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.
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
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 marcorsyscom.marines.mil 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: defenseinnovationmarketplace.mil/industryresources.html
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.
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…
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.”
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 (Zionarmament.com) 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.