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Marine Corps focusing on lighter, safer gear for troops, general says

1-star: Uniforms, nonlethals, IED detectors among top priorities

Oct. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Detection before detonation: 7th ESB trains with m
Sgt. Juan Ortiz, a combat engineer with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif., instructs Lance Cpl. Valerie Arragon on the use of a metal detector with ground penetrating radar. (Lance Cpl. Cody Haas/Marine Corps)
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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — Despite deep budget cuts, top Marine officials say they will fight to preserve procurement programs for equipment that directly supports those going into harm’s way.

Beyond development of next generation troop transports — like the Amphibious Combat Vehicle and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle — the service will direct its focus toward personal gear to make combat forces safer and more effective.

At the top of the agenda are new tropical-weight uniforms, low-metallic mine detectors and non-lethal weapons, said Brig. Gen. William Mullen, director of the Capabilities Development Directorate here in Quantico.

Here’s an overview:

Tropical uniforms. Over 12 years of war, Marines’ gear has gotten heavier, Mullen said. That means they will have trouble operating in humid environments like those found in the Asia Pacific region.

“Tell me Marines are going to be able to wear the kind of stuff they wore in Iraq or Afghanistan in the really hot, wet places. They are going to last 10 to 15 minutes, then half your people are going to be down as heat casualties,” he said.

“We are trying to protect them as best as we possibly can, but at what point do we protect them so much they can’t do their job or become more vulnerable.”

Development of the Marine Corps Tropical Combat Uniform has become a priority, Mullen said. This summer the service began testing various fabrics on Marines attending the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan. Several quick-drying fabrics have been identified, but durability must also be considered.

“The problem we are running into is that we can make things light and that dry out quickly, but they also tear up very quickly, and that is next to useless,” he said.

Mullen is optimistic there is a solution, however.

“The poplin utilities we had when we were out in jungles [of Vietnam] seemed durable to me, [and] they certainly dried out faster than the stuff we’ve got today,” he said.

Mine detectors. Development of hand-held, low-metallic-mine detectors is another fast-track initiative based on urgent needs statements from Afghanistan. The goal is to field 1,300 by fiscal 2017.

Improvised explosive devices have defined the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, and billions of dollars have been spent to combat them. But the enemy has continued to adapt as U.S. forces created new ways to detect, avoid and disarm them.When foot patrols were able to use hand-held mine detectors to avoid IEDs, the enemy began using low-metallic materials that detectors were unable to pick up.

That led the Marine Corps to begin experimenting with radar.

“The issue we are running into there is we are trying to mount a little bit of a ground-penetrating radar on it, but what that does is throw the weight off a little bit because it is right on top of the metal detector,” Mullen said.

That makes hand-held detectors heavier and harder to handle.

Nonlethals. Two highly desired nonlethal devices are the Mission Payload Module Non Lethal Weapons System and an eye-safe ocular interrupter.

The MPM-NLWS mounts on a vehicle turret, typically next to a lethal primary weapon, and can launch nonlethal rounds like flash bangs out to 500 meters, drastically increasing standoff distance before a confrontation potentially turns deadly.

That becomes increasingly important as Marines look ahead to operations that fall short of open combat in politically sensitive regions.

The Marine Corps is pushing to continue development so the system can be fielded by 2017.

An ocular interrupter is an eye-safe laser that disorients or temporarily blinds the enemy and can be used at checkpoints, for example. It works, day or night, out to a range of 500 meters and can be affixed to a service rifle. There is no definite timeline for fielding, but if budget cuts don’t imperil the program, the lasers could be fielded in the next few years, Mullen said. The service plans to purchase 1,850 of them.

Small arms. In many cases small arms will take a back seat to other needs.

“The weapons we have right now are working pretty good. They aren’t perfect. You talk to Marines and get 20 different opinions about our weapons. But they are doing the job,” Mullen said.

Marine special operators, who rely on pistols for close quarters battle, have already received an updated M45, the latest iteration of the .45-caliber 1911 platform. But Mullen said the Corps will continue to pursue the purchase of collapsible stocks for its sniper rifles to account for variations in body armor, arm length, cheek weld and eye relief from optics.

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