Ever since it was established by the Continental Congress in 1775, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) has been known as a lean fighting force. The numbers show that while Marines currently comprise 24 percent of the boots on the ground in U.S. combat operations, the USMC is allocated only 6 percent of the Department of Defense’s overall budget. “We are the shoestring budget service—you get more bang for your buck from us than you do from any other service,” said Major Scott Sutton, acting technology director for the technology division of the USMC’s Training and Education Command. “Right now, money is going where it ought to be going: buying the best ammunition and putting the best body armor on our Marines as we possibly can.”
Although the Marines have somewhat limited resources, this famously rugged branch of the military has still managed to invest in some of the most advanced learning platforms for its personnel. One such modality is the simulation, which can realistically replicate certain scenarios the soldiers will encounter on the battlefield, Sutton said. “We want to give you the most realistic, comprehensive, all-encompassing training that we possibly can to prepare you for as many possible situations and circumstances, as well as be able to think on your feet for the ones you can’t predict, so that you can be successful in combat, in accomplishing your mission and bringing as many Marines home safely as you can.
“The Marine Corps in general looks at simulations as a way to more effectively use your live training time when you go to the field,” he explained. “Our mentality is not necessarily to replace training with simulations, but to make sure that when you do go to the field to train, you’re maximizing your time, not wasting time doing some of the more rudimentary skills and going through those initial tasks that you could have done elsewhere. Our goal is not to replace time in the cockpit or time on the range with your weapon; it’s to make the most effective use of that live training time.”
The Marine Corps employs many kinds of simulations around various types of tasks, Sutton said. One of these includes a platform used by the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTAF) staff training program in Quantico, Va., called the MAGTAF tactical warfighting simulation (MTWAS). “We get that high-level Marine Expeditionary Force staff together to exercise it through the use of what we call an aggregate simulation, where units are represented,” he said. “You’re not looking at a videogame with individuals running around shooting. This is icons on a map, and you’re dealing with overall staff interaction. You’re exercising the commanders’ decision-making skills and working at that level.”
The USMC also utilizes virtual simulations to help Marines practice on the various warfighting vehicles they’ll operate. “Virtual simulations would be an aircraft flight simulator, which people have seen plenty of in Hollywood movies and the news,” Sutton said. “We have the same types of things for tanks and armored personnel carriers, which you can put the crew inside. The inside looks like the actual inside of the vehicle, but instead of looking out their scope, they’re looking into a computer display. They can practice their drills without burning thousands of dollars worth of fuel and breaking the equipment by running around in the desert. It helps them prepare, so that when they do go to the field, they can operate in a combined fashion and do unit-type tactics and maneuvers as opposed to just getting their crew skills down.”
Another simulation the Marine Corps used is the Indoor Simulated Marksman Trainer-Enhanced (ISMT-E), which closely models the experience of shooting a weapon in combat. “When you pull the trigger, you shoot a laser on to the screen,” Sutton said. “What you see on the screen in a virtual world: You’ll see the enemy, you’ll see targets, what have you. You can do marksmanship training, or you can put scenarios up on the screen called ‘shoot/no-shoot scenarios,’ where you’ve got a bad guy standing next to someone who’s innocent. It helps you know how to recognize and react in those situations. It also goes into how to call for artillery fire and mortar fire, what we call forward-observer training.”
Simulations can be cost-prohibitive, though. Other concerns can include the lengthy development time and what Sutton called the “Wow!” effect, which is produced by very flashy demonstrations. “Technology is so explosive right now and growing so quickly that we have to be careful,” he said. “There’s a lot of marketing going on by some very savvy industry partners and corporations. We really have to pay attention so that we don’t end up pursuing or purchasing a piece of technology that has nominal utility to the Marine Corps. We have to make sure that with the limited dollars we have, we spend it where it’s both cost-effective and we have a requirement for it.”
–Brian Summerfield, email@example.comFiled under: Technology