The one-star in charge of outfitting leathernecks with everything they drive, shoot and wear says Marines should never have to get in a fair fight.
Figuring out how to equip Marines with get the most modern gear into the hands of Marines in a time of tight budgets is what keeps him up at night, Brig. Gen. Joseph Shrader up at night. Marines expect and deserve equipment that will give them the edge on the battlefield, the head of Marine Corps Forces Systems Command said told industry experts Wednesday during the Sea-Air-Space expo outside of Washington, D.C., that the The 182,000 Marines in uniform in the force today expect and absolutely deserve such equipment, he said.
"They should never have to face an enemy on equal terms," Shrader said. "We should always have the technological advantage, we can never cede that."
The Marine Corps' shift to a greater emphasis on technology — from combat gear to training — means it needs as flexible an acquisition strategy as possible, he added. He urged industry leaders to think about ways to create modular systems that can be easily upgraded piece-by-piece.
That can help the military services save money if they only need to upgrade a piece of gear, he said. Vehicles and aircraft are staying in the fight longer than ever. The Marine Corps, for example, plans to keep its fleet of light armored vehicles in service until 2035. They were originally fielded in 1984.
"The acquisition strategy is to go after that base vehicle and then build upon it," he said. "The strategy makes room for platform growth because we anticipate that as we go forward; complex adaptive systems is what we're talking about."
The Marines are also looking to share parts across systems. As they transition to new platforms like the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, for example, they should be able to use parts from older equipment, like the light armored vehicle.
Cross-pollination between weapons systems is also necessary. Even if gear becomes obsolete, adapting weapons or components to other platforms gives them greater life and is a huge cost-saver for the Corps.
"It has to be integrated into the system but in such a manner where you can take it off of one system, like the LAV, and also use on the JLTV or any of the other vehicle platforms we have coming along," he said.
Another example is fielding the next generation Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer, which SYSCOM will begin fielding in June.Since the ISMT first hit the fleet in the early 1990s, it's been used to prep Marines for live-fire ranges and offer remedial marksmanship training.
With advancements in virtual reality technology, SYSCOM has given it a complete overhaul to give more realistic training, including new weapons, 3D terrain and immersive battle effects.
"It's a new virtual world that you're firing into; it's no long static pictures," said Col. Walt Yates, SYSCOM program manager. "It's much more like a first-person shooter video game for the tactical scenarios, where you have [events] happening in front of the shooter with dynamic environments."
The service is experimenting with 3-D printers as well, so Marines can create their own parts. Marines will also have the ability to create gear and parts themselves using 3D printing technology. SYSCOM is looking to field 3-D printers throughout the fleet so Marine Corps Community Services, where young Marines can experiment with finding improvise their own solutions to gear needs or shortages acquiring gear, Shrader said.
"We’ll pitch out a problem to them ... that we’re thinking about and they can go tinker with this stuff and see what they can come up with," he said. "It’s a way that we take that capability — 3-D printing — and tap into the young minds that we recruit. We just give them the tools to come up with some prototype things and see what they come up with."
Matthew L. Schehl covers training and education, recruiting, West Coast Marines, MARSOC, and operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.