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Marine Corps laboratory strives to respond to pressing needs.

As Marines prepare for extended combat duty in Iraq, the Corps' research arm is seeking solutions to problems ranging from countering roadside bombs and developing limb protection devices to improving low-level communications and refining urban combat tactics.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is working with the Office of Naval Research, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Army to provide quick results, said lab commander Brig. Gen. Tom Waldhauser. The lab modeled some of its efforts on the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, he said.

Vehicles of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which has returned to Iraq for a second tour, received explosive resistant coatings to mitigate the improvised explosive device (IED) threat, Waldhauser told National Defense.

That temporary solution has been developed rapidly to protect vehicles that are made of thinner steel and have not received thicker reinforced doors, Waldhauser said.

The Humvees come in several levels of thickness, he explained, with some made out of thinner steel than others. "It has been found through testing [that] this coating will assist in bringing up the level of protection," he said. The coating essentially would make the thinner steel as tough as its more robust counterparts, said Waldhauser, whose lab is involved in testing and evaluating the substance. Some vehicles in Iraq already have been sprayed with it, he said.

Because every Humvee has been slated to receive increased small-arms protection, "now the question that they are trying to answer up there is, 'Is it worth the effort to spray all these doors that ultimately will be replaced by thicker steel?'" But the coating has proved to be a quickly dispatched interim solution, he said.

IEDs, however, are a tougher nut to crack. Therefore, at the joint level, the Marine Corps and Navy are working with the Army and Coast Guard under the IED-process working group. The Army has the lead on the project.

The working group is trying to combine "all of the ongoing efforts that each of the service has been undertaking," said Waldhauser. Although the working group just recently emerged, the Army and the Marine Corps have been working together for more than a year to "coordinate the effort, as well as leverage the technologies and discoveries that they have made," he said.

IEDs are not the only Factors plaguing Marines in the field. The lab also had to come up with more effective means to protect parts of the body not already shielded by armor. "We have some things in theater ... some face shields. We even developed some different types of shorts" because of recurring groin injuries, Waldhauser said.

ONR, for its part, is specifically working to develop what it calls "a short-fuse helmet" similar to a football player's helmet--an idea Navy Secretary Gordon England suggested after he returned from a visit to Iraq, said Waldhauser, who also is the vice commander of ONR and represents the Marines' science and technology interests.

Meanwhile, to treat wounded Marines on the battlefield, the service has fielded improved individual first-aid kits, according to Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon, head of the Marine Corps Systems Command.

"The current individual first-aid kit has not been improved in more than 30 years and does not provide the life-saving medical technologies available today," he said during congressional testimony earlier this year. "Historically, Marines wounded in action risked bleeding to death or suffering painful, untreated burns before reaching more capable treatment facilities."

The new kits have advanced hemorrhage control and burn-treatment capabilities, he said. The Marine Corps plans to field 213,000 of these kits.

Hanlon also directed the Corps' combat assessment team to interview wounded Marines to consider, from their perspective, how their injuries could have been avoided or mitigated. The team asked casualties if they could have been helped by better equipment or changes in tactics, techniques and procedures.

The Marine Warfighting Lab also is looking to fill a gap in long-range, on-the-move communications, Waldhauser said.

Researchers from government and industry have been working to develop the so-called expeditionary tactical communications system, which has served as a test-bed for an over-the-horizon communications concept, he said. Now, the lab plans to introduce the system in theater by year's end and to test it in combat, Waldhauser said.

"This system provides this need that is still out there for long-range, on-the-move reliable communications, as well as position-location information for friendly forces," he said.

At the lower level of communications, the personal role radio--or the integrated intra-squad radio, as the Marines renamed it--has become an indispensable tool, Waldhauser said. The radio, produced by Marconi Selenia, and the advanced combat optical gun sight rank high on the Marines' wish list, said Waldhauser.

"They are not high-tech, high-speed, [and] they are not expensive," he said. "You have a radio that allows you to speak, and you have a sight that allows you to shoot at a longer range. It is technology that Marines did not have prior to Operation Iraqi Freeedom, and they have been very supportive of those items."

Separately, the lab recently deployed 13 unmanned vehicles called Dragon Runners to increase situational awareness for small tactical units. Dragon Runner is a small, four-wheeled, man-portable ground sensor that enables Marines to see around corners.

"We have trained some Marines in Iraq on these systems, and they currently have them over there," he said. Most of the Dragon Runners now are with the 1st Marine Division. The lab sent staff to help with the training, Waldhauser said.

While the lab mostly examines developing technologies, it has experimented with urban combat since the outfit's inception in 1995, Waldhauser said.

For the Marines going to Iraq, the lab put together a stabilization and security operations training package, said Waldhauser.

Each battalion receives a 10-day urban combat training course at March Air Force Base, Calif., he said. Marines are thrown into different scenarios and have to interact with actors impersonating Iraqis, he explained.

But to focus more on its core mission--to conduct experiments and develop tactics, techniques and procedures--the lab plans to transition this urban training package to the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Waldhauser said.
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Author:Tiron, Roxana
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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