Lance Cpl. Matthew Bayles, a point man with Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, patrols in Afganistan. The Corps wants to field minesweepers that detect low-metal explosives. (Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez / Marine Corps)
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Marine officials are searching for the Corps' next-generation mine detectors, capable of locating explosives with little or no metal in them.
How the device would work is not clear, but Marine Corps Systems Command invited industry representatives to Quantico, Va., on Sept. 18 to determine what they could develop within four years. There is no off-the-shelf device that meets the Corps' requirements.
The detector would close "the capability gap that currently exists in the detection of explosive hazards with low to zero metallic content," according to a Sept. 7 solicitation.
The Low Metallic Signature Mine Detector "will be a lightweight, man-portable, handheld mine detection system that is capable of detecting explosive hazards and discriminating between various threat devices such as metallic mines, low metallic mines and improvised explosive devices, including home-made explosives," the solicitation reads.
The initiative to procure a next-generation detector was spawned by sophisticated enemy bomb makers who have begun turning out products that are difficult or impossible for current detectors to pick up.
That prompted an urgent needs statement from commanders in Afghanistan, according to Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and the deputy commandant for combat and development integration. Many of the improvised explosive devices Marines encounter in Afghanistan are nothing like the crude devices that might come to mind.
"They are being done by some smart guys, and they know how we find things," Mills said. "They work against us with low-metallic signatures. They take the wires out of the pressure plates and put in carbon from pencils — those types of things. They adapt well to our technique. So we are looking at low-metallic detectors."
The goal is to field 1,304 of the new detectors by fiscal 2017, according to Capt. Nicole Fiedler, a MARCORSYSCOM spokeswoman. They will be given to combat engineers and explosive ordnance disposal technicians, she said.
Other counter-IED initiatives include the recent issue of tier one ballistic underwear and tier two protection. Tier one protects Marines from small particles and pebbles that can embed themselves in wounds from an IED blast and later cause infection. Tier two offers soft-armor protection that can be compared with soft vests worn by civilian police officers. Also, continued efforts to upgrade mine rollers attached to the front of vehicles should allow them to be used at higher speeds without bouncing over IEDs.