Lasers don’t shoot like bullets, and that’s a problem for Marines seeking realistic force-on-force shooter training.

The Marines Corps is upgrading its field force-on-force shooting system to a third generation that aims to add more shooters, cover wider ranges and lighten the system load. But even as that system advances, top Marine developers are looking beyond lasers and into a math-based solution.

“A laser is at the speed of light, and the bullet is not,” said Marine Col. Walt Yates, program manager for Training Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command.

Yates said though the current shooting systems are a generational change from old MILES, or Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, lasers have fundamental flaws for realistic battle scenarios.

They shoot line-of-sight, making arcing weapons such as mortars and grenade launchers more difficult to simulate. Lasers can also be deflected by light concealment such as tree leaves and thin walls.

The new system, Optically Based Small Arms Force-On-Force Training System, will be accessible at home stations across the Marine Corps, once fielded.

The current shooting system, Instrumented Tactical Engagement Simulation System, or ITESS, is in its second generation but that model is already more than six years old, Yates said.

Marines are currently seeing proposals for third generation systems and expect to issue a solicitation as early as late next year.

The first generation ITESS accommodated 120 Marines and opposition forces, the second generation expanded to 1,500 with a communication radius of 5 to 8 km. The third seeks to track up to 2,500 Marines, making it capable of battalion on battalion exercises envisioned by the commandant, Yates said.

The colonel said that the hope to move away from the VHF-enabled device, which has range limitations and adds weight to the system.

Additionally, the supporting architecture would provide powerful, mobile wireless capabilities to move around various ranges such as those used most frequently at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California.

Yates said ideally industry can reduce the amount of equipment as well. The current system requires a detection vest, helmet mound and small arms transmitter. Future systems may be able to run solely through an adapter on the weapon and an application built into a smartphone like device carried by Marines.

The current system can incorporate hand grenades, vehicles, crew served weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

But the next generation may need to incorporate mortars, which are currently done along with artillery and other kinetic effects from a control center that manages the simulation known as RISCON, Range Instrumentation System Control.

The next system must also enforce good marksmanship, Yates said. The simulator must act more like a real bullet, requiring Marines to lead their moving targets, fire rifles on semi, burst and fully automatic modes and ensure the bullet travels in the realistic path, which is not perfectly Line of Sight.

One historic challenge, Yates said, is keeping up with weapons and munitions developments on the simulation side. For example, the current system accommodates the AT-4 rocket but now must be adapted to include the newly adopted Carl Gustaf anti-tank, anti-personnel rocket launcher.

“We try to remain in tune,” Yates said. “Because everything we simulate is a simulation of a weapons system, staying concurrent with my brethren in the weapons systems is a constant challenge.”

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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