The Marines don't want new tech to weigh grunts down

Keep it small, keep it simple, make it work. It’s what Marine Corps leaders want industry leaders and research and development agencies to keep in mind when making the latest and greatest tech for grunts on the battlefield, a top general said March 6, 2018.

Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said the service was interested in high-end electronics and robotics, but said he didn’t want to increase the load of ground combat Marines by adding on advanced gear.

“Technology is great, until you have to carry it, and you have to carry the power that drives it,” said Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

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Walters said members of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, the service’s experimental infantry battalion, has been the first to test and field small tech and weapons. The service is interested in the new technology, but continues to keep the size and weight of new systems in mind, he said.

The Marine Corps Program Executive Officer Land Systems delivered 144 Utility Task Vehicles to the regiment-level starting in February 2017 (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Private 1st Class Rhita Daniel)

“Reorganizing for the future is what’s happening right now and robotics is clearly someplace where we’re investing,” Walter told audiences during the annual “Defense Programs” conference hosted by defense consulting firm McAleese & Associates.

In a few months, 3/5 will debut its latest report on findings and lessons learned from using the newer tech, such as handheld drones and quadcopters, he said.

“But we’re not waiting,” Walters said at the event in Washington, D.C.

New, powerful equipment needs to be leveraged even more so than it is now, Walters said, adding, “they need to be more consumable.”

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“We have 69 3D printers out and about throughout a mix of battalions,” Walters said. This added gear, he said, has made Marines more agile when they need to replace a broken part or create an entirely new solution for an old design.

3D Printing. Photo by Jonathan Juursema.

3D Printing. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jonathan Juursema)

“We have to have the speed of trust in our young people to seize and hold the technological high ground,” Walters said.

Amid the push for new tech, officials have been working to lessen the load for Marines who have been inundated with more equipment in recent years even as the service grows more advanced with streamlined resources.

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For example, program managers have said they’re looking for a lighter, more practical alternative to the Corps’ iconic ammunition can.

Scott Rideout, program manager for ammunition at Marine Corps Systems Command, told industry leaders in 2016 that the rectangular can may be due for an upgrade.

Rideout, at the time, made the case during the Equipping the Infantry Challenge at Quantico that emerging technologies — such as the logistics drones that Walters mentioned March 6, 2018 — may also put limits on how much a future delivery of ammunition can weigh.

The calculus is simple, Rideout said: “Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.”