The Marine Corps is rolling out a lighter, more portable version of its GPS targeting system for forward observers.

Following a successful initial release of the first Common Laser Range Finder-Integrated Capability (CLRF-IC) systems in February, the service says it expects to deploy the binocular-type products across the Corps later this year.

The new system aims to streamline fires support by combining multiple devices into a single handheld unit. In addition to being more portable, the new system will generate digital data in place of formerly analog images, making to easier to share key information across operators.

The Marines are looking to the GPS-based CLRF-IC to deliver accurate distance and location information using built-in laser range technology. The most immediate benefit, though, will be in terms of portability.

The previous system comprises multiple components, including a glare suppressor, night vision, GPS, an external magnifier to increase distance sighting and a tripod. “If you try and take the whole system with you, it is pretty cumbersome,” said Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Tock, an operations chief in the armor and fire support systems program office at Marine Corps Systems Command.

“In training, Marines will actually spread load the pieces among a team so that no one person has to carry everything,” he said. “We needed something lighter, smaller. We also wanted to get rid of pieces in order to make it easier to account for the gear. If you can remove three or four items, it becomes a lot easier to manage.”

By consolidating the GPS technology and other elements in a combined platform, planners hope to get a product that is not only easier to carry, but also more effective.

The legacy system typically requires multiple hands: A Marine to dig in, someone else to set up, and another to begin acquiring targets. “By not having to set up the GPS device or the tripod, by having that single device instead, that greatly shortens the kill chain from the time you see the target to the time you employ ordinance,” Tock said.

Release of CLRF-IC is in line with other recent Marine Corps efforts to lighten the load around fires support.

Last year, for example, saw the release of smartphone-based Target Handoff System Version 2, a portable system used to locate targets and call for close air, artillery and naval fire support.

Based on commercial off-the-shelf technology, that system “will be half the price of the previous system, while incorporating the speed of current advancements in handheld technology and encryption,” Matthew Bolen, assistant engineer on the system, said in a Marine Corps release.

Just as the Target Handoff System relies on secure digital communications, CLRF-IC is likewise looking to move toward a more digital approach to fires support. Rather than view an optical image, users will see their targets on a digital screen, opening up new possibilities in terms of how that data is manipulated, interpreted and shared.

“That gives us the ability to put buttons and menus and digital reticle on the screen along with that image,” Tock said.

With these enhanced navigation tools, “I can go through and make it a target. I can hand it off to other systems, such as the target handoff system, and then that use can take that location and send it back to the unit or aircraft that is going to release that ordinance,” Tock said. In the past, this could only be done through slower and less accurate radio communications.

Digital renditions also allow the user to hang onto information and revisit it as combat scenarios unfold. “You can save that target inside your handheld, which you could not do in the past. So that allows me to build a target list of an area and now when a new target appears somewhere on that list, I can easily return to that and send a new fire instruction,” Tock said.

The net result should be a more effective fighting force.

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