You’ve gone to class, you’ve got the gear, now comes the hard part: how in Heaven’s name do you carry all this stuff? NC Scout’s Advanced RTO and SIGINT alumni have seen it all, the Home Patrol II scanner, the frequency counter, the Alinco DJ-X11 comms receiver, maybe another Baofeng configured as a Bubba detector, a VHF/UHF team radio, a jungle antenna or roll-up J-pole, some coax, various and sundry connectors, and gosh wouldn’t a few spare mags and batteries be nice to have? Quite a list isn’t it? Integrating it into the rest of equipment needed to shoot, move, and communicate has proven to be a challenge.
NC Scout and I discussed this during the last commo course in Wyoming. His answer, and I think it’s a good one, is to use a double-mag AK chest rig. The radios fit loosely, but this could be an advantage if you intended to run an earpiece or speaker-mic on a radio with side-mounted jacks. I’d also venture a guess that quite a few of us have one. I know I do, but mine’s been dedicated to carrying AK mags and I wanted to keep it in that role.
So, let me back up a step and lay out what I was looking for. I needed something that would carry that whole list above. Well shoot, I’ve got a hard case that does that, but while it’s possible to attach it to a plate carrier, going prone might just leave your arse in the line of fire. So that’s a non-starter. Tactical nylon it’s going to have to be. I normally wear a battle-belt (sorry NC Scout, that’s just how it is), but can add or substitute a plate carrier or chest rig if the situation warrants. Whatever I chose to carry the SIGINT kit needed to work with all of that. I also wanted to be able to wear it under a jacket or loose shirt if covert carry was needed while doing, shall we say, urban reconnaissance.
My original thought was a custom made-to-order rig, but getting that done in the current environment wasn’t looking doable. I knew I was going to have to buy something but I was having trouble finding the right piece of kit. My search eventually stumbled upon the military’s Tactical Assault Panel System (TAPS) and I think I’ve finally found what I needed. Mine was newly manufactured by Rothco, but they are also available used on the surplus market. If you go that route, make sure that all of the hardware shown below is included.
This system can be worn as a stand-alone with the included harness, but can also be attached to a plate carrier. There are six single AR mag pockets in the center, with two larger pockets for a larger radio or GPS unit. On the back side, there are three pockets for miscellaneous gear. The front pockets all have hook and loop closures, but I’ve modded the center four of mine to have a bungee-cord closure for magazines. HT to Legion Preparedness for the mod idea.
The plan is to use the outer four pockets for my frequency counter, communications receiver, Bubba detector, and scanner. The center pockets can remain empty when I need a low profile, but can be used to add four AR or AK magazines to the if the mission requires. The back pockets will have a notepad and pencil, 25’ of coax, DF loop, and a roll-up j-pole antenna. The team radio goes on my belt in its own pouch.
One thing that I’ve found already with this is that Red Ryder BB guns aren’t the only things that can poke your eye out. You have to be careful with radio placement and antenna selection to avoid having the antennas interfere with other things you might be doing. This will be a problem with any chest-mounted solution. I had to select a shorter antenna for my frequency counter to avoid an interference shouldering my rifle. The photo below shows the rig with the antennas in place. (It also shows me that I need to hit the hardware and that black tape with some flat paint. The yellow tape is there just to make my training mags easier to retrieve.)
This is a good time to segue into a short discussion of use versus carriage of equipment. I don’t see myself trying to use much of the gear in this rig while on the move. There’s just too much to do while in a SIGINT role to use it all while walking to and fro. What is doable, is monitoring the scanner or comms receiver through a headphone, since they each have a top mounted jack. (Note: this could be easier with some gear in a looser fitting AK pouch that would allow use of a side mounted jack.) If something interesting/threatening popped up, using an earphone would let you call a listening halt so you could access the displays to nail down the frequency, mode, etc. in order to do some note taking and analysis. This has a bearing (see what I did there) on the antenna situation too, if you’re not going to be using some of the gear on the move, those antennas can be dismounted and put into one of the back pockets.
Here are a couple of pictures showing what I’ve got stuffed into the rig as you see it above:
Back to discussing the TAPS. You can see in the photos how the magazine pocket closure has been modified. You can also see how easily both AR and AK magazines can be accommodated with this modification simply by moving the knot. I left the original closures in place in case I wanted to put something other than a mag in any of those pockets. The tabs on the bungee-cord are each a seven inch long piece of one inch webbing that has been folded in the center with the ends folded in to meet there and sewn together. There are other ways to do this that might work out better. Be forewarned, four layers of webbing was just too much for my wife’s sewing machine, and prudence led me find a cobbler with a tougher machine before I ran afoul of She Who Must Be Obeyed.
This system does fit nicely for me under a loose jacket using the included harness, and the other hardware makes it easy to attach to a plate carrier if that’s what’s needed. I mentioned that I wear a battle belt, but this system could easily be used by itself with the addition of some more bulk in the form of MOLLE pouches. Not my thing at the moment, but your mileage may vary. The key is that this set-up is versatile, reasonably priced, and importantly, available. Until something better comes along, it fits my needs, maybe it will yours too.