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Gruntworks, Combat Operations Center give Sea-Air-Space Expo goers feel for being Marines

By Office of Public Affairs and Communication | Marine Corps Systems Command | April 15, 2015

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At this year’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition, the only systems command in the Marine Corps let attendees get closer than ever to the experience of forward-deployed Marines with displays from the Marine Corps Systems Command Gruntworks Squad Integration Facility and Combat Operations Center.

Experts fitted, scanned and strength tested attendees with products from Gruntworks—a state-of-the-art venue to engineer, evaluate and refine equipment issued to infantry Marines—and gave a first-hand look at the Combat Operations Center, the eminent command and control system in the Marine Corps.

The Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad team at Marine Corps Systems Command manages the integration, modernization and configuration of Marine Rifle Squad gear—from helmets and body armor to ammunition and batteries—for Marines on foot as well as mobility platforms on the ground, in the air and at sea.

The MERS team focuses on the squad as a system, accounting for human performance as well as the combat equipment. Using human factors data collection equipment and a lab to develop prototypes for new equipment and equipment modifications, they focus on the need to reduce the Marine combat burden.

“Combat burden is more than just weight—it’s a combination of weight, bulk and stiffness,” said Mark Richter, MERS director. “We’re looking at things like how quickly the Marine is able to get through a doorway with his or her equipment, how the rifle interfaces with the body armor, or whether something interferes with or obstructs the Marine’s ability to engage a target.”

Expo attendees got to feel part of a Marine’s combat burden at the MCSC booth. They were measured by one of the MERS team and outfitted with one of three combat vests: the Improved Modular Tactical Vest, Plate Carrier or Modular Scalable Vest. They were then fitted with a helmet and given either an M-4 or M-16 to gain a better, albeit incomplete, understanding of what Marines carry with them in the field. Fully outfitted, the attendees had their pictures taken, which they could download later online.

The MERS team uses the Gruntworks facility to test existing and emerging equipment to help MCSC provide improved items to infantry Marines of all sizes. Expo goers were able to try out the 3-D scanner, which takes measurements of the head to helps inform future helmet design decisions for Marines. They also tested a strength dynamometer, used to measure the strength curves of opposing muscle groups.

“This information helps us improve the fit of equipment like helmets and body armor,” Richter said. “It also helps us develop requirements for the seating and interface of Marines in new vehicle platforms, or platforms that are being upgraded...When it comes to equipment, technology is essential to future design. With a focus on human factors and intuitive design, Marine Corps Systems Command can continue to get Marines the best equipment possible.”

Meanwhile, the Combat Operations Center displayed its role as the nerve center of Marine Corps operations ashore, and the focal point of command and control. The COC lets Marines collect, process and share information in a collaborative environment. A highly modular and agile system, the center enables decentralized command, rapid feedback and independent decision-making at all levels. MCSC uses direct feedback from Marines in the field to improve command-and-control capability.

Dating from 1996, the production of the COC was ramped up to more than 300 units across the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, making it the flagship program of MAGTF command and control. Today, the COC’s common, modular, scalable and deployable C2 facility—including shelter; power; networks and cabling; processing systems; and hosted tactical data systems—is the hub where information is aggregated, organized and displayed for the commander.

The battalion-level COC on display at Sea-Air-Space—with its eight workstations and a setup time of about 40 minutes—is the latest version of the combat operations center. Meant for deployment closer to the fight than ever before, Marine officials say fielding could begin as early as this summer.

COC operations are overseen by the MCSC program manager for MAGTF Command, Control and Communications.

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