The question, “How does an item become a piece of official issue gear?” often comes up in cutlery circles.
There are many paths an item can take getting to “issue” status, but the process is almost always initiated by a specific need. When we think of “issue knives,” bayonets and fighting knives are usually the first to come to mind, but there are also knives designed for survival, rescue and utility use. In fact, the soldiers and marines I talk to on a regular basis are much more comfortable carrying a well-designed utility edge that can be used for a myriad of tasks, rather than a poorly designed bayonet. This brings us to the survival axe featured in this article: the Ontario SP16 SPAX.
The SP16 originally began as one of Ontario’s Spec Plus items—basically a small fire axe with a weight reduction hole in the center of the head. After its introduction in 1996, various fire departments began doing extensive testing on the SP16. During its testing phase, the SPAX was used to smash glass, deflate tires, chop through cars, rip tile, egress from a burning building, pry rebar, cut wood, break locks, go through doors and open manhole covers. The tool also saw use during cleanup at Ground Zero and more recently was used for search and rescue operations shortly after Hurricane Katrina. It also gained “fame” from being carried on HMX (Presidential) helicopters as a crash axe.