Many of the high-tech devices that Marines use in combat are not as reliable or as user-friendly as they should be, says the commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.
“The worst thing we can do is send something out to the battlefield that either doesn’t work reliably, or is too hard for a young Marine or young soldier to use,” says Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder, who spoke at a conference sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute.
Gadgets have proliferated into Iraq, offering more ways to communicate, share information and fight. But many of the systems need improvement, he adds.
In particular, language translation devices are not user-friendly enough for corporals and squad leaders who employ them out on the streets in Iraq, he says.
Biometric systems that record fingerprints and irises need to be networked and put onto handheld devices so that Marines at command posts can share the information with those out in the field.
“You need them out there on patrol, with those intelligence Marines and with those squad leaders, so that when they get somebody, they can type a name in, or take a fingerprint, and they know who they’ve got and whether he’s telling them the truth. It’ll be a powerful tool in a counterinsurgency environment,” says Stalder.
Communications technology is sorely needed, especially at lower echelons of command, he says. The growing availability of wideband satellite and non-line-of-sight radios has helped bridge the digital divide in the Marine Corps, but Stalder pressed for the extension of digital coverage down to the company level.
“We need top secret level information down to battalion and company level as well. The people who need it aren’t at the regimental or divisional level. It’s the staff sergeant at company level who needs that information quickly,” he adds.
With greater reliance upon unmanned aircraft and ground-based sensors, Marines need to be able to integrate the data in a single network, Stalder says.
Roadside bombs, homemade explosives and snipers continue to cause the greatest numbers of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Stalder, technologies to counter those threats will continue to be a key requirement.
Improved tactical optics for the infantryman — specially multi-spectral sensors sized to fit on a rifle — would be a valuable technology, he says. Some desired functions include infrared and electro-optical light detection with magnification, identification of friend or foe, range estimation and precision engagement.
While much work is being done to enhance logistics support, Stalder says supply chain management and visibility must be pushed down to the platoon level.
In the first Iraq war, he says, when forces moved from Kuwait to Baghdad, Marine vehicles were 98 percent ready. Troops had anticipated the need for replacement parts and ordered them ahead of time. However, those parts wouldn’t show up on time, and they’d order another batch, which caused gridlock in the system. “There’s no reason why we can’t do it in a more intelligent way,” says Stalder.
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