Modern Day Marine 2015: Hard times.  Hard choices.

Modern Day Marine 2015: Hard times. Hard choices.

ABOVE: Cased Telescoped. A useful comparison of the initial 5.56mm CT Squad Auto Weapon and a mockup of the 7.62mm Medium Machine Gun in the foreground. Note also their compact, lightweight, plastic linked and plastic cased telescoped cartridges as compared with conventional ammo with heavy steel links and brass cases. “Scalability” of the original weapon and ammo design makes for efficiency in producing a much more powerful package. Photo by Robert Bruce

Everything we do is about warfighting,” Neller said. “We don’t do anything that won’t make us more ready and effective on the battlefield.” General Robert B. Neller, 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps

It was no coincidence that four star General Neller toured the enormous exhibit tents at Modern Day Marine Expo on September 24, 2015, the very first day of his new assignment as Commandant. This is, after all, the place to see in person the best of what Marines have to move, shoot and communicate now and perhaps in the near future.

That same day, addressing a packed briefing hall at the “Crossroads of the Corps,” Neller seemed to throw down a metaphorical iron glove to assure his highly esteemed Marines there and those deployed worldwide that the Corps under his stewardship would put combat readiness first.

While this time-honored priority would seem chiseled in stone, many in the Corps and in its sister services can’t be blamed for believing that demonstrably hostile agendas, pushed at the highest levels of domestic political power, degrade combat effectiveness.

The ugly realities of crippling budget cuts and radical social engineering over nearly a decade have combined to stress a necessarily shrinking Corps to a dangerous degree. The Herculean challenge to do more with less – always a bedrock Marine Corps virtue – may be approaching critical mass.

Hoverbike. With the simplicity of a motorcycle and the freedom of a helicopter, Hoverbike is touted as the world’s first flying motorcycle, under development as a new class of Tactical Reconnaissance Vehicle (TRV). Plans to mount a light machine gun for the operator are, thankfully, being considered. Survice Engineering and U.K.-based Malloy Aeronautics have teamed up as part of an ongoing research and development contract with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Survice Engineering

Briefings big and small

Reaching out to industry partners helps take up the slack, and the Corps wisely uses the annual Expo as an efficient venue for meaningful interaction. This year, in addition to MARCOR Systems Command’s traditional Report to Industry, four additional panels were added, with General officers and top-level civilians highlighting trends in Marine Corps force development:

Building the Future Marine Corps: Harnessing Innovations Across the MAGTF
Building From the Sea: Future Amphibious Operations by Sea, Air, Land, and Cyber
Marine Corps Special Operations Brief
Marine Corps Small Business Programs Office

Spyderco. Michael Janich of Spyderco showed us (top to bottom) the SzaboHawk, the Street Beat, and the covert Dog Tag Folder. SzaboHawk is a modern tomahawk designed to excel as both a tool and a close-combat weapon. Constructed from a solid billet of .300-inch-thick D2 tool steel, it features a curved handle that places its center of balance approximately midway along its length, making it faster in the hand than conventional head-heavy designs. The Street Beat Lightweight’s Bowie-styled blade is machined from VG-10 stainless steel and features a full-flat grind for superior balance of edge geometry and strength. For tactical users who operate in environments where light discipline is a concern, the blade also features a non-reflective black ceramic coating. The Dog Tag Folder is fabricated from solid titanium and accurately replicates the size and shape of a military dog tag. An alternate version features a handle machined from a solid piece of black carbon fiber/G-10 laminate with an inlaid detent spring arm. The blade and all metal hardware have a matching black titanium carbonitride coating. Photo by Robert Bruce

Nuts and Bolts

And, reviving the Planning Brief to Industry, a popular forum from 2012, Systems Command and PEO Land Systems provided registered exhibitors the opportunity learn what’s in the field with Marines now, what’s in the pipeline, and what’s needed in the near future to enhance warfighting at individual and unit levels.

Among nine specific Program Managers, our attention is naturally on those for Ammunition and Infantry Weapons. Be advised that immediate opportunities for significant ammo acquisition by the Corps include 5.56mm SESAMS cartridges and 9mm blanks.

On the Infantry Weapons side, a $9 million cut in the budget for traditional hole-punching weapons is slightly offset by a million dollar plus-up for “non-lethal.” Cynics may be forgiven for seeing both as an obvious response to directives from a politicized Pentagon for kinder and gentler operational encounters.

Actual briefing slides from these and other PMs can be found and downloaded from SYSCOM’s website Click the COMMAND BRIEFINGS bar.

Also there you can find the 2016 ACQUISITION FORECAST.

For specific solicitations and contract awards at FEDBIZOPS and elsewhere, Defense Innovation Marketplace is a comprehensive resource:

HK VP9. No doubt hard to beat if entered in the XM17 Modular Handgun System competition, the exciting new VP9 is Heckler & Koch’s latest handgun. Breaking new ground with its integration of a unique striker firing system with an enhanced HK “light pull” trigger, unequaled in any production striker fired handgun. It also uses HK’s ergonomic handgun grip design that includes three changeable backstraps and six side panels— accommodating all hand sizes. Molded finger grooves in the front of the pistol’s grip also instinctively position an operator’s hand for optimal shooting. All controls are completely ambidextrous. Slide releases are on both sides of the frame and the magazine release can be easily activated by left- or right-handed shooters. For female shooters with reduced hand strength, patented charging supports mounted on each side of the rear of the slide provide better gripping leverage for racking the slide rearward. It uses standard P30 magazines, has a Picatinny rail molded into its polymer frame for mounting lights and accessories and the proprietary captive flat recoil spring helps reduce the recoil forces. The respected cold hammer forged barrel with polygonal rifling ensures long service life as well as a slight increase in muzzle velocity. Its machined steel slide is protected from corrosion and wear by HK’s hostile environment finish and all metal components, including springs and pins have superior metallurgy. Photo by Robert Bruce

Essential face time

An efficient change to in-person meetings went into effect this year. Following each of the Planning Brief to Industry sessions, there was the opportunity to register for a one-on-one meeting right at the Expo with the proper Program Manager one is looking to reach. Registration was done via online form on the MDM website at the conclusion of each session.

Targeted to purveyors of grunt gear, Systems Command’s sprawling exhibit in Tent B included an ongoing “Integration with Industry Workshop,” where individual exhibitors could showcase and demonstrate equipment intended to be worn or carried by dismounted Marines.

Beyond the usual “show ‘n tell,” this involved actually adorning a combat-ready Marine’s standard outfit with whatever gadget or gear enhancement was being offered. An expert panel then provided a “usability assessment” right on the spot.

Guns and ammo, sights and accessories

In spite of the Corps’ shrinking procurement budget, the expo was once again filled with thousands of items needed for expeditionary warfare, an ongoing challenge to SADJ’s mission to find and report on the best in guns and related gear for infantrymen. This year’s roster included weapons from prominent and emerging names like Beretta, Colt, FN, HK,, Glock, HK, Knight’s, Magpul, S&W, Sig Sauer, and Troy.

CSR-20. FN calls its new CSR-20 (Compact Sniper Rifle) “the future of advanced combat precision sniper rifles.” Derived from combat-proven architecture of the FN SCAR family of weapons, the CSR-20 provides a highly reliable, accurate and modular weapon system designed for easy operator and armorer level maintenance. Chambered in 7.62x51mm, it features a sub-MOA, 16-inch, cold hammer-forged, chrome-lined barrel, monolithic aluminum receiver, and non-folding stock with adjustable cheekpiece. It’s seen topped here with an optional Leupold MK6. Photo by Robert Bruce

Handgun hopefuls

While relatively small potatoes in the world of mega military contracts, the tantalizing prospect for yet another back-from-the-dead appearance of an M9 sidearm replacement program always has our interest. So when the Army announced just a couple of weeks before MDM that it is seeking bids for the new XM17 Modular Handgun System we were on the hunt.

While pistol pushers there were understandably wary of revealing too much to competitors, we zeroed in on likely contenders from Beretta, S&W, SIG, Glock, HK, and FN. Given the Army’s inscrutable evaluation procedures, no sane writer should speculate on which combo of pistol, ammo and feed mechanism might prevail. If any…

TORC. Standing center stage on the Robotics side of MCWL’s exhibit, this tracked mini platform from Polaris Defense is fitted an optional M240 machine gun and the TORC (Tele-Operated Robotic) system as a wireless robotic remote control support vehicle. It incorporates a user-friendly and intuitive operator control that can be customized to meet varied operational needs. Multiple camera options, including fixed, PTZ, EO/IR, thermal and low light options are available for full 360 degree awareness around the vehicle, eliminating any blind spots. The operator control unit (OCU) is matched to customer needs, and ranges from a belly box or rugged laptop to an exact replica of the vehicle’s operator chair and controls. TORC’s tele-op system has been integrated onto multiple Polaris vehicles, all of which have different missions and payloads that can be controlled remotely with the TORC robotic systems as well. and Photo by Robert Bruce

Lethal lipstick

Ever hopeful year after year at MDM for some big news about LSAT, the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies program at Textron/AAI that we have doggedly followed from its inception more than a decade ago, we stopped by to talk with program engineer Ben Cole.

Mature in design and well proven in numerous hard-knocks evaluations as a Squad Automatic Weapon firing 5.56mm “lipstick tube” plastic cased, telescoped ammo, this contender to replace the M249 – along with a prototype Carbine to hopefully boot the M16/M4 series weapons – still remains on the sidelines.

The good news for overburdened grunts seeking relief from lugging anvil-heavy M240s is that a prototype of an LSAT medium machine gun firing 7.62mm plastic telescoped ammo is up and running.

Oh, and the program itself, optimistically funded all these years by the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, has been rebranded as “Cased Telescoped Weapons and Ammunition.”

Zion MIS B. Zion Armament weapon designer Eric Tonkin is justifiably proud of his MIS B, the Monolithic Integral Suppressed Barrel. It is a reinvention of the relationship between the suppressor and rifle, made from a single piece of billet material with no welding, threading, screwing, attaching etc. The MISB is said to be quieter, lighter, stronger and reduces recoil better than any other rifle on the market. Photo by Robert Bruce

Shusssssh and see

Short of alchemy, there seems little that can be newly conjured to significantly enhance effectiveness of existing guns and ammo. So innovations in such things as signature suppressors command attention. Among other quiet can contrivances, we urge you to check out Zion Armament’s Monolithic Integral Suppressed Barrels ( and the new TranQuilo M308 suppressor from LaRue.

Sights too, particularly for multi-weapon commonality, night and foul weather applications. As such, we commend Aimpoint for their computing DURS, as well as new clip on thermal sights from Knight’s (UNS-Ts) and Flir (HISS-XLR). Don’t overlook items from L3, Leupold, Schmidt & Bender, Trijicon, and more.

Other firms, offering innovative weapon sights, ammo, accessories, edged weapons, and more enjoy not only our attention, but that of seasoned Marines of all ranks swarming the aisles. Word of particularly notable items gets around quickly and reps from Geissele, Nammo, Surefire, Rheinmetall, Spyderco, Benchmade, Ontario, Otis, and many others were kept busy with show and tell duties.

Trijicon MRO. Mike Walkowiak, Trijicon Operations Manager, shows Staff Sergeant Matthew Traywick the new Trijicon MRO™ (Miniature Rifle Optic), intended for use on rifles, carbines and shotguns to provide fast target acquisition. The 2 MOA red LED aiming dot is powered by a single CR2032 battery, capable of providing up to 5 years of continuous use at the day setting. Its large aperture and tapered light path maximizes the viewing area, giving better situational awareness and faster fast target engagement – especially from non-standard shooting positions. It boasts ambidextrous brightness controls, sub-flush adjusters, advanced lens coatings, and a fully sealed, waterproof to 30 meters, hard anodized forged 7075-T6 housing. Photo by Robert Bruce

Train as you fight

Always on the lookout for GI entrepreneurs who have transitioned to the civilian world to develop and market items clearly superior to those in service, we made it a point to locate ex-Army NCO Jon Ford in the Small Business Pavilion. His Advanced Tactical Training System has some demonstrable advantages in economy, simplicity, versatility, and realism over AirSoft, Simunition, Paintball, and MILES systems.

Pushing the lethality/reality envelope with a CQB gunfighting trainer using actual service weapons and ammo, the partnership of giant General Dynamics IT and small firm Troysgate has produced the InForce Advanced Live Combat Training System. Real operators with real weapons exchange fire with live threat counterparts each shooting real bullets right thru a giant mirror-like screen in tailorable scenarios. Computers precisely sense hits or misses in real time and video cameras record everything for after action review.

Combat Action’s ATTS. Jon Ford, the retired US Army NCO who developed Combat Action’s Advanced Tactical Training System (AATS) explains how its highly realistic M16/M4 type training weapons work with proprietary sensors on the special tactical vest. ATTS fires an infrared data packet with a standalone network allowing the custom programmed server to track all data in real-time during active training scenarios. ATTS software features live GPS waypoint information, live interactive mapping, live mission data, live indirect fire simulation, live IED simulation, live communications, indoor and outdoor setup modes, quick mission setup, and more. With decided advantages over competing systems like MILES, Simunition and AirSoft, its unique training system does not require any extra protective equipment, allowing soldiers and law enforcement officers to train in a realistic environment. Photo by Robert Bruce


Exhibits by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and Office of Naval Research (ONR) are mandatory stopovers, never disappointing. Once again, robot warriors were the focus, with recent favorites MAARS, the little machine gun-toting Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System crawler, and LS3, the mule-like walking quadruped. These are now joined by Spot, DARPA’s mechanical scout dog and the Robotic Vehicle Modular, a tailorable tracked platform intended to support infantry squads.

The Navy claims ownership of the Marines, so cutting edge research and development at ONR deserves respect and attention. While this super high tech command has lots of spooky projects in the works, we gun guys are most interested in things that punch holes; one
way or another.

One way is the hole-burning GBAD, ONR’s vehicle-mounted, aerial drone-killing laser system, getting better and better. Another way is EMRG, the decidedly unconventional Electromagnetic Railgun, a giant, kinetic energy puncher that is even more spectacular. The railgun is a long-range weapon that launches projectiles at hypervelocity using electricity instead of chemical propellants. It is currently undergoing sea trials aboard the joint high-speed vessel USNS Millinocket.

Magpul Hunter 700. Magpul Industries’ Drake Clark answers questions from Marine Corporal Dylan Fitzgerald about the Hunter 700 Stock for Remington 700 Short Actions. Made from reinforced polymer and an anodized aluminum bedding block, it offers users a cost effective replacement featuring fully adjustable length of pull, comb height, and enhanced ergonomics. It requires no bedding and is a true “drop-in” solution for the end user*. This stock is also M-LOK compatible to accept a broad range of accessories. Photo by Robert Bruce

Tent City

Billed as “the world’s largest military exposition focusing on enhanced capabilities for expeditionary forces,” this year’s Modern Day Marine Expo was held from September 23rd to 25th aboard Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.

Co-sponsored by the base, the Marine Corps League, and Marine Corps Systems Command, the 35th annual MDM showcased the products and services of more than 300 firms and entities/companies that support military land, air and sea operations.

Exhibits at this year’s exposition filled three enormous, modern, climate-controlled tents, as well as others showcasing small business and housing briefings. These, and adjacent space in the outdoor display area, were packed with the latest operational equipment and technology, along with videos, models and prototypes of items soon to enter service.

Defense contractors from throughout the U.S. and some allied nations signed on to show their products and services, get feedback from the warfighters, and respond to questions.

Much of the equipment now used by Marines and other U.S. and allied forces confronting enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world was first presented to military leaders, operations planners and acquisition managers at previous editions of the expo.

Instant Eye Drone. Tim Debs of Darley Defense with the Instant Eye Drone, a high-performance, low-cost aerial system that can be hand launched and recovered by a single person in any weather. The quadcopter weighs less than one pound and can go from a stowed configuration to airborne in under 30 seconds to provide rapid situational awareness and tactical sensor operation for 30 minutes. No piloting skills are required to operate the InstantEye system in day/night conditions, in winds up to 30mph, or from a moving ground or maritime position. Photo by Robert Bruce

“Crossroads of the Marine Corps”

Strategically located about 30 minutes’ drive south of Washington DC, America’s capitol city with powerful lawmakers, the Pentagon, numerous defense contractors, and foreign embassies, MCB Quantico is an ideal Expo location.

It is home of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, charged with developing Marine warfighting concepts and determines the Corps’ capability requirements for doctrine, equipment, organization, training, education and support.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory at Quantico is part of the Development Command and responsible for improving current and future naval expeditionary warfare capabilities for the Marines and their amphibious roles and missions.

Also at Quantico is Marine Corps Systems Command, principal agency for acquisition and sustainment of systems and equipment for the Marines’ warfighting mission. Many of the personnel who staff those organizations took advantage of continuously-running shuttle buses to visit the exhibit halls and discuss missions, capabilities and requirements with defense industry professionals.

Knight Vision UNS-TS. At the Knight’s Armament booth, Jack Leuba was enthusiastic about the many virtues of the new Knight Vision UNS-TS (Universal Night Sight – Thermal Sniper), seen here mounted in tandem with a Leupold MK6 1-6 x on Knight’s SR15 Mod 2 LPR The UNS-TS Clip on Weapon Sight adds long range, high resolution (640×480, 17µ) thermal capability to an existing rifle and day scope. It offers reduced target acquisition times and improves solider effectiveness both daylight and clear air conditions as well as degraded visibility conditions caused by adverse weather, dirty battle field conditions and complete darkness. It’s SWaP-C (size, weight and power – cost) architecture design represents a quantum leap forward in soldier systems product technology. In addition to this uncooled VGA video format array, the UNS-Ts also incorporates a patent pending Ultra-Wideband wireless radio communications system using multiple imagery display methodologies (goggle, helmet mounted, remote display, etc.) so that it can be used 1) in conjunction with a DVO interconnectivity, such that the UNS-Ts display output imagery serves as the input for the DVO, 2) as a stand-alone rail mounted Weapon Sight or 3) as a Hand- Held imager. Photo by Robert Bruce

Honors and Awards

With so many high-level Marine leaders converging on the Expo, several important ceremonial events are conveniently scheduled to coincide.

Congressman Mac Thornberry, (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and tireless advocate for the Marine Corps, received the Iron Mike Award at Tuesday evening’s Grand Banquet and Awards Dinner.

At Wednesday morning’s colorful Enlisted Awards Parade, featuring the world-renowned USMC Drill Team and Drum and Bugle Corps, ten outstanding Marines and one Navy Corpsman were honored.

For us, the Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock Award for outstanding contribution to marksmanship training is most prominent among these, this time going to Sergeant Joseph S. Peterson of Marine Corps Training Command, Weapons Training Battalion, Marine Corps Shooting Team in 2014.

Streamlight TLR-6. Streamlight’s Matt Barker showed us the new TLR-6 Universal combo laser and light module that can be tailored with any of 6 housings to for use with more than 18 different handguns. With a C4® LED illuminator and a 640-660nm red laser 100 lumens; 2,000 candela; 89 meter beam distance. Uses two CR1/3N lithium batteries and runs 1 hour (LED only or LED/laser combo); 11 hours (laser only). Its parabolic reflector produces a balance of beam and peripheral illumination; optimized electronics provide regulated intensity; red laser provides long-range targeting. Ambidextrous switching with push-button on both sides to access three modes: Laser only, Laser/LED combo, LED illumination only All modes feature a 10 minute auto shut-off to conserve batteries. Photo by Robert Bruce
MAGPUL PMAG D-60. Could the new MAGPUL PMAG D-60 be the answer to firepower enhancement of the Marine Corps’ HK416/M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle? This is a durable, lightweight, highly reliable 60-round 5.56x45 NATO polymer drum magazine for AR15/M4 compatible weapons. The unique drum configuration keeps the height of the magazine manageable as well as allowing for prone firing and easier storage. Features an easy-to-use loading lever, paint pen dot matrix for easy marking, and a rear window for instant capacity indication. It’s compatible with a wide range of NATO firearms such as the M4, M16, SCAR™ MK16/16S, HK®416, MR556, M27 IAR, IMI Tavor, and others. Photo by Robert Bruce
Troy American Gunfighter Rifle. Alyssa Fuentes of Troy Defense with their feature-packed, specially priced American Gunfighter Rifle. Easily a $1500 value, it’s being offered at the deeply discounted price of just $854; exclusively to individual U.S. active or retired federal, state and local law enforcement officers, as well as military active duty, reserve component, and retired. Recently, the program has been expanded to include active, part-time, on call, volunteer and retired Fire and EMS personnel. The TROY Defense 5.56 features a free-float modular rail system with integrated front sight, MIL-SPEC bolt and carrier with upgraded extractor, MIL-SPEC forged upper and lower receiver, TROY BattleAx 6 position buttstock (fixed or folded), Melonite coated 1/7 twist 5.56 barrel, TROY Medieval Flash Suppressor, TROY Rear Folding BattleSight, and TROY 30 Round BattleMag.  Available in Black only at special pricing. and Photo by Robert Bruce