. Regardless if you are doing sorties for Uncle Sugar, drug raids in Dade, or Search and Rescue in the Smokies, the gear has to survive along with the people. You should also keep a sharp eye as to the cost of the item inside the bag instead of the price of the bag. Perceived high cost is the biggest reasons Law Enforcement and Fire Departments fail to procure proper gear. As Americans and taxpayers we lose on a grand scale, if we fail to understand the special skills necessary and equip our warriors with the tools to do their jobs. SOCOM’s evaluation report reads, “The USIA Dry-Bags are recommended as the future bags for SOF procurements.” This evaluation of waterproof bags for Special Operations Forces was officially prepared and sponsored by Michael Miller, Army Science Advisor to USSOCOM; Project Officer, Mr. John Stryker, U.S. Army Special Operations Command; Testing Officer, Mr. Terry Adams, Naval Coastal Systems Command.

I was pleased to observe that USIA has a repair kit prepared as an extra cost accessory should you need one. The emphasis again on paraffin lubricants for the zippers can be added to your Maintenance /Repair Kit should your operation be more on a military level. A complete field repair video is also available to guide you through the process.

I found the overall construction of these bags to be robust and very capable of handling whatever comes their way. The only snag I had was adjusting to the extra effort required to close the heavy-duty zippers. USIA recommends that you always close the zipper all the way or leave it open all the way. This prevents the dry-suit zippers from taking a ‘set’; reacting to a kink or fold in the bag. It is also a good idea to insist on the Velcro zipper cover being pulled tightly over to protect the zipper from extraneous trash.

I think anyone wishing to transport sometimes irreplaceable equipment in a wet weather or a maritime environment should look into one of these bags for the job.

For more information contact Chief Bronson at:

Tactical Watreborne Operations
5386 Kemps River Drive
Suite 107-#2
Virginia Beach, VA 23464
(877) DRY-GEAR

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N6 (March 2002)
and was posted online on February 28, 2014


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