“Everything that Marine wears -- from their boots to their socks to their utilities to their helmet -- is all going to be changed," the Commandant said. "We’ve got money now to do that, and so we’ve got to make it happen now. We’ve got to make it happen now, because I’m not going to make the assumption that that money’s going to be there.”
To conduct “distributed operations,” the Commandant said, the Marines are adding technical experts — in drones, intelligence, supply, and other specialties — to small units so they can operate more independently of higher headquarters. The tradeoff comes in old-fashioned firepower: Infantry squads will shrink from 13 Marines to 12, and infantry battalions will have fewer heavy-duty support weapons such as 81 mm mortars and TOW anti-tank missile launchers.
Not all the changes have been finalised, but pending a formal bulletin to the force, the Commandant outlined the following moves to a Marine Corps Association awards banquet:
Each rifle squad will get its own quadcopter mini-drone to scout ahead and a drone operator to run it. But the squad will shrink from 13 Marines (three fire teams of four plus a squad leader) to 12 --three fire teams of three plus a command team of squad leader, assistant squad leader, and “squad systems operator“.. Every rifleman will carry the new M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR), complete with flash suppressor, instead of the lighter and less powerful M4 or M16.
Each rifle platoon will also get a specialist drone operator. They and the platoon leadership will also get the M27.
Each company headquarters will get an intelligence cell — making permanent an improvisation from Afghanistan and Iraq — as well as drone operators for reconnaissance, counter-drone specialists to defeat enemy reconnaissance, and logisticians to keep the company supplied.
Each battalion will gain a combat engineer platoon and reshuffle its weapons company. The number of anti-tank teams with shoulder-fired Javelin missiles will increase from eight to 12, and the Javelin’s range will increase with an upgraded control unit. But the number of the heavier (and older) TOW missile launchers will drop by half, from eight to four, and the number of 81 mm mortars by a quarter, from eight to six. The weapons company will also get Polaris MRZR offroad vehicles to help haul its heavy gear. Their personnel, however, will stick with the old M4 carbine.
“I felt like we could afford to get a little bit lighter,” the Commandant said, “because of what I anticipate to be the increased range and lethality of weapons and because of other capabilities I think the squad platoon and company’s going to have like Switchblade.” Switchblade is a drone that can both scout for targets and dive on them, detonating itself (or you can think of it as a missile that can do reconnaissance).
Launching a Switchblade drone/missile
Even with the current generous budgets, the Commandant said tradeoffs are inevitable. “There’s risk ,” he acknowledged to reporters. “(But) remember we just added a company intel cell and a log cell….a UAV/counter-UAV team. I just added four Javelin teams (to the weapons company). I’ve got to pay for that.”
Some of these changes are already underway, the Commandant said, like issuing the M27. “We’ll start fielding the rifle as soon as the manufacturer can get it in their hands, and then other things are going to take longer,” he said. “Some things will be months. Some things will be longer. It’s not like we’re going to wake up tomorrow and this will all be in place.”
Marine firing M4 carbine
The M27 is basically a heavier M16, with greater firepower, longer range, and more robust mechanisms. (Specifically, it replaces the M16 family’s finicky gas impingement system with a conventional piston-based recoil). It was originally bought as the rifle squad’s high-firepower weapon, replacing the M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon, essentially a light machinegun). But now the Commandantwill issue it to every Marine in the infantry, reconnaissance, and combat engineers. The M4 carbines freed up this way will go to non-infantry troops. Eventually, Neller said of the M4, “it’s going to be the weapon that we’re going to give to everybody else because it’s a newer weapon and it’s lighter.”
The squad’s new drone operator will get the heavy-duty M27. “Right now, that Marine is still an infantryman,” the Commandant said. “They’re going to have to fight…They’re part of the squad,” with the same Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) as the other infantrymen.
In fact, the Commandantis issuing everyone in the rifle platoon the same weapon so enemy snipers can’t easily pick out, say, the drone specialist or the platoon leader. “I want everybody in the platoon to look the same. I don’t want any bad guy to go, hey this person or that person’s carrying this weapon, so shoot them first,” he said. “When I would do a battlefield circulation in Iraq (i.e. visiting frontline units), I always carried a carbine — and all my guys hoped to God I didn’t have to use it — but it was camouflage.”
There’s another tradeoff here: While the M4 carbine that became standard in Iraq and Afghanistan is significantly lighter than the M16 rifle, the M27 IAR is significantly heavier, even before you add the now-standard flash suppressor. Add mini-drones, night vision devices, laser designators, and other high-tech kit,
Marines train with the Javelin anti-tank missile
and the weight can wear infantry down on long marches.
So when the Commandanttalked to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, which experimented with a lot of the new gear now being issued Corps-wide, “their biggest concern was the same concern I had,” he said: “We’ve got too much stuff and it weighs too much. You can’t just keep loading stuff on.”
The Marines are reviewing every item that foot troops carry Neller said: “We’re going to get down to ounces.” He’s particularly optimistic about new forms of ammunition that replace metal cartridges with lightweight materials that are consumed in the act of firing, although those aren’t being fielded yet.
The changes announced last night are just the start. The Marines have a lot of technology in their long-term plans:
new long-range precision-guided missiles for the artillery, including ones capable of killing ships at sea, a project the Marines are working on with the Army;
miniaturised missile defenses for armored vehicles, called Active Protection Systems, to shoot down incoming anti-tank weapons, another joint Army-Marine effort
a ship-launched reconnaissance drone called MUX;
a new Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV) to bring F-35-like sensor and networking capabilities to the ground force;
new anti-aircraft defenses, including a quick-start Other Transaction Authority (OTA) initiative to integrate an off-the-shelf missile with existing Marine radars and command-and-control;
more tank companies and a new HIMARS rocket artillery battalion.
There’ll be plenty of small-scale improvements as well, the Commandant promised the audience at the dinner, as long as the current funding lasts — which may not be long, given the looming return of Budget Control Act caps in 2020.
“Everything that Marine wears — from their boots to their socks to their utilities to their helmet — is all going to be changed,” the Commandant said. “We’ve got money now to do that, and so we’ve got to make it happen now. We’ve got to make it happen now, because I’m not going to make the assumption that that money’s going to be there.”
The Marine Corps is making sweeping changes to the structure and equipment of its ground-combat forces aimed at improving lethality and agility on the battlefield.
Officially announced last week, the modifications are the result of nearly two years of study and experimentation known as Marine Corps Force 2025 and Sea Dragon 2025. the Commandantspoke about them earlier this month at a meeting for the service’s top officers and enlisted ground-combat leaders
Changes will be felt at almost every level of Marine Corps life.
The number of Marines in a rifle squad will be decreased from 13 to 12. The service will also add more automatic weapons, drones and all-terrain vehicles, while improving night optics, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired rockets.
The Marines are fast-tracking some of the changes, but others will be phased in over the next three to five years.
“The surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to dominate one,” the Commandant saidin a Marine Corps statement. “And that is what we are going to do.”
The Marines sent an experimental unit to Okinawa in May 2017 to test various unit sizes, concepts and technologies as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s ground-combat element.
A ‘better’ Marine Corps
Some of the changes are being made to the fundamental makeup of the Marines’ smallest ground units.
A rifle squad — whose mission is to “locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat,” a Marine Corps instruction said — 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, Capt. Ryan Alvis wrote in a statement. 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.
Late last month, the Marines awarded a contract for up to 15,000 M27s that will partially replace M4 carbine semiautomatic rifles, a Marine Corps statement said. The rifles cost about $1,300 each.
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 statement said. The Commandant saidthis will ensure Marine Corps infantry formations remain the most “lethal, agile, and adaptable in the world.”
“We are going to change,” the Commandantsaid in the statement. “Not that we aren’t good; we are. But we must continually strive to get better.”
21st century battlefield
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.
They will gain additional firepower and rocket range as the Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System, known as MAAWS or the “Carl Gustav,” replaces the Mk-153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon, or SMAW.
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, the statement said. That rifle is used by members of U.S. Special Operations Command.
Weapons companies will get four additional extended-range Javelin antiarmor missile systems, bringing their total to 12, to offset the loss of four wire-guided TOW missile systems, the statement said. Eventually, TOWs will be eliminated from Marine Corps battalions altogether.
The Marines also announced the elimination of two 81-mm mortar systems, bringing the total down to six; however, they will pack a bigger punch with extended ranges and ammunition improvements.
Marines should also see more Polaris MRZRs, an all-terrain vehicle that resembles a dune buggy.
Each rifle company will gain an operations/intelligence section, a logistics cell and small arms repair, the statement said. Marine battalions will add an information management officer and an information environment operations officer and chief to integrate “information warfare capabilities.”
Each infantry battalion will gain a forward air controller, which means each rifle company will have one assigned.
Plans also call for combat engineer squads to increase to 13 Marines and engineer platoons to be attached to each infantry battalion.
The Marines’ 2nd Tank Battalion will get an additional company while the service upgrades its M1A1 active protection systems and target acquisition and sensor suites, the statement said.
The service also plans to bring back 5th Battalion, 10th Marines as a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, battalion in fiscal year 2023.
The Marines also plan to field upgraded light armored vehicles with anti-tank capabilities
This year, two Army IBCTs and a not-yet-disclosed Marine unit will be testing four variants of a load-bearing robot vehicle within the dismounted formation for the next year.
During a technology demonstration focusing on Secretary of Defense push to make the close combat forces more lethal, officials with the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport showcased the four submissions. The vehicle is designed to take the burden off the soldier.
These two BCTs will be the first to put robotic vehicles in their formations
The autonomous ground vehicle is meant to be capable of carrying up to 1,000 pounds of gear over 60 miles in 72 hours.
Officials disclosed this week that a Marine unit at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will test the vehicles for the same period.
Each unit will get each of the variants to test.
Assessment began with evaluation of 10 systems at Fort Benning, which were narrowed down to four: the MRZR X, based off the Polaris MRZR, currently in service with the Marines; the General Dynamics 4x4 Multi-Utility Tactical Transport or MUTT; the Howe and Howe RS2-H and the HDT Global Hunter Wolf or Wheeled Offload Logistics Follower.
The MRZR X is a four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle; the MUTT is an eight-wheeled with a flatbed type of configuration. The Hunter WOLF is a six-wheeled vehicle that uses a morphed tire/track for traction; the RST2-H1 is the only tracked vehicle submission.
The testing moving forward is aimed at putting enough gear
nine-soldier squad ― nine rucks, two fuel jugs, two water jugs and three days’ worth of Meals Ready to Eat ― and carry batteries and charge them while on mission.
The three basic requirements for the vehicles are to carry 1,000 pounds, travel 60 miles in 72 hours and charge up at a 3-kilowatt rate while stationary and 1-kilowatt rate while moving, said Greg Colvin, technology demonstration engineer for the SMET program.
All four can be operated with a one-handed remote control, . Two can be driven through teleoperations or using non-line of sight maneuvering with onboard sensors and cameras.
The MRZR X is an “optionally manned” vehicle that can be driven either by a person in the vehicle or remotely controlled.
The vehicles will first stop at the Testing Command before being sent to the units in November for a year’s worth of testing.
Researchers will gather data and conduct interviews, providing quarterly reports on the use of the vehicles in the formations.
Following the year testing there will be an evaluation and potentially a down select to one vehicle, or a decision on whether one type of vehicle can fit all the squad load needs or if more than one type might be required.
Marines Zero In On Requirements for Future MUX Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
The Bell V-247 tiltrotor is an unmanned aerial system (UAS) that will combine the vertical lift capability of a helicopter with the speed and range of a conventional fixed-wing aircraft, and would provide long-endurance persistent expeditionary and surveillance and fires capabilities.
The Marine Corps has refined its vision for a large sea-based unmanned aerial system (UAS) after honing in on capability gaps the Marines most urgently need to fill.
Since creating a program of record for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) UAS Expeditionary (MUX) in the summer of 2016, the service has learned much about what it really needs, what industry can provide, and how to keep the program’s cost from becoming unmanageable.
MUX is meant to be a Group 5 UAS capability that launches from an amphibious ship or other ship and can land either on a flight deck or in an expeditionary airfield. This large system would supplement the Marines’ Group 3 RQ-21 Blackjack and the ongoing fielding of small quadcopters at the lowest levels of the infantry – dubbed “quads for squads.”
Though the MUX was originally given a lofty set requirements to perform seven distinct – and not necessarily complementary – mission sets, a March 8 request for information prioritized those missions. Tier 1 missions for the MUX are now early warning; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare; and communications relay. Offensive air support is now a Tier 2 mission, and aerial escort and cargo are listed as important but potentially being re-allocated to other systems in the MAGTF.
The ongoing Future Vertical Lift program is almost certain to cover the Marines’ aerial escort and cargo needs, according to wargames that have been recently conducted. Whatever cargo requirement is not met by Future Vertical Lift could be accomplished with the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter delivering goods in bulk or by a smaller UAS that the Marine Corps’ Installations and Logistics community is now working to develop, which would deliver smaller loads of supplies to distributed Marine forces.
“So what do we need from MUX? It is persistence and endurance and time on station, when put into the context of the MAGTF air combat element of the future: the CH-53K and the Future Vertical Lift to do major lifting, and the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter that would need a UAS that can keep up with their extended-range operations.
The decision to emphasize the four missions – and early warning in particular – was also in part due to how the threat set around the world has evolved and the “National Defense Strategy [that] dictates what missions and roles of the Marine Corps we should focus on.
It was also informed by industry feedback the Marine Corps solicited early on that said “you’re asking for too much, it’s going to cost too much,” The [initial capabilities document] we wrote was really all-encompassing.”
“We started really working with the contractors off the ICD and what we were kind of getting from them was, boy, this is a pretty big broad capability – this is going to be big and this is going to be expensive. They were almost looking to develop a V-22 unmanned sized and cost aircraft. So we looked at that and said, okay, that’s why we’ve got to work with industry more as we develop requirements.”
Ultimately, the new focus on persistence and endurance during these sensor-based missions will affect the shape of the vehicle that can best meet the MUX requirements as they stand today.
“When you put cargo lower, what that does is, you don’t have to have that dead space in the fuselage. That space can be used for fuel, for payload, for other sensors.“Instead of focusing on 3,000 or 4,000 pounds internally on cargo, it’s good to have that on the wings as electronic attack pod, or look at weapons – weapons take up a lot of your weight, a lot of your drag, so you want to have that capability. So it absolutely will influence the design.
Instead of the design having to have so much extra power to come in and deliver cargo … that’s a different model, different rotor. … What you get in efficiencies on slow-speed handling and takeoff, you’re giving up something in endurance. So there’s always a tradeoff, and if you prioritize this thing less on cargo and more on getting on the wing and have endurance at 300 or 700 miles” then industry can optimize the vehicle design for missions that will most benefit the MAGTF.
Much is yet to be decided about how the MUX will ultimately operate at sea, but a vision of MUX: the air vehicle fits into an H-60 hanger for storage and maintenance, and potentially even folds up to an H-1-sized vehicle so that two can be stored in the H-60 hangar. It operates off the San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks (LPD-17) – or even potentially a frigate, a destroyer or the Future Surface Combatant – and as many as three or four might deploy on the big-deck amphibious assault ships to provide greater support for forces ashore and for the Joint Force.
It provides persistent early warning and ISR coverage autonomously, and it could potentially have air vehicle command passed from the control station onboard a ship to V-22 or F-35B pilots nearby to more closely check out a target or to conduct a kinetic or non-kinetic attack.
Navy’s MQ-8 Fire Scout was scheduled to sundown around the time MUX would reach full fielding, so if the MUX program were executed correctly the Navy could adapt the system for its needs as well.
The RFI outlines a vehicle that would autonomously take off from and land on either an amphibious ship or an Expeditionary Sea Base such as the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), or from an unsurveyed austere 150-foot-by-150-foot landing zone; cruise at speeds of 200 to 300 knots with a full payload; maintain a minimum time on station of eight to 12 hours at 350 nautical miles from the ship; and fly 350 to 700 nautical miles from the ship unrefueled with a payload to conduct a mission.
Ultimately, MUX would be “the eyes and ears for most of the surface fleet. Absent AWACS (the Air Force’s E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System), absent E-2 (the Navy’s E-2C/D Hawkeye), it’s the best thing you have out there.”
The MQ-9 Reaper, costs about $15.8 million apiece for the airframe, which serves as a good goal for the MUX cost.
“We know [MUX] will probably be a little bit more than that because the capabilities are apples and oranges, and the vertical is another component” that adds cost, in addition to being sea-based versus land-based. But if the MUX cost grew too much beyond the Reaper cost, it could become unaffordable for the Marine Corps.
To further ensure the Marine Corps is moving down an affordable and technologically feasible path, the service will host an industry day. , it announced last week. After hearing from contractors – both those with prototypes already in development and those who just have an individual system or technology to contribute.
Marine Corps would likely go through multiple draft requests for proposals before releasing a final RFP to solicit industry bids. The analysis of alternatives should be completed in the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2019, with a downselect to two or potentially more contractors that the Marines will work with to develop the technology.
Ultimately, the Marines are hoping the program will reach initial operational capability in 2025 or 2026, and full operational capability by 2034. There may be some lag time between the IOC date and the system’s ability to operate off a ship due to shipboard integration test and certification requirements, but the RFI notes that the sea-based capability must be achieved by 2028. The RFI also notes the Marines are willing to use rapid acquisition authorities to achieve this timeline.
Three systems are in the prototype design phase and should begin flight testing soon – the Lockheed Martin Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) ducted fan UAS that will begin flight testing later this year, the Bell V-247 Vigilant unmanned tiltrotor scheduled for flights in the coming years, and the Northrop Grumman TERN tail-sitter UAV that will wrap up a prototype phase with DARPA in FY 2019 and then move into shipboard testing with the Navy’s Self-Defense Test Ship.
Additionally, some manufacturers have technologies for individual components of the UAS that have caught the Marine Corps’ interest. One contractor has a new two-speed transmission rotor design that would “revolutionise” tiltrotor technology by slowing down the hub and therefore achieving three times the range.
Overall, with the MUX program’s lofty goals and challenging timeline for something that’s so new – it’s like the V-22 not in terms of size or cost but rather the potential to overhaul how the military can conduct its missions so the pressure is on industry to step up.
“We are forcing them to take what they have and accelerate to get to this and make decisions over the next year, hopefully by the second quarter of FY 1’9. Downselecting to two, and then having a fair competition.”