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Need to Go Lighter Weighs Heavily on Marines

The nation’s warfighting capability comes down to the individual war-fighters on the battlefield, in the air, or at sea.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) sponsors science and technology (S&T) that is foundational for future naval capabilities. ONR’s ultimate customer is the warfighter. For the dismounted Marine and other members of the naval expeditionary force, investments in S&T are helping them become more lethal, survivable, safer, and smarter.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) in Quantico, Va., conducts concept-based experimentation to develop and evaluate tactics, techniques, procedures, and technologies in order to enhance Marine Corps warfighting capabilities. Together, ONR and MCWL are finding new and better ways to make warfighters safer, more effective, more efficient, and more lethal.

According to George Solhan, deputy chief of naval research for Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Science and Technology, where he serves as department head (ONR 30) and as the director of Marine Corps Science and Technology, ONR Code 30 has numerous projects across its portfolio to increase self-sufficiency for expeditionary personnel.

“To increase operational effectiveness, investment is made in protecting the closest asset to the fight – the individual warfighter,” Solhan said.

Since reducing the resources a unit consumes means that fewer resupply convoys are required, there is emphasis on making units more self-sufficient.

“Over the past decade, we have become more reliant on equipment sets resulting from the emergence of new threats, perhaps most notably the improvised explosive device [IED],” said the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, in testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in March. “This trend has resulted in the acquisition of some resources that are incompatible with the ethos of an agile, expeditionary force. To that end, we have begun an effort known as ‘Lightening the MAGTF,’ a measure aimed at reducing the size, weight, and energy expenditure of our forces from the individual rifleman to wholesale components of the MAGTF.”

The MAGTF refers to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, the principal organization for all missions across the range of military operations, composed of forces task-organized under a single commander.

In his March 2011 report to Congress, “The Posture of the United States Marine Corps,” Amos stated that the Marine Corps is leading the development of expeditionary energy solutions for the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy, “reducing energy demand in our platforms and systems, increasing the use of renewable energy, and instilling an ethos of energy and water efficiency in every Marine. Our priority is force protection – saving lives by reducing the number of Marines at risk on the road hauling fuel and water. We also aim to help Marines travel lighter and move faster through the reduction in size and amount of equipment and the dependence on bulk supplies.

“In February 2011, we issued a ‘Bases to Battlefield’ Expeditionary Energy Strategy Implementation Planning Guidance, which sets goals, performance metrics, and a plan for implementation by 2025. This strategy supports Congressional and Department of the Navy goals to increase energy security through the use of alternative fuels and energy efficiency,” the posture statement reads. “Since 2009 we have aggressively pursued renewable energy and energy efficient capabilities that will make Marine units more energy self-sufficient, and ultimately increase our combat effectiveness.”

Solhan said, “ONR Code 30 is researching portable fuel-analysis technology that can enable immediate analysis of local or captured fuel and use of that fuel, thereby enabling Marines to reduce the amount of fuel that is required to be transported to them in the field. Additional research aims at reducing maintenance of equipment though corrosion and wear prevention, thereby reducing the logistics burden and the associated transportation requirements for parts and equipment replacement. This increases Marine readiness in the field while reducing the logistics trail.”


Under a contract with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Lockheed Martin and Kaman successfully launch the unmanned K-MAX from the pad with a 1,500-pound sling load during flight tests at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., January 2010. Lockheed Martin photo

Code 30 is looking at autonomous air cargo systems that, while not making Marines self-sufficient, enable efficient logistics delivery to small units.

The Navy is reviewing proposals for use of unmanned helicopters such as cargo unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS) in Afghanistan and other theaters of operation where larger aircraft or truck convoys would be required to resupply forward operating bases. Often these bases have relatively small teams of Marines in very remote locations with the possibility of hostile forces nearby.

MCWL is also pushing ahead with the development of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), such as an unmanned 7-ton truck that would cut down on the number of Marines “outside the wire” during resupply convoys. This would remove Marines from some medium tactical vehicle replacement trucks, thereby exposing fewer Marines to IEDs and other threats. According to Capt. Warren Watts II, a logistics officer overseeing the Cargo-UGV project, Marines in a command and control vehicle would control up to two other trucks via laptop computers, with sensors, cameras, and a computer in the unmanned vehicles. “We can operate two unmanned trucks, along with the command and control vehicle providing direction, at speeds of up to 45 mph,” said Watts.

Another unmanned vehicle under development is the GUSS, the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate vehicle, which is a 3,000-pound vehicle that can tote and distribute water, food, supplies, and battery chargers. GUSS carries up to 1,200 pounds.


The Logistical Burden of Water

Solhan said ONR 30 has projects to provide squad-level water purification capabilities. Other projects involve improving water purification techniques (improved filters) and reducing the power requirements for water purification systems (energy efficient reverse osmosis systems), thereby increasing the water output from a given energy input.

Fred C. Lash, a communication and outreach officer at MCWL, said that warfighters have become accustomed to pallets of bottled water being delivered to their operating sites in Afghanistan, where water sources have both chemical and microbiological contaminants. Many water sources in Afghanistan are contaminated with coliform bacteria, E. coli and Leptospira. “They trust the sealed bottles,” Lash said.

Delivering bottled water isn’t the only problem. The bottles must be disposed of, and burning them creates toxic smoke.

One report states that delivering water is half of the Marines’ logistical burden in theater. But, to reduce the logistics burden of delivering water, Lash said the Marines are looking at some commercially available means of purifying water for individual consumption. Some – like iodine tablets – have been tried and true for decades and can be used to purify individual containers of water. “Iodine pills don’t make for the greatest tasting stuff, but they still work.”

SteriPEN Protector water purifiers use ultraviolet (UV) light to destroy waterborne microbes. They are the size of a small flashlight and can sterilize individual containers of water. They are commercially available and relatively inexpensive.

To provide water for larger units, digging a well is impractical, so company-sized water purification systems are required for remote locations.

Tactical Water Purification System

The Tactical Water Purification System purifies water from the Atlantic Ocean at a remote beach in Morocco, May 24, 2011, during exercise African Lion. U.S. Marine Corps photo

The Lightweight Water Purification System, or the LWPS, features a reverse osmosis water purification unit (ROWPU) and comes with its own generator and storage tanks. It fits in a Humvee and can produce up to 125 gallons of potable water per hour.

A system with greater capacity – 1,200 to 1,500 gallons of water – is the Tactical Water Purification System (TWPS). It filters and cleans water, which is stored in large bladders to make drinkable water available at staged water points. The TWPS utilizes micro-filtration technology to filter out silt and biological materials; advanced high-salt rejection; and reverse osmosis technology to produce drinking water from even the nastiest fresh or salt water sources in the world.

“The TWPS is carried on a 7-ton truck, and can be set up by an engineer support unit in approximately 30 minutes. In Afghanistan, there are 21 of these systems. The TWPS more than doubles the production capacity of the older reverse osmosis water purification units that [have] treated water for a generation of military troops,” said Lash.


Energetic Research

ONR is actively researching programs that can provide energy to Marines in the field. Projects include increasing the efficiency of field generators, use of advanced JP-8 fuel cells to reduce required fuel, and looking at how to increase the fuel efficiency of the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR). The MTVR, the workhorse truck on the battlefield, simply due to its large numbers, consumes a large amount of fuel. “Increasing its fuel efficiency could have a substantial reduction in petroleum requirements at remote locations,” Solhan said. “Code 30 is conducting Military Driving Cycle Assessments on MTVRs which then enable a better understanding [of] driving cycle/fuel consumption that will enable better evaluation and improvement of fuel efficiency. Complementary and integrated efforts include on-board vehicle power/vehicle exportable power that would use energy generation capabilities from the vehicle to provide off-vehicle power requirements to the Marines, reducing the needed generators in the field, lightening the MAGTF.”

On-Board Vehicle Power (OBVP)

Oshkosh is furnishing trial On-Board Vehicle Power (OBVP) kits to MARCORSYSCOM. The OBVP kits use the heavy truckmaker’s ProPulse diesel-electric drive technology. They are to be installed on the Corps’ all-terrain MTVRs by January 2012, with testing to start in March 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo

Solhan said ONR is researching the electrification of vehicle accessories so that accessories requiring power would not require the vehicle engine to be inefficiently idling to power such requirements. Other efforts involving vehicles include projects for future fuel alternatives and advanced battery technology.

Marines need lighter and longer-lasting man-portable power supplies, such as batteries. The suspended-load backpack is one solution.

ONR 30 has transitioned backpacks for harvesting power from walking to power increasing numbers of electronic devices. The suspended-load backpack, developed by Lawrence C. Rome, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, harnesses energy produced by the up and down movement of the load with respect to the backpack frame, resulting in virtually free energy for various electronic devices.

Other ONR projects include solid oxide fuel cell electrochemistry, thermoelectric materials, electrochemical capacitors, and metal-air batteries in order to reduce the size and weight of power sources while increasing their capabilities and duration. “These efforts seek to increase the energy density (such as by using electrochemical capacitors) and efficiency of what power sources the Marines take to the field,” Solhan said. “We are also investigating JP-8 fueled thermoelectric generators, converting fuel directly to electricity for small units, which not only give improved power generation but also lightens the load of the individual Marine by reducing the need to carry batteries and exploiting the higher energy density of a bucket of JP-8 versus a battery.

Solhan said ONR also has projects aimed at power management for radios. “This will also reduce the load of batteries that Marines bring to the field.”


Lightening the Load

Lightening the load of dismounted Marines operating forward is a high priority, but not limited to the reduction of water and fuel requirements.

ONR 30 is demonstrating performance of high-temperature-tolerant, high-wear-resistant, prototype barrels for the M240 machine gun; fabricated by “flowforming” super alloys. The objective is to develop gun barrels that can withstand the high temperatures of operational use; offering lighter weight and increased warfighter effectiveness, they would eliminate the need to change hot machine gun barrels, thereby reducing weight by lowering the number of replacement machine gun barrels Marines carry to the field.

According to Solhan, the Code 30 caseless ammunition program works toward the development of a lightweight, M249 Squad Automatic Weapon-like machine gun to demonstrate ammunition savings of 50 percent in weight and 40 percent in volume, and takes that load off of the individual Marine.

Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center

The ONR Code 30 caseless ammunition program, being developed by Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, includes caseless telescoped ammunition (front) and cased telescoped ammunition (back). Both rounds are nearly 50 percent lighter than their standard 5.56 mm brass-shell counterparts. ARDEC photo

One way to lighten the load involves reducing the weight of the individual Marine’s personal protective equipment (PPE).

Solhan said this investment seeks both to increase protection and lighten the load of the Marines. “The intent of the program is far reaching and challenging, primarily due to the mature state of armor materials. Much of the reduction in PPE weight will rely on optimized design based on modularity and scalability of system components. The goal is to mitigate the effects of the range of possible insults/threats to the individual warfighter and the small unit through signature reduction and enhanced personal protection while lightening the equipment load. The technologies will improve a warfighter’s personal survivability against a variety of threats, maximize mobility, and improve comfort and ease of employment while the warfighter is performing combat functions. Critical to improving survivability includes not only reducing the actual weight or physical load created by personal protective equipment, but also reducing its perceptual, cognitive, and [effective] load on the warfighter. This reduction in total effect of combat load falls under a broader concept of ‘lightening the load.’”


Better Body Armor

Future warfighters from the naval expeditionary force require protective equipment that offers improved protection. But bigger and bulkier body armor isn’t better. A warfighter’s mobility is a significant contributor to his or her protection, so the new protective gear must also be lighter.

ONR’s Future Naval Capability (FNC) program develops leap-ahead technologies. New and better modular protection focuses on the warfighter as a “system.”

The goal is to add additional armor coverage to head and face and to the upper and lower extremities without hampering warfighter performance. Rather than gear that is incrementally better than what’s available now, ONR seeks a transformational improvement. The ONR program is a direct outgrowth of basic and applied research programs in body armor and helmets, computational and physics-based models, knowledge of blast and blunt trauma injury mechanisms, and advanced ballistic materials.

This program will improve the survivability of the warfighter through significant research in the areas of ballistic, blast, and blunt trauma protection, while also reducing overall weight and still providing the warfighter superior visibility, mobility, and thermal cycling. Specific S&T products are: an open architecture framework for comprehensive analysis tool that begins to combine survivability, mobility, and physiology models for protective equipment design; validated human surrogates for testing; and prototype advanced modular lighter weight individual protection systems.

The ONR blast/trauma mitigation project seeks to improve helmet system designs (including shell, attachments, integration of suspension, and cushioning subsystems) and materials to mitigate the effects of blast/blunt trauma to the head and brain.


Improving Cognitive Agility, Flexibility, and Capacity

One approach for Marines to better succeed on the battlefield is to make them better prepared physically and mentally.

ONR Code 30 has projects under way to improve the cognitive agility, flexibility, and capacity of Marines by making them mentally tough, resilient to stress, and adapted to chaotic, full-spectrum operations. Other projects focus on enhanced physical readiness, delivering strategies that optimize Marines’ physical performance and injury resistance and increase their understanding of human physical performance limits. “The mission of Human Performance, Training, and Education research is to pursue and maintain an integrated S&T portfolio that delivers technologies and methods for optimally training and preparing Marines for any mission in order to make quick, effective, and ethical decisions,” Solhan said. “Research also examines making Marines resistant to stress and able to adapt to any situation and attaining optimal strength, endurance, agility, and resilience to injury, and sustaining these attributes throughout deployment. Code 30 is studying ways to enable Marines to quickly attain peak resistance to heat, cold, elevation, and fatigue under combat conditions. These efforts are coupled with larger Marine Corps efforts to increase resiliency of individual Marines.”

In addition to the lightening and performance improving efforts for PPE described above, Code 30 is examining the “behind the armor” side of personal protection. Solhan said this effort includes modeling of the effects on the human body when it suffers an insult on the battlefield. “These models enable better development of protective systems for the Marines and Code 30 is beginning new efforts to examine and better understand groin and extremity injuries.”

Solhan said ONR 30 is also working to make the ground safer for Marines with increased work on autonomous systems. “This work includes increased use of autonomy in Marine vehicles to remove the operator from vehicles in hazardous situations such as convoy operations. Increased autonomy has the potential to improve small unit logistics and sustainment while making it safer for the actual delivery of logistics by avoiding Marines driving in dangerous convoys.

Additionally, the ONR 30 Maneuver Thrust is working to increase the survivability of vehicles through the use of enhanced, affordable, lightweight armor materials. These efforts include active and reactive protection systems to defeat rocket-propelled grenades [RPGs] and anti-tank guided munitions, as well as shock and acceleration mitigation technologies for crew protection and survivability.”


Increasing Lethality

Weapon sight

Machine gunner Lance Cpl. Brandon L. Purdy mans a light machine gun during a live-fire exercise with Company L, one of three rifle companies in Battalion Landing Team 3/1, the ground combat element for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. ONR is working to develop an advanced day/night weapon sight and associated illuminators. USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Carpenter

ONR 30 is working to increase the lethality of the individual Marine on the battlefield. ONR 30 Fires Thrust is developing the Integrated Day-Night Sight Technology (IDNST) to replace several weapons sights by integrating visual, near-infrared, short-wave infrared, and long-wave infrared (thermal) optics in a single sight package, with one version for individual weapons and one version for crew served weapons. IDNST will include laser pointers, illuminators, and rangefinders. The objective is to enable warfighters to seek, acquire, track, observe, and engage targets to weapons’ maximum effective ranges, in all lighting and weather conditions. The integrated sight and its reduced form factor will lighten the load of the individual Marine while increasing his capabilities. Fires Thrust is developing the Precision Urban Mortar Attack (PUMA) to enable precision indirect fires in complex terrain (urban canyons, steep terrain, defilade), where ballistic munitions cannot engage because of target geometry or collateral damage likelihood. This will bring increased fire support to small units of Marines using future warfighting concepts and may lighten the load due to a reduction in the number of required mortars to achieve desired effects.

Other Code 30 efforts to make the ground safer include a broad portfolio to address the IED threat. ONR 30’s Science Addressing Asymmetric Explosive Threats (SAAET) is a basic research program producing knowledge and understanding so as to anticipate and affect insurgency networks, and have capabilities to detect, defeat, and protect against explosives used by asymmetric irregular forces. SAAET includes efforts to detect and neutralize explosives at increased standoff distance using a variety of modalities.

One way to meet the IED threat is the Naval Expeditionary Dog Program. “This program will provide Naval small units with enhanced capabilities through innovative use of canines that maximize small unit effectiveness across all warfighting functions with a current focus on C-IED [counter-IED]. Improvised explosive device detector dog [IDD] 2.0 is a response to calls for IDDs that are specially developed for detection of IEDs that use homemade explosives as their main charge; demonstrate improved physical stamina and hunt behavior; and adapt better to the physical and mental stress of dismounted patrols,” Solhan said.

The Human Social Cultural Behavioral Sciences Program in Code 30 is an integrated portfolio to study the influence of cultural, social, and cognitive factors on human behavior. Science and technology projects are researching sociocultural data collection methods, computational models to detect, forecast, and mitigate sociocultural impact, and validation of operationally relevant tools.


Risk and Reward

“In an environment with extraordinary downward pressure on the procurement budget, it’s all the more important to look for science and technology that give us that leap ahead, ‘next big thing’ type of capability, said Rear Adm. Nevin Carr, chief of naval research. “The research we sponsor is the foundation for future naval capabilities. Our top priority is to focus on those areas that deliver the biggest payoff for our future and ensure we make every single dollar count for maximum benefit for the warfighters.”

Not every bright idea sees the light of day. But research that shows that something probably won’t be effective is valuable. “We try and balance risk and payoff, and sometimes the highest payoff comes with the highest risk. Our approach is to manage that risk, which sometimes means that technologies will fail. We have to be able to embrace that and learn from it and move on,” said Carr. “Some of the basic research that we do is at a material science level. You may be developing a weapon or a gun barrel that fails when subjected to extreme loads. Well, you’ve learned something that you can use about the material’s limits. Sometimes failing helps you find the edge.”

The staff at ONR knows their research and the resulting innovation and naval capability is vital to the Navy and the preservation of national security. “Sailors and Marines depend on it,” Carr said.

This article first appeared in Marine Corps Outlook: 2011-2012 Edition.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...