DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

Marine Corps’ Equipment Wish List: More of the Same

10/1/2008
By Grace V. Jean
The Marines’ latest wish list has no surprises. They are asking for many of the same technologies they have been seeking for years — sensors that see through dust, precise weapons, lighter combat gear, portable power sources and mobile communications systems, among others.

At a recent Office of Naval Research conference, Marine officials identified some of their critical equipment needs, which have not changed much since the war in Iraq began more than five years ago.

The new commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, recently returned from Iraq where he was deputy corps commander for multi-national forces and the 18th Airborne Corps. He told conference attendees that the dust storms continue to be particularly problematic.

“I need a better way to predict the times I’m going to have them, because when the dust came up, the enemy knew that our [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] went down,” he said.

Insurgents learned that the sensors that U.S. troops use wouldn’t work in the storms. “That was the time that they moved their rockets around. That was the time they set their rockets up on timers,” he said.

Flynn also asked technologists to improve the precision of tactical weapons. “In the current conflict, precision was my best friend because I had to overcome the collateral effects,” he said.

“It doesn’t do me any good to kill a target and then create 10 more enemies because I took their power out, I took their water out, or I killed their son or daughter.”

The protective combat gear that Marines wear is extremely valuable but is way too heavy. Marines are carrying as much as 100 pounds around when they fight.

“You can’t be chasing down the bad guys if you’re carrying around that kind of weight,” said Dave Ungar, director for systems engineering at Marine Corps Systems Command.

The protective gear works, said Flynn, but it’s also hot and it’s heavy. “Each generation of body armor gets more comfortable, but it doesn’t get much lighter,” he added.

Small units also need portable power stations, he said. At forward operating bases in Iraq, troops must bring their own generators to keep all their systems up and running. If Marines are going to be scattered widely in remote areas in the future, there will be a tremendous need for generating power, he said.

Troops also will require robust communications to transmit large amounts of data, including voice, maps and streaming video, said Col. Keil Gentry, director for the national plans branch at Marine Corps headquarters.

Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan already have run into bandwidth problems that limit how much data they can send over the airwaves.

“That challenge here today is only going to grow,” he said. Reliance upon high tech communications equipment makes the forces vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse weapons that are capable of knocking all electronic systems offline, officials warned. Methods to counter those attacks must be investigated, he said.

Marines also will require advancements in remote medical care because they will not be as readily accessible for emergency helicopter evacuations. And there are other, more basic needs. “Just maintaining enough clean drinking water for the force is a huge challenge,” said Gentry.

In addition to improved equipment, officials also are stressing the need for better training, especially in the realm of language and culture.

“If we’re going to engage around the globe, we need to be culturally aware and able to operate in multiple locations,” said Flynn.

“Science and technology can go a long way in educating and training us to be able to deal with multi-cultural theaters around the world.”

The high operational tempo in the Middle East precludes sufficient training time for many Marines today, so officials are looking for systems that are transportable and can adapt to a new conflict immediately.

“A modeling and simulation program that’s focused on one country is good, but I have to be able to flip a switch, hopefully, and focus on another country,” said Flynn. He is looking for better combined-arms simulators that not only teach procedures but also train good muscle memory.
“We don’t let pilots get into the cockpit of any aircraft without first putting the individual in a simulator. But we let Marines go out without that,” he said.

The Marine Corps is preparing troops for Iraq by putting them through an immersive infantry training simulation at Camp Pendleton that blends computer-generated targets and live actors for realistic combat scenarios.

“We need to continue to build off of that,” said Flynn. “We need to be able to create stress. We need to be able to create anxiety, and we need to be able to create a sense of reality.”

In the simulation, the Marines carry weapons that have been outfitted with special lasers and sensors. Flynn wants to see future training systems that allow troops to practice with the actual gear they will take into combat.

“The Marines should be able to use their own weapons and their own sights, and they shouldn’t be encumbered by any other devices that we have to push,” he said.

Troops also are in the market for better hearing protection and computer networking technologies, officials said.

“There are enemies out there doing S&T. You almost have to be a red cell in the scientific arena to determine what the game changer is,” Flynn said.

Topics: Land Forces, Marine Corps News

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