MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
Keeping up with the latest technology is a challenge we’re all familiar with— from our phones to our TVs, industry is consistently evolving and improving our devices. Marine Corps Systems Command’s Digital Media Systems program team got after ensuring Communication Strategy Marines had modern cameras, computers and all the accessories that go along with them.
To address the needs of the Fleet, MCSC’s DMS program team, the program of record for the Communications Strategy and Operations occupational field, developed the Visual Information Acquisition System. The VIAS kit provides all the tools necessary for visual information operators to collect video and photos, to tell the Marine Corps’ story.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Wade Spradlin joined MCSC in 2019 and led the DMS team using a direct outreach approach he learned from a previous program officer.
“He would hold monthly calls with the Fleet and listen to the good, bad, or ugly with the program office and how it was affecting the operator in the Fleet,” recalled Spradlin. “So once I stepped on deck two years ago, I started instituting a monthly call-in.”
The team identified supply chain hiccups and equipment usability issues using the feedback from leadership and operators in the Fleet. Updated kits were needed to effectively support the Corps’ Public Affairs and Combat Camera mission.
The team then set out to find new gear to accommodate the relatively new Communications Strategy occupational field, established in 2017.
“The primary objectives were to one, combine the equipment sets of the former Public Affairs Systems and Combat Camera Systems. And two, ensure they were equipped with the newest technologies available for imagery acquisition, transmission and dissemination,” explained Matthew Willis, a lead systems engineer for the Digital Media Systems program.
To align the Marine Corps with industry, the DMS team opted to test a VIAS utilizing mirrorless cameras and compact camcorders. This new technology aligns with Force Design 2030 goals of a smaller, lighter, and faster force with more technologically relevant gear.
The new kits include a mirrorless camera with significant low light capabilities and additional lenses for still imagery, a handheld UHD 4k camcorder for videography and updated laptops for mobile workstations. The entire kit and case weigh less than 75 pounds, a significant weight reduction for Marines compared to the approximate 110 pounds of the previous kits.
“The cameras we currently have are much larger, cinema-quality cameras,” said Spradlin. “This new technology allows the warfighter to reduce the footprint Marines have in the field.”
After a year and a half identifying and testing gear in austere conditions, the DMS team began fielding the kits to the Fleet. As part of this effort, the team helped the unit’s learn how to set up cameras, walk them through functions checks, and any other familiarization needed with the new gear.
Prior to MCSC, Spradlin was an operator in the Communications Strategy occupational field. From his experience, replacing and repairing broken camera equipment could be a challenge.
“We would have broken gear, and it would just sit on the shelf,” he described. “You would pull out your photo system and you would find that one of your lenses had been broken. So now, you're without that lens and local units would have to go out and try to get that repaired with local funds.”
MCSC built in a 3% spares buffer in the initial procurement contracts to address broken gear issues. This buffer will make it easier for units to get gear replaced through the Repairable Issue Point. After swapping out a damaged lens, there is a contract through the program office for professional camera services for repairs.
“The RIP takes that broken piece of gear and sends it off to a repair facility where they're able to repair it and put it back on the shelf. So, the next user comes in with a broken piece of gear and it's a constant revolving door,” Spradlin explained.
MCSC expects to complete fielding the kits by the end of the fiscal year.
Imagery is a critical component of the Corps’ history—from the flag raised on Iwo Jima to the more recent Afghanistan evacuation. These upgraded kits ensure Marines continue capturing the essence and spirit of what it means to be a Marine.