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Mark Richter, Program Manager, Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad (MERS), Marine Corps Systems Command explains how the Marine Corps are navigating their path to soldier - or more appropriately - Marine modernisation

“The best computer in the Marine rifle squad is 13 thinking, educated, trained Marines capable of rapid decision making in any geographical area.” © DoD
“The best computer in the Marine rifle squad is 13 thinking, educated, trained Marines capable of rapid decision making in any geographical area.”
© DoD

Q: How would you differentiate what the USMC is doing with MERS from what the Army is doing with Land Warrior?
A: Land Warrior has been a programme of record for the Army that provides an additive suite of equipment that provides enhanced C4I and lethality while increasing mobility and survivability. The Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad (MERS) performs integration and modernisation tasks. PM MERS views the Squad as a System with the objective of distributing capabilities across the squad and integrating all the equipment carried within the squad. The primary function of MERS is integration and modernisation of everything worn, carried, and consumed within the squad by co-ordinating integration across all programmes that provide material solutions for the squad.

Q: What drives those differences?
A: The basic differences are mission requirements and profiles, operational differences, and fiscal modernisation issues. Marine rifle squads are formed around a Sergeant squad leader with three fire teams of four Marines each. Each fire team is led by a Corporal Fire Team Leader. Squads can be task organised with additional Marines depending on the mission assigned. Marine rifle squads are not mobility platform centric and mobility can range from rotary wing platforms, amphibious vehicles, wheeled vehicles, and boats to completely dismounted for significant periods of time.

Q: MERS initiated several integration projects in 2007 including a head borne system to reduce head neck and face injuries, trials on weight and combat tasks and work on integrating the dismounted individual Marine with JLTV. What were the outcomes from these force protection and mobility issues? What are your key goals for 2008?
A: Many of these projects were initiated in 2007 and are carried over into 2008. Key goals for 2008 are the full operational capability of the Gruntworks Squad Integration Facility in June 2008, continued Headborne System initiatives and development, weight study focused on human performance and equipment limitations, SAPI plate carrier integration, load bearing equipment enhancements, mobility platform integration, and ensuring all of our new equipment is integrated with a strong focus on human factors.

Q: One key feature of soldier modernisation programmes is the implementation of a wearable computing/electronic architecture. When do you expect MERS to field the USMC’s equivalent of that?
A: The best computer in the Marine rifle squad is 13 thinking, educated, trained Marines capable of rapid decision making in any geographical area. Computers, PDA’s, and data communications are being fielded today at the squad level as well as enhancements at platoon and company levels. These provide capabilities to enhance the leader’s capabilities to input, access and share information. The determination of wearable computers versus computing capability that can be task organised within the squad is still being evaluated. There are complex advantages and disadvantages of both concepts that require trade analysis relative to capability requirements. Training small unit leaders to be effective in all spectrums of conflict will continue to be the priority of effort. The guiding premise is to provide computing capability amongst the four leaders in a rifle squad and keep the trigger pullers focused on observation of their surroundings and engaging the enemy.

Q: How was MERS’ methodology developed - how do you work with other soldier modernisation programmes in your search for components and modules - how has that informed any specific MERS related buys?
A: The methodology we use was born out of solving the integration problem ahead of modernisation efforts. Human factors, weight, and volume issues are critical issues that enhance combat capability. The Squad as a System allows us to make improvements and distribute capabilities that would not be feasible at the individual level. Yet in modernisation efforts, we tend to work in subsystems because these improvements are affordable whereas an entire soldier system at once may not be affordable.

The best interface with other soldier modernisation programs is through the NATO Land Capability Group 1 on Dismounted Soldier System Interoperability. This group brings all the national programmes together and promotes interoperability as well as socialisation of concepts and material solutions. Second are the soldier technology conferences that provide opportunities for industry to promote their technologies and material solutions. The Marine Corps is keen on harvesting any good idea from anywhere. One example is the adoption of the Nacre QuietPro Tactical Headset from the Norwegian NORMANS soldier modernisation programme. This effort accelerated testing, qualification, and production at the benefit of all countries evaluating this type of in ear hearing protection and enhanced hearing technology for use with radios. The Marine Corps currently has over 25,000 systems in theater and is continuing to field this item.

Q: A common theme amongst SMPs is the primacy of the four man fire team, MERS focuses on 14-18 strong Marine teams. How does that change how you approach ‘soldier modernisation’?
A: The squad composition of three, four man fire teams with a squad leader was born out of necessity during the jungle campaigns in the Pacific during World War II. It enabled effective command and control in dense vegetation with lethal, controllable firepower and sustainable combat effectiveness after taking a casualty. It has remained an effective squad structure for the Marine Corps ever since.

The Marine Corps is pushing some capabilities that have normally been at the platoon level to the squad level as part of the Enhanced Company Operations initiative. The DOTMLPF process is continuously used to determine the best method of implementing and integrating these capabilities. Training and education has provided more effective warfighting enhancements than material solutions. The strategic corporal is an essential component of the Marine Corps’ strategic vision for the future.

Q: Does this affect how you integrate your doctrine with the US Army and allied forces pursuing four man building blocks?
A: The Marine Corps is an expeditionary force that desires to be interoperable with joint and coalition forces regardless of unit structural differences. This is done routinely through annual training exercises with a multitude of nations worldwide.

Q: How is the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) changing how you develop requirements? What elements of JCIDS were you already using before it become mainstream?
A: The JCIDS process implemented discipline and process to the overall efforts that were being used. The Marine Corps now has Capability Integration Officers within the Capabilities Development Division at Marine Corps Combat Development Command, at Quantico. Integration occurs with the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad Capabilities Integration Section Head that ensures integration occurs in the capability development process. The Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad Initial Capability Document (MERS ICD) serves as the foundation for a multitude of individual programme capability documents. The MERS ICD also serves as a vision for the Science and Technology community. Once capability documents are approved and provided to the acquisition command, the Program Manager Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad is tasked with the integration, systems engineering, and configuration management functions for the Marine rifle squad. The infantry advocate and MERS Capabilities Integration Section Head are continuously involved in the entire process. These three form the nucleus of the Infantry Integration Working Group that includes representation from the operating forces and other commands.

Q: Does the Marine Enhancement Program stood up late last year make MERS more of an integration, rather than acquisition programme?
A: The Marine Enhancement Program was established in 1990 and is a sister programme of the Army’s Soldier Enhancement Program (SEP). Both programs work closely together to leverage each others initiatives. MEP solicits recommendations from anyone …. Marines, industry and entrepreneurs …. on small rapid fielding initiatives that can be rapidly fielded in a 12-24 month timeframe that provides an enhancement to the infantry Marine. It is a separate and distinct programme that operates the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad Program Management Office.

Q: How do you work with Gruntworks on a day to day basis with MERS?
A: The Gruntworks Squad Integration Facility is continuously operating on a variety of projects on a daily basis. The Infantry Integration Working Group provides a prioritisation on projects. It is a capability that supports a multitude of various programme managers, the S&T community, and capabilities integration officers. No two weeks are completely identical at Gruntworks as trials and development efforts mature and complete the assigned tasks. Program Management functions remain within Marine Corps Systems Command and human factors, physical integration, SME trials, and modelling simulation take place at Gruntworks.

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