Marines to Modernize Training Facilities

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The Marine Corps will need to modernize its training facilities and equipment as it prepares for future battles.

As outlined in the Marine Corps’ new operating concept, “How an Expeditionary Force Operates in the 21st Century,” the service will rely heavily on maneuver warfare and fighting as a combined arms force as it looks toward battles of 2025 and beyond, said Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general of the Marine Corps’ Combat Development Command and deputy commandant of combat development and integration.

The service will have to “distribute our force in smaller units to be able to disperse, to be able to be less targeted by the enemy and be able to continuously move, because if we’re not moving you’re going to be targeted very quickly,” Walsh said during an industry conference in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Smaller units will need to move rapidly and come together quickly if needed. Marines will have to fight in a variety of contested environments including the littorals and in megacities, which are poised to rapidly grow by 2025, he said.

All of this will have an affect on how Marines train.

In the Marine Corps operating concept — or the MOC — the service said it would need to better train and educate Marines to deal with multi-faceted and complicated environments, including urban environments.

“We recognize that operations in urban areas are the most likely to occur and the most dangerous. Urban areas are complex terrain, which emphasizes the need to maneuver in the human dimension of conflict. This requires a thorough understanding of the relationships, culture, politics and objectives of the people and organizations that populate the battle space,” the operating concept said.

Urban environments can “soak up personnel resources in labor-intensive ground” missions, it said. 

The service will need to train to address the full degree of compartmentalization, including city blocks, streets, buildings, sewers and tunnels, it said.

Capt. Joshua Pena, a spokesman for Marine Corps Training and Education Command, said the service would have to “evolve” to dominate urban environments.

“Our approach to training must account for all aspects of complex terrain and we will have to be creative in how we combine the physical and cognitive domains to maximize our current training venues at all levels,” he said in an email.

Marines will face asymmetric threats, nonlinear battlefields and unclear delineation between combatants and noncombatants in these environments. TECOM has addressed these training needs by investing in 63 military operation in urban terrain systems and 25 live-fire shoot houses over the past 12 years, Pena said.

“These systems provide training capability from the squad level, facilitating individual proficiency and competency, through the battalion level, to accommodate larger, combined arms training,” he said.

Squad-level training can also be accomplished using infantry immersive trainers that “provide high-fidelity training venues with enhanced battlefield realism including exposure to operational complexities, mental and physical stress and challenging tactical, moral and ethical decision-making,” he said.

Because of these investments, the Marine Corps does not have immediate plans to build larger, more comprehensive mock villages than already exist, he said. However, current ranges will continue to be modernized, including adding video and audio capabilities to “enhance after-action review capability,” Pena said.

Peter Haynes, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said training in such a complex terrain is easy on a small scale, but will present the service with challenges as it grows larger.

“When you get to above the battalion level and into the regiments and so forth, … it’s almost logarithmic … because you really need to train for more dispersed, bigger forces,” he said. 

Red forces have to put an enormous amount of pressure on the troops in order to properly train them for what happens when GPS is degraded and a Marine has to use a compass, for example.

“Training to scale and training to difficulty from a holistic overall basis … will be a challenge,” he said.

The MOC emphasized that the Marine Corps will need to continue to refine and exploit the use of live, virtual and constructive training. LVC, an emerging concept that is gaining traction, combines simulation, live training and computer models to create a comprehensive virtual environment.

“Exploiting this combination of training is important as we look to incorporate maneuver warfare in every dimension while utilizing combined arms in all domains,” Pena said. “The combination of live, virtual and constructive training provides opportunities to train to that end and maximize resources to the greatest … [extent] possible; while concurrently expanding the training audience to commands and maneuver units that are geographically separated and that may not have been able to participate otherwise.”

The Marine Corps plans to combine existing LVC systems into an integrated and interoperable live, virtual and constructive training environment, according to TECOM’s G-3 operations team.

“LVC-TE can be characterized as an interoperability effort with existing applications and programs, with some procurement of exercise design and exercise control capability for planning, preparation, execution and assessment of unit/collective training events,” Pena said.

This will help the service provide enhanced service-level training and exercise capability, he said. It will also link geographically separated Marine Corps installations, he added. 

The service also plans to take advantage of simulators and devices to better train Marines, Pena said. Such systems can offer efficiencies. The intent is not to replace live-fire testing, but to complement it by increasing repetition and expanding the complexity of the scenario before live training, he said.

The Marine Corps is preparing to field the augmented immersive team training system in the next three to five years, Pena said. The system was developed by the Office of Naval Research and transitioned to the Marine Corps’ program 
manager for training systems office.

“AITT will provide highly realistic training for force-on-force call for fire, joint fires observers and joint terminal attack controllers, avoiding reliance on live aircraft, ordnance and availability of live-fire ranges for mortars, artillery and air-delivered fires,” he said.

When it comes to joint terminal attack controllers, the service is constrained by limited availability of flight hours for close-air support-capable aircraft and virtual trainers, he said.

“AITT will be able to provide observers and controllers realistic training that is not reliant upon live aircraft or tethered to a fixed infrastructure simulator,” he said.

The service also wants to invest in virtual reality headsets, Pena said. 
“As virtual reality continues to pervade the commercial sector and become cheaper, there is great potential for individual and perhaps even small unit collective, procedural training events,” he said.

At the moment, there isn’t much software catering to the military training market, he said. Most of it is geared toward the entertainment industry, he added.

“Training and Education Command has looked into the commercial VR sector for 
training applications, and is exploring potential options for procuring low-cost systems to put in Marines’ hands for garnering ideas and feedback on potential training use cases,” Pena said.

While hologram technology is emerging, it presents a number of challenges for the Marine Corps, he said. 

“First, it would require tethering training to a fixed location, which the Marine Corps would prefer to move away from in favor of bringing the training systems to the Marines as in with augmented reality systems,” he said. 

“Secondly, the technology associated with holograms is not advanced enough to support a capability that the Marine Corps would likely invest in.”
However, the service is looking at emerging man-worn systems that project a holographic image in front of a user, he said.

The Marine Corps is historically known as an austere branch of the armed forces. That will require the service to be creative as it goes about procuring systems, Haynes said.

“Out of the services, I think the Marine Corps will think most creatively about what is required to train,” he said. They won’t necessarily go after the most highly technological systems available, he noted.

The service will also need to train for information warfare, the MOC said. 
“An ever-increasing part of people’s lives is taking place in the information space, adding informational and human dimensions to the battle space. Globally networked and information-enabled populations now react to viral versions of events and ideas moving at the speed of the internet, complicating our ability to gain and maintain an accurate, up-to-date, intelligence-driven understanding of conflicts,” the MOC said.

Already, adversaries are exploiting the environment to “mask their actions, mislead unwitting publics and undermine the legitimacy of their opponents,” it said.

However, when it comes to the battle of narratives and perception side of information warfare, that might be difficult for the Marine Corps, Haynes said.

“As Americans we are all profoundly ethnocentric. We have very little understanding of how profoundly different other folks, other societies think,” he said. “But by the same token, the Marine Corps has always been kind of understanding of that and you see them over the last 14 years lean heavily on a lot of the [cultural] experts.” 


Topics: Training and Simulation, Marine Corps News

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