The Commandant of the Marine Corps says the force is looking to enhance the size and abilities of their ground units by adding an assistant squad leader.
According to Marine Corps Times, the assistant squad leader role will provide squads with pilots for unmanned aerial vehicles, which are becoming a staple on the modern battlefield.
Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller said at a Wednesday meeting at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the Corps is looking to rebuild the infantry units as part of a force structure review.
“One of the things we’re looking at right now is providing every infantry squad an assistant squad leader,” Neller said. “He would be the Marine that would fly the squad’s UAVs and help the squad leader manage the information. We’re going to find out: Can the squad leader handle all of that.”
Neller had recently visited the 5th Marines’ 3rd Battalion in California, where one squad leader was testing a tablet’s ability to perform tasks such as secure messaging, calling for fire and other functions.
“There was this 25-year-old guy showing me all of this stuff, which I would probably break if I touched it,” Neller said. “He was just like: ‘I can do this; I can do this; I can do this.’ That’s very cool. My job is to make sure that it works when we need it.”
While the Marines are looking at enhancing their force, they are not entirely sure where the final composition and numbers of infantry units will be, as the Corps’ authorized end strength is capped at 182,000 Marines.
“We’re going to stay at 24 infantry battalions,” he said. “What’s inside those individual infantry battalions is going to be a little bit different- not fundamentally different. I’m not ready to say what exactly, what that’s going to look like.
“It would be great if we could have the resources to have 190,000 Marines, but we’re not assuming that,” Neller continued. “That’s a decision that’s not in my job jar. So we’re going to operate under the assumption that we’re going to have 182,000 Marines because that’s what we’ve been resourced for. So we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to reshape this Marine Corps.”
Neller went on to say that Marines on high-tech battlefields -who have been fighting traditionally urban and high-profile operations over the past decade or so- will have to re-learn traditional skills, such as concealing themselves and avoiding detection by aircraft- both manned and unmanned.
“Marines are in a built-up area and they’re walking down the street and they look up in the sky and there’s this small quad-copter UAV,” Neller said, recalling a recent wargame in California. “They’re like, ‘What’s that?’ They’ve never seen that before. All those that have been deployed in the Middle East are starting to see that more and more.”
Neller said that future wars will see fewer Forward Operating Bases and more Marines living out of their rucksacks and sleeping in holes, as Cold War-era troops were trained to function. Until then, he is working to make their equipment lighter.
“I’m trying to give the individual Marine lighter body armor,” he said. “The basic load is the vest, the body armor -the ammo and I’m not even talking about the pack- and you have some sort of tablet or radios and everything else they’ve got to carry, you’re pushing 60 to 80 pounds. That’s before you put your pack on.”
The Marines are considering items that can make clean water that doesn’t have to be hauled around, battery chargers and a lighter casing material for ammunition.
“Every pound counts when you’re a grunt and you’re humping that stuff,” he said.
Neller said he hopes to unveil the results of the force structure review shortly after the first of the year, though it is a work in progress.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” Neller concluded.
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