Modernizing Marine Corps Infantry Capabilities
by U.S. Marine Corps Matt Gonzales,
The Marine Corps has been investing time, money and resources
into modernizing the force to meet objectives outlined in the
Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Force Design 2030 and the National
Brig. Gen. A.J. Pasagian, commander of
Marine Corps Systems Command, has stated that no investment is more
important than those in support of the infantry Marine.
March 3, 2021 - U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Alexander Teegarden, a platoon commander with Alpha Company, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry - West, gives a safety brief to students before a fire and movement exercise on Range 215A as part of the sixth week of the Infantry Marine Course on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
(U.S Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Drake Nickels)
Marine Corps in 2030 does not exist without the individual Marine,
what they're wearing and what they're carrying,” said Pasagian.
“Enhancing our infantry Marines by providing them with the best
capabilities available remains an integral, ongoing priority for the
MCSC has placed great emphasis on meeting the
demands of the future force to ensure Marines are never in a fair
fight, said Pasagian. To achieve this objective, the command has
concentrated on increasing infantry communication, lethality and
Increased close combat lethality
the last few years, MCSC developed and fielded several new,
modernized capabilities to Marines, including the M27 Infantry
Automatic Rifle, Squad Common Optic, Squad Binocular Night Vision
Goggles and M320A1 grenade launcher.
The M27 Infantry
Automatic Rifle, originally fielded in 2011, is lighter and reaches
farther distances than its predecessor, the M249 squad automatic
weapon, said CWO4 David Tomlinson, MCSC’s infantry weapons officer.
Lance Cpl. Jamichael Chambliss, assigned to Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command, showcases the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, Modular Handgun System, High-cut Enhanced Combat Helmet, Squad Binocular Night Vision Goggle, Plate Carrier Generation III with a fold-down holster for the MAGTF Common Handheld, April 29, 2021, aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Ashley Calingo)
“The M27 is fully automatic and increases their accuracy
compared with previous weapons systems,” said Tomlinson. “The
increased accuracy leads to increased lethality.”
the popularity of the weapon blossomed among Marines. They raved
about its ease of use and overall effectiveness. This led to the
Corps expanding its fielding to all rifle platoons as their primary
Earlier this year, Marines began receiving
the Squad Common Optic, an innovative new rifle sight that better
enables shooters to identify and engage the enemy from farther
distances in variable light conditions. It can be attached to the M4
and M4A1 Carbine as well as the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle.
“The Squad Common Optic is a variable-power optic that allows
Marines to engage to threats at the maximum effective range of their
weapons system, improving target acquisition and probability-of-hit
with infantry assault rifles,” said Tomlinson.
In 2020, MCSC
also fielded the Squad Binocular Night Vision Goggle—a lightweight,
helmet-mounted night vision system that provides increased depth
perception, improved clarity and a thermal-imaging capability to
detect targets in extreme darkness or through battlefield
The SBNVG enables Marines to operate vehicles at
night, move through dark buildings or tunnels, and engage targets
after sunset. By using this system, Marines can be as lethal at
night as they are in the daytime, said Tomlinson.
Corps also began fielding a new grenade launcher last year. The
M320A1 is a single-fire system that Marines can either mount onto
another rifle or use as a stand-alone weapon.
provides an improved capability to engage the enemy day and night,
while retaining the capability of short range, reflexive fire of the
primary weapon,” said Capt. Nick Berger, MCSC’s project officer for
the M320A1. “In addition, the M320A1 increases the small unit
flexibility in employing lethal, nonlethal and special-purpose
munitions by allowing them to tailor the weapon configuration to the
Lightening The Load
Infantry units need more
than just weapons to get the job done. The Marine Corps leans
heavily upon MCSC’s Program Manager for Infantry Combat Equipment to
research, develop and field lightweight protective gear designed to
In 2020, MCSC began updating its
enhanced combat helmet to improve fit and comfort. The improved,
high-cut helmet includes a retention system that tightens around the
circumference of the head and adjusts easier. Female Marines, in
particular, have noted how the high-cut ECH fits their hair buns
better than the legacy ECH.
Another notable fielding in 2020
was the Plate Carrier Generation III, a next-generation protective
vest that provides improved fit, form and function for Marines. The
PC Gen. III guards against bullets and fragmentation when coupled
with protective plates.
The PC Gen. III uses less material
than the Plate Carrier that fielded in 2011. Lt. Col. Andrew
Konicki, the program manager for Infantry Combat Equipment,
explained that the improved designed of the PC Gen. III reduces the
overall weight and bulkiness of the vest, increasing
“Lightening the load is important because it
allows Marines to be more agile when moving from covered position to
covered position,” said Konicki. “Improved mobility increases
survivability while preserving endurance, which enhances a Marine’s
In 2021, MCSC began fielding the Marine Corps
Intense Cold Weather Boot—a full-grain, leather boot designed for
use in temperatures as cold as -20 degrees Fahrenheit. The ICWB is
lighter and less bulky than the Extreme Cold Weather Boot, employed
in -65 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
The ICWB allows Marines to
complete various missions that might involve hiking or skiing in
arduous, cold weather environments without having to change boots,
“This boot lightens the load for Marines
because they’ll need only one boot for cold weather operations
instead of having to carry two sets of boots and change based on the
weather conditions,” said Konicki.
On the ammunition front,
MCSC awarded a contract in 2020 to test and evaluate new,
lightweight .50-caliber polymer ammo, with an intent to further
lighten the warfighter’s load. The ammo, to be used in the M2
Machine Gun, is significantly lighter and easier to haul than the
traditional brass casings.
Polymer is a class of plastic-like
material that weighs less than brass and other metals commonly used
in weapon systems. As the Marine Corps evaluates .50-caliber polymer
ammo, other services are also evaluating other types of ammo.
The Army, for instance, is validating a 7.62mm polymer round,
which could also potentially make its way to Marines in the future.
CWO3 Chad Cason, a project officer with MCSC’s Program Manager
for Ammunition, said polymer ammo enables Marines to carry more with
less fatigue, enhancing combat readiness. He also noted how the
ammunition is just as effective as the brass ammo of the past.
“This is truly an innovative program, as [PM Ammunition]
continues its modernization efforts in support of increasing
lethality and capability to the Fleet Marine Force,” said Cason.
MCSC will host several limited user evaluations in 2021 and
2022, allowing Marines to assess the effectiveness and performance
of the ammunition. Marine feedback during these assessments will
inform a future fielding decision, said Cason.
Operating in a 21st century environment also
requires innovative command and control equipment to increase
communication on the battlefield.
In 2019, the Marine Corps
fielded a lightweight, tablet system that improves situational
awareness on the battlefield. The Marine Air-Ground Task Force
Common Handheld enables Marines to use commercial smart devices to
plot and share points, offering an overall view of the battlespace
Later that year, MCSC upgraded the MCH to
allow Marines to communicate with one another through several
additional communication systems, including the Advanced Field
Artillery Tactical Data System and the Army’s Joint Battle
“Communication is critical to ensure
Marines and commanders in the field have access to information and
data at the right levels,” said John Maurer, deputy portfolio
manager for MCSC’s Command Element Systems. “It enables, facilitates
and accelerates decision-making and situational awareness.”
In 2020, the Marine Corps also fielded a next-generation High
Frequency Radio II, which provides Marines with long-range, beyond
line-of-site radio communications. The radio system comprises
Wideband HF, increasing the data rate to more quickly communicate
larger amounts of information.
Maurer said the HFR II is a
modern, resilient and sustainable capability that is significantly
smaller and lighter than the legacy HF radio. MCSC’s Ground Radios
HFR II Team, led by Leigh King, accelerated the acquisition process
and achieved fielding one year earlier than originally planned.
The MCH, HFR II and several other communication systems acquired
by MCSC are designed to make communication more seamless and
efficient for infantry Marines, said Maurer.
positioned to meet the Commandant’s Planning Guidance by providing
multiple new systems to infantry Marines to enable the kill chain,”
said Maurer. “The capabilities provided will support the initial
operational capability of Force Design 2030 by providing assured
command and control in a degraded environment, information warfare
superiority and protected mobility for enhanced maneuver.”
The Importance Of Training
The Marine Corps cannot accomplish
its modernization goals alone.
Chris Woodburn, of the
Capabilities Development Directorate at the Combat Development and
Integration, said they will continue to solicit support from
industry and other services to field innovative capabilities and
posture for the future fight.
“The Marine Corps is fielding
several close combat lethality enhancements to address near-term
requirements while working with the Army to pursue the next
generation capabilities for the future,” said Woodburn.
enhancements facilitate our close combat forces’ ability to leverage
the best capability now, while posturing for the future through
continued work with partner services.”
updating infantry units relevant gear is a critical step in gaining
a competitive advantage over adversaries. However, he said the
acquisition of effective equipment and the employment of active
training can help the Marine Corps reach its modernization goals.
“Lethality isn’t just an item,” said Tomlinson. “We can give
Marines a new system, but that doesn’t necessarily make them more
lethal. Lethality also involves incorporating proper, effective
Tomlinson said MCSC often employs New Equipment
Training events to furnish Marines with the knowledge necessary to
operate new capabilities. MCSC’s Training Systems program office
also ensures Marines are equipped with the technology and systems
needed to use newly-fielded capabilities in a simulated environment.
The Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command also plays an
important role in increasing the lethality of Marines.
leads the Marine Corps’ individual entry-level training,
professional military education and continuous professional
development, through unit, collective and service-level training.
The group’s intent is to enhance warfighting organizations that
enable Marines to build and sustain the combat readiness required to
fight and win today and in the future.
“The modernization of
gear and equipment needs to be seamless to the training piece,” said
CWO4 Anthony Viggiani, TECOM’s infantry weapons officer. “It’s not
just the gear and equipment that makes an individual more lethal, it
co-aligns the training as well.”
Viggiani said training
offers the preparation needed to increase battlefield lethality.
Training equips Marines with the confidence and capabilities needed
to employ a piece of equipment to its maximum effectiveness, he
“You can’t just give an individual gear and equipment
and think that’s going to solve all our problems,” said Viggiani.
“Training is an important steppingstone to increasing lethality on
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