The unit is the first fully manned deploying unit in the Marine Corps at the 15-Marine rifle squad configuration. The move is an effort to put more capabilities in the squad, which some see as the base of the fight in a future battlefield that may require small numbers of Marines to operate in contested areas with a lot of firepower at their fingertips.
Experimentation with different squad sizes, gear and weapons began several years ago, and recommendations ranged widely as to what changes would happen in a military element that’s remained largely unchanged for at least seven decades.
At the same time, the Corps is changing some training requirements, shifting retention strategies and adding hefty bonuses to keep critical corporals and sergeants in the squad leader role as they try and transform the infantry.
Marines noiiced an immediate difference with two more Marines and the gear his squad carried. The first was that by having the assistant squad leader at his disposal, the first fire team had better leadership and he had more time to focus on the “point of friction.” and manoeuvre his fire teams and cover more ground by delegating fires and other communications work off to his assistant.
“We’re realizing we need to be spread out more. Dispersion’s a lot better and we’re not losing command and control with that dispersion.”
And 15 Marines means two more guns in the fight.
“So that’s a lot of people so there’s always rounds going downrange. Just the simple ranges, normally where there will be a lull with the guns going off, there hasn’t been a lull. There’s always somebody shooting, lead going downrange.”
The Bosses are seeing some of the advantages already from his battalion level.
“The assistant squad leader is a hybrid, somewhere between comms and fires.”
The battalion filled out one platoon per company in the 15-Marine model as the accepted Marines from both the fleet and School of Infantry before compositing with the MEU.
The initial exercises, which included weapons and tactics instruction, allowed the commander to see the 15-Marine model in action with some of what will be the full kit to complement the new approach.
While the battalion wasn’t at full strength and didn’t have all of the new gear to play with, it did have enough to do platoon on platoon fights and employ a basic tool now at their disposal — a squad level drone.
During realistic urban training they were able to use the quadcopter in many of their raids, launching it over their combined anti-armor team foes, who they later learned never heard nor saw the small quadcopter drone.
That drone, the Instant Eye, has about a half hour flight time with no payload. It’s ranges depend on the terrain, dense brush can affect the signal but open desert allows for greater distances.
Though a payload can cut the flight time in half, that payload is often worth it because it includes thermal cameras, which make opposing troops easy to spot.
“It’s so much better using the payload. Instead of looking for little things in the trees, we just use thermals.”
And the device controller stores all of the recorded video for playback later and in case the drone is captured or destroyed, no mission information can be recovered by adversaries.
Each squad has a squad systems operator who will not only run the drone or potentially future unmanned ground systems but also work tactical level counter-improvised explosive device equipment and electronic warfare jamming gear.
Those two options are already a sea change in what Marines have seen on past deployment.
In the past there might be a few RQ-11 Raven drones on hand within the battalion. In recent years those have trickled down to the company level and are still one asset in a larger, layered drone approach.
But never before, except in experimentation, has there been a squad level overhead capability. And that is critical in how the battalion hopes to fight.
“The information Marines can get from that really facilitates manoeuvre warfare. And that’s to do with what the high-tech can add to the basic tasks of the infantryman.
“Speed can be security. If you have the ability to see where the enemy isn’t it allows you to move faster. It contributes to decision-making.”
And it can lead to some unorthodox action.
Putting new tech in the hands of younger Marines brings about some new approaches on how to use that tech. Marines saw that in battalion field exercise when one squad used the quadcopter as a decoy.
“Rather than flying it right over opposing force, they flew in the opposite direction from where the attack was going to come. Marines come up with stuff that will surprise you.”
Another tactic the drone operators have adopted in urban settings is to land the drone on a rooftop or ledge. Then then can cut the propellers to save batteries and not make noise but still use the cameras to observe the scene.
Along with the squad drones, each of the Marines in the squad will carry the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, except for one, which will carry the M38, a more highly accurized M27 with an advanced rifle optic.
That gives the squad better range and a designated marksman in the ranks.
At the same time, each squad will have a grenadier with the new M320 grenade launcher, which users have said is more accurate and also takes the front-load problems off of the Marine’s main rifle.
Though Marines haven’t gotten them yet, commanders expect that the unit will carry the Carl Gustaf 84 mm recoilless rifle.
The wider Marine Corps plan is to have one per squad and that will replace the current positioning, which uses a 0351 infantry assault Marine that resides at weapons company in assault sections that are tasked out to the platoons for greater anti-armor firepower.
The unit is also taking the Squad Common Optic and new binocular night vision devices that drastically increase clarity and swap the old green tinted view for white phosphorous imaging, providing greater depth and clarity on night ops.
The single-button optic is easier to use and can last up to 48 hours on a single battery charge.
Beyond the equipment and new positions, the Marines in these beefed up squads also are seeing more training. Assistant squad leaders are pursuing joint fires observes path within the new formation. but it’s not a prerequisite for all squad leaders
Marines have linked up with local artillery trainers to put as many Marines as they can fit into the joint fires primer course. While not the fully certified school, the primer course gets Marines exposed to the concepts and prepared for doing those missions.
And training methodologies for those have advanced. Prep work includes online courses to weed out those who might not pass the full course. Virtual trainers and simulations have come a long way from how Johnson and others in his generation were trained.
During a squad leader course the training included a model jet fighter on a stick that was “flown” over a terrain map and when fake bombs were deployed instructors would drop a marble then mark hits with a cotton ball to practice adjusting fire.
A leadership task force has helped redirect funding into better weapons, optics, body armor and training to the infantry and close combat formations in both services. It has also begun an extensive review of training modalities, recruiting and retention to form a “Close Combat 100,000” priority for projects that affect the ground combat element.
But as always, many challenges remain for Grunts.
Some of the changes are being made to the fundamental makeup of the Marines’ smallest ground units. A rifle squad has typically consisted of 13 Marines.
Each squad includes three fire teams of four Marines each, built around a single automatic weapon and led by a sergeant serving as squad leader. Fire teams include a corporal fire-team leader or grenadier, two lance corporals — one with an automatic rifle and another assisting — and a private or private first class serving as rifleman.
Under the Commandant changes, fire teams will now feature three Marines. All will be armed with an M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle with suppressors and improved optics.
Though fire teams are losing a Marine, they are gaining two automatic weapons, giving each squad a total of 12.
Two new positions — assistant squad leader and squad systems operator — are also being created for each squad. Rifle squads will keep an additional slot open for one rifleman per fire team should they need to add depth, but the positions will remain unmanned.
The new makeup of the squad will see a squad leader — who will remain a sergeant with five to seven years of experience and formal squad leader training — backed up by a corporal as an assistant, the statement said. The new squad-systems operator will be a lance corporal formally trained in a variety of technologies.
Fire teams will consist of corporals in the leadership role, backed by lance corporal grenadiers and automatic riflemen.
The changes will be implemented across all Marine infantry battalions over the next three to five years. The Commandant said this will ensure Marine Corps infantry formations remain the most “lethal, agile, and adaptable in the world.”
“We are going to change,” the Commandant said in the statement. “Not that we aren’t good; we are. But we must continually strive to get better.”
The Marines will also immediately begin distributing quadcopter drones to every squad. Platoons will gain a drone operator, and rifle companies will get a counter-drone section of five Marines.
Marine squads will also receive improved binocular night-vision devices and improved optics that include thermal capability and improved M320 grenade launchers.
Squads will also get handheld devices that provide a digital link to close-air support and adjacent units, and an M38 Squad Designated Marksmanship Rifle with a suppressor and variable 2.5-8 power optic, the statement said.
The M38 is not a sniper rifle, but provides improved identification and engagement of targets up to 600 meters away. Marines carrying it will be required to complete additional training on range estimation, scope theory and observation.
Beyond the squad level, Marine scout snipers are to receive the Mk13 Mod 7 Long Range Sniper Rifle.