An MV-22B Osprey flies over the deck of the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge earlier this year. A new land-based ship simulator will allow Marines to train in shipboard operations, such as loading the ship and rappelling from Ospreys and helicopters, without going to sea. (Cpl. Christopher Q. Stone / Marine Corps)
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A new 12,000-square-foot ship on dry ground will allow Marine expeditionary units training aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., to conduct their most realistic special operations certification exercises yet and is expected to save money in the process.
The land-based trainer, the size of a merchant ship at three stories, 40 feet wide by 150 feet long, is expected to open for training in mid-June.
Located outdoors by the shore of the New River at the back end of the base, the three-deck ship will feature a lifelike exterior, minus stern and bow, which can accommodate loading operations and rappelling to deck from MV-22 Ospreys or helicopters.
Designed for use by Lejeune's Marine Special Operations Training Group and Marines, sailors and Coast Guardsmen at its Joint Maritime Training Center, it will facilitate a spectrum of shipboard exercises, including the Visit, Board, Search and Seizure training required for special operations-capable MEUs as part of their pre-deployment workups.
Below deck, the ship will be equipped with ballistic steel featuring rubber covering to prevent ricochet. That will permit shipboard live-fire exercises with real ordnance. Until now, shipboard live-fire training qualification has required a trip to the James River Reserve Fleet in Eustis, Va., where Marines use Special Effects Small Arms Marking Systems — ammo akin to paintballs — to simulate real shells.
A combination of automated targetry systems and life-size "Mannikin Mikes" will simulate human targets. For other hyper-realistic maritime training exercises, the ship also features:
• Watertight hatches.
• Knee-knocker passageways designed to be navigated lit and with night-vision goggles.
• An engine room complete with authentic faux controls.
• Narrow vertical escape trunks through which troops can practice transporting wounded comrades on gurneys.
• Several doorframes equipped with replaceable parts so trainees can practice breaching them with a cutting torch.
As budget constraints force unit commanders to scale back on travel, the $8 million trainer is expected to be a cost-saver as well.
"As our budget comes down, home station training is very important," said James Schleining, director of range development and management at Camp Lejeune.
Schleining said the facility is the first of its scope in the Marine Corps.