A while back STRACTECH sent me an interesting teaser youtube video showing this device in action. Ever since I've been eager to see it in more detail and am happy I can pass on the knowledge to my readers. The FAST system stands for "Fast And Smooth Transition" and it certainly lives up to its name. The purpose of the product is to hold 3 NATO 5.56 30 round magazines making a magazine always available in the same extraction location. Having magazines available and easy to grab always in the same place creates substantial increase in speed and consistency. There isn't any fumbling around trying to remember which pouch has ammo left and where it is on your body.
The system is about as simple possible and could be summarized as a magazine for magazines. The main pieces could be broken down into: body, follower, spring, and external carrier. There are no wacky gears or other complicated parts. The main cause of typical rifle magazine failures is usually due to bent/old materials or dealing with the triangular shape of most bullets. Since the magazines are held straight in the FAST system with minimal contact points, movement is smooth and reliable. Just in case the gods are out to get you, the main carrier has a zip-open side panel to manually fix a jam. Many will feel their odds are good enough, so another carrier style is available that has PALS webbing on the exterior instead of the jam access. The main body is made of heavy duty polymer with a stainless steel box spring held together with small metal screws. All of this is held in a 1000D nylon carrier made by Eagle Industries which if you have not heard, is quite a reputable gear company. Both carrier styles come with dust covers that are made to easily tear off and get to the business. They are held on with velcro and have large webbing loops to make them easy to grab onto. The covers will hang down, but elastic is available on the bottom to allow stowing them when time is permitted.
When mounting, the best location is to have the extraction area just to the side of where the user would have their weapon in the ready, being easy to grab with the weak or strong side hand. The body of the FAST System is curved to contours to the body well. With this noted, not all vests will allow you to get to the primo spot, however the system still works fine if it ends up more on your side. Only a smidgn' of time will be lost during reloads where your arm must move a further distance. I show this issue on my Eagle plate carrier in which if I mount it any more frontal, I would not be able to take off my vest with the front flap. This is less of an issue on the IBA and vests with side flaps like the Maritime CIRAS. Luckily if you are a lefty or wish to use 2 FAST Systems, the body can be setup for either side. The extraction plate is flipped to guide one's hand for proper placement and then the correct nylon carrier is used for the desired side. Technically the "wrong" carrier could be used upside-down, but the dust cover would not hang directly down and is not optimal among other small details. Keep in mind such a mounting is unintended and not recommended; I simply note it to document what is possible. Everyone will have their own preference, but a common loadout configuration is to have the FAST System on the strong primary side and to have standard magazine pouches on the other side of the vest/carrier. The FAST System in meant to be another tool in the toolbox, not the end-all of magazine pouch design.
After mounted, to use the wearer loads the magazines one at a time with bullets facing towards the center of their body. Once a magazine is inserted, one hand should hold back that magazine while inserting the next magazine with the other hand. If a user goes rogue and uses only 1 hand instead of 2 hands as instructed, not only is it really difficult, but while playing around trying to insert the 3rd magazine with only one hand I somehow managed to cause all magazines to eject out at once. This was very hard to reproduce and I note this not as flaw, but as a reminder to use the system as intended. Use it right and all will be fine. A little bit of rotation is needed at the end of each insertion to get passed the retention notch. When extracting magazines while mounted on the primary "strong" side, grab the magazine with your fingers and palm. I recommend grabbing as far down as the port allows for a good grip. Since I have small hands I use all of my fingers, but some users may stick their pinky out so they can get a grip further down on the magazine. Once a grip is established, next push slightly back/inward against the spring and "roll" the magazine out to get clearance around the retention notch. Now insert that magazine up into your rifle and proceed as you normally would. When the FAST System is mounted on the secondary "weak" side, closer to your strong arm, the grip of your weak hand starts with hitting the magazine in the webbing of your hand between your thumb and index finger. After pushing in towards the magazine, roll the magazine out to end up in a grip similar to the primary side with the palm and fingers being the main contact points. Due to spring tension, when 3 magazines are loaded the first magazine extraction will take noticeably more effort than the second or third magazine. Make sure to grab each one like you mean it and functionality will be smooth. This is all a bit confusing when only described with text so I highly recommend you view the demo videos to see functionality details.
Some may have concern on the available grips to taking magazines out of the FAST System. The fingers and palm grip isn't as good as a classic grip with wrap around thumb, but is plenty enough to reliably insert a magazine. As long as the user grips tight, dropping is a low risk. So far I have not seen anyone fumble or drop a magazine while extracting out of the FAST System. As a more extreme example, if something were to swat your hand this could be a problem. To attempt the closest to a classic grip as possible, I put the magazines in with bullets facing inside the system rather than the standard facing away. The magazines surprisingly worked fine with the follower, but the ridge on the back of the magazines snagged on the retention notch of the body making extraction difficult requiring a push in before rolling out. Again I did this just for the "what if" factor. It is something you should NOT do, but if you did, that is the result.
As with most things, the FAST System has pluses and minuses. The good part is that the system functions totally as advertised. You can become a consistent reloading super star in about 20 minutes of practice and only get better from there. One of the first downsides however is the bulk. The space required by FAST is the equivalent of over 6 30 round magazines, but it only holds 3 magazines. Also some may feel the required grips for mag extraction are awkward. Personally after using it I feel the grip is "good enough". On this particular prototype, I wish the body was connected to the carrier in a more solid fashion. The only thing holding it in there is a piece of velcro on the back of the body and friction inside the carrier. With the dust cover down I can wiggle the body out of the carrier with one hand while still on my body. It doesn't feel outright unsafe, but could be better. That said, it should be noted this preview is of a prototype and the final version will solve this issue with webbing loop slots <FIG1> to lash the body down to one's vest. This is to get the extraction area closer to the body, but would secure the system further as well. Unfortunately the simple design only allows standard NATO magazines to be used in the FAST system. Magazines with any additional height such as PMAGs, Lancer, and HK mags will not fit. Although I wish they could fit, as a designer I can see where the system would become overly complicated if altered to do so. As the final con, the FAST System could easily be called expensive, but that is usually the price of cutting edge technology.
For some alternate opinions from some dudes with real world experience, after a full range day with my LEO/MIL buddies they were overall happy with how the FAST system performed. They felt it would be particularly useful in tight situations such as inside vehicles or aboard ships. Rather than me putting words in their mouths, check out my first impressions video to see what all they thought.
I have to send this prototype back, otherwise I would be beating it like a red-headed step child to test for durability. When I do receive a final production model, which will be significantly stronger, I intend to keep my testing word. I am very excited to see the final result. Although not perfect, I feel the FAST System is a great piece of innovation truly bringing something new and useful to the market.
STRAC TECH VIDEOS:
<Main Instructional Video>
<Strong Side Magazine Recovery>
<Weak Side Magazine Recovery>