Marine Corps is busy figuring out what they do – and don’t – need to buy to support their emerging operational concepts for high-end warfare.
Leaders are committed to keeping Navy and Marine programs aligned so they can increase interoperability – Marine Corps aircraft flying off Navy flight decks, or Marine weapons engaging targets at sea while aboard Navy ships – while involving program managers and resource sponsors from two services.
As the two services build their future fleets together, they are embarking on an effort to budget in parallel and develop an integrated force structure assessment FSA that will inform both their budget plans.
Previous FSAs conducted by assessment division of the chief of naval operations’ staff cherry-picked Marine Corps capabilities they wanted to include that provided a benefit to the naval fleet, and used them in wargaming to inform shipbuilding plans and budgets.
For the first time, this naval integrated FSA NIFSA will reflect the full gamut of Marine Corps contributions and needs and produce a product that represents the full cost and capability of the integrated naval force.
The NIFSA will also for the first time include new capabilities that the services need to rapidly incorporate, such as unmanned systems and connectors to support the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concept, which falls under LOCE, rather than only include programs of record already in the fleet.
Navy and Marine Corps will have detailed definitions of the new capabilities they want to have included in the NIFSA. This means defining how many vertical launching cells the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle will have, for example, and what the composition of an expeditionary advance base will be for each of several possible EAB mission sets.
“People have misconstrued EABO as one thing. … EABO has multiple forms: there’s strike, there’s sensing, there’s electronic warfare, there is reconnaissance, there’s forward arming and refueling. So the size of an EAB, an expeditionary advance base, which is very temporary – go in, grab something, and then move or leave – they could be 40 Marines, it could be much larger than that if we had to do a significant refueling operation. It’s all going to be threat-dependent. But that’s what EAB is, and we’re going after and procuring things that will assist us in doing that,”
Marines want one integrated fire network where all the systems snap into that same standard. And that’s a challenge for us because our requirements process isn’t generated to do that; it usually generates a requirement that is satisfied by a single resource sponsor and a single program manager, so we’ve got to kind of up our game here.”
Working rapidly to inform the next budget cycle, planners for both services are looking at how to network their systems together, how to sustain forces spread out across large areas and how to impose significant cost on the adversary while operating in that wide space – and how to do so affordably – to support the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations and Marine’s Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment concepts.
On the aviation side, the Marine Corps looked at possible technological improvements to the MV-22 Osprey that would make it more lethal and survivable in a denied environment, and continued seeking industry input on a large unmanned aerial vehicle that could be flying by 2026, all in a bid to bring the vision of a networked, long-range force to the aviation community.
With the fifth-generation F-35B Joint Strike Fighter to pack a lethal punch and suck up intelligence on the battlefield, and the V-22 to carry Marines long distances while keeping the passengers in the back connected to troops on the ground through on-plane network connectivity, the glaring gap for Marine Corps Aviation is the heavy-lift helicopter.
The Marine Corps has made clear that its future lies at sea with the Navy, being good partners in the blue/green team, the Marine Corps is interested in buying long-range anti-ship missiles “as fast as possible. There’s a ground component to the maritime fight. We’re a naval force in a naval campaign; you have to help the ships control sea space. And you can do that from the land.”
The service made progress on transitioning its anti-drone system rushed to the field into a formal program of record. The Marine Air Defense Integrated System MADIS family of systems will include a mobile variant that will be affixed atop a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and a fixed version to protect forward-operating bases – both to address smaller drones that could attack our forces or send their location back to an enemy – as well as a third variant that would be more of a medium-range intercept system that combines a surveillance radar, fire control system and missiles to go after large Group 4 and 5 drones.
Commandant put out Planning Guidance shortly after taking command of the service that shook up a lot of assumptions about how the Marine Corps would fight and therefore how it needed to equip itself. Most noticeable in the document was a step back from the long-stated requirement for 38 amphibious warships to transport two Marine Expeditionary Brigades into battle.
“We must acknowledge that different approaches are required given the proliferation of anti-access/area denial A2AD threat capabilities in mutually contested spaces. Visions of a massed naval armada nine nautical miles off-shore preparing to launch the landing force in swarms of ACVs, LCUs, and LCACs are impractical and unreasonable.”
As the service started making sense of what the Commandant was calling for, it became clear that the service would want to get into theater by means other than just traditional amphibious warships – something smaller than a Whidbey Island-class LSD but larger than an LCU connector – to provide more flexibility to the force and to confuse the adversary.
The concept of something like an Offshore Support Vessel came up, with the idea being that it would look more like commercial vessels to enemy radars and would confuse their ability to target Marines amidst littoral and blue water marine traffic.
Unmanned vehicles could serve to move goods around the theater and to serve as decoys, leadership has said, again serving to create flexibility for operators and confusion for the enemy. Requirements for this smaller alternate ship and long-range unmanned surface vessel have not yet been written and passed along to Naval Sea Systems Command to begin working on, but conversations are ongoing between the Navy and Marine Corps to figure out exactly what features the Marines need and how to begin to engage industry on these programs.
“Marine Corps Embarking on Major Effort to Equip Infantrymen with Gear Based on New Tech”
As the military is undergoing probably the largest modernization in the infantry squad in the last 25 years, verything from optics to the weapons themselves are getting revamped.
The overhaul will significantly change how the Marine Corps fights and manoeuvres on the battlefield, as well as increase the lethality of infantrymen.
For example, the service is currently seeking a new rocket motor.. It is decreasing the number of tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided anti-tank missiles in the infantry battalion from eight to four and increasing the number of Javelins from eight to 12.
With that increase in the number of Javelins we need reliable motors that are low cost.”
Another area of interest is a new suppressor for rifles. “The intent is to suppress every M4, M4A1 and M27 in the infantry community. Our intent there is to move quickly and find the best possible suppressor we can that is good enough in order to move out in a quick enough fashion.”
Another top priority for the infantry weapon program office is the dual-tube, white phosphorus squad binocular night-vision goggle.
The service is also working on a new squad common optic that will be outfitted on the M27 to give Marines greater fidelity. The Marine Corps plans to field the optic to every infantry rifle platoon in order to give them an automatic capability.
The Service is also looking for a slew of new gear that Marines can wear.
“Part of our business in infantry combat equipment is outfitting Marines for battle with everything from uniforms to body armor to load-bearing equipment. making them look good, but also allowing them to operate safely and effectively” in any environment.
“Like everyone, we want it cheaper, better, faster. We also want something that’s scalable.” The service doesn’t want to have different sets of gear or armor for different missions, but rather modular pieces.
The current uniform is performing well, but the service wants to combine some capabilities. For example, the Marine Corps’ fire-resistant organizational gear, or FROG suits, work well in vehicles but are not well suited for walking through woods because they can give off short-wave infrared signatures that the enemy can spot.
“We stand out a lot and that’s kind of bad when you’re trying to camouflage someone. “We’re looking at bringing all of those things together — a lightweight, durable uniform that has FR and SWIR” concealment,
The service is also looking for a new lightweight tropical uniform that can be worn in hot and humid conditions. On the other side of the coin, the program office also wants new cold weather gear.
“If you look at where we’ve been for, say, the last 20 years, it’s kind of been hot and dry, but the service is now preparing for potential operations in environments that will have a very different climate.
A new intense cold weather boot is required.
“The seabag-issue boot works well down to 20 degrees” Fahrenheit. “The ‘Mickey Mouse’ boot — the big, rubber black one — works well, minus 20 or below. But it makes your foot really hot and sweaty in between so that’s not so good.”
To fill that gap, the service is looking for a boot that can be worn in temperatures between minus 20 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The Marine Corps recently conducted testing with new boots and found some that worked well. However, challenges still remain.
Because of suede material on the footwear, “once they get wet on the outside they stay wet, and that just transmits the cold to the Marine’s feet, so they don’t like it so much. “In the dry cold it works great, stays well insulated — so we’re looking for something that works a little bit better in those wet, slushy conditions.”
The service is also mulling over new general purpose boots. “We have some good boots, … but we’re always looking for better.”
Additionally, the Corps is considering a “grunt boot” that would be specifically crafted for Marines working in infantry operations.
“What we keep running into is, we’ll find a boot that works well in one circumstance, but maybe not so in another or the durability sufferers.”
Many of the Marine Corps requirements are still undefined.