II MEF tests tomorrow's battlefield concepts, equipment today

2 Aug 2002 | Maj. Stephen A. Cox

As temperatures soar at Camp Lejeune, live and simulated action is also heating up in the Department of Defense experiment, Millennium Challenge 2002.

The scenario, which simulates a military threat set in 2007, represents a small-scale contingency that has the potential to escalate to a major theater of war.  While the scenario is fictional, it borrows from a combination of real world and fabricated elements.

About 200 Marines from the II Marine Expeditionary Force, augmented by more than 100 soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Hood, Texas, form staffs controlling activities of "real" combat forces during the experiment. 

Nearly 1,600 Marines from 1st Marine Division are operating at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and at the Southern California Logistics Airport, formerly George Air Force Base, in Victorville, Calif.  Also, 900 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., are under II MEF direction. 

The experiment, begun July 24 and concluding August 15, is the largest joint military experiment of its kind in history, using the largest computer simulation federation ever constructed.  Run by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which oversees all U.S. forces in the continental United States, more than 13,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel are participating at 17 simulation sites and 9 live sites across the United States.

By using the extensive computer federation, Maj. Gen. Martin R. Berndt, commanding general, II MEF, said he believes collaborative tools "allow us to get information out right now, in real time.  Situational awareness is increased, therefore our ability to rapidly act is increased, more than our traditional systems allowed."

MC-02 is designed to test new concepts pushed by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other defense officials, who want to transform the military services by modernizing equipment, restructuring forces and leveraging technology to speed decision cycles and the pace of operations. 

However, in commenting on MC-02, Rumsfeld recognizes, "as every military leader since the beginning of time has understood, ultimately it all comes down to the troops, the men and the women in the service, those who are out there fighting for our freedom. We owe them the very best, the best tools, the best technology, the best organization, the best training and the best leadership." 

Every Marine leader understands the concepts of mission accomplishment and troop welfare.  During MC-02, Marines are experimenting with equipment systems designed to increase their ability to accomplish missions, as well as increase their survivability on tomorrow's increasingly lethal battlefields. 

While participating in an urban combined arms exercise in Victorville, Marines will test high-tech devices using robotic technology armed with sensors, designed to collect data that can be relayed instantly back to commanders.

Regarding information flow, Berndt said, "the whole idea behind MC-02 is that by using tools and technology, we are able to make decisions based upon reasonable analysis.  We can think, decide and act more quickly than ever before - the issue is speed."

Dragon Eye technology is being critically evaluated during the experiment.  Dragon Eye is a small, battery-operated, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.  The vehicle, which has cameras on each side and a forward-looking digital camera, can record and relay information in real time to a computer set up approximately 300 feet away. 

The UAV is man-portable, fitting easily into a Marines' pack and is designed to aid in gathering information and doing reconnaissance such as locating enemy forces or targets for small unit leaders. 

Another unmanned vehicle being tested is the Dragon Runner.  The vehicle is a remote-controlled, four-wheeled vehicle.  Marines can operate the 16-pound vehicle via hand-held controls similar to current video game technologies.

Like its flying counterpart Dragon Eye, Dragon Runner easily fits into packs.  Similarly, too, Dragon Runner is designed for small unit leaders, giving them the ability to collect and transmit data in dangerous environments without risking Marines.  Although for use in urban settings the vehicle is rugged and can also be used to explore caves or bunkers.  

Other concepts currently being explored and refined by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Va., are a remote-controlled helicopter named Dragon Warrior and a robotic weapon system capable of firing a 120 mm mortar called Dragon Fire.

The urban combined arms exercise itself is a 96-hour, battalion-level, force-on-force, field experiment in urban terrain.  Scenarios will be fought with shifts from full scale combat to peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations, then back to high-intensity combat operations. 

In addition to testing unmanned robotic technology during the exercise, Marines will also test and evaluate urban reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition techniques and procedures, a light surgical care facility for Battalion Aid Stations, and an infantryman's combat identification system.

Berndt stated that, "The commandant (of the Marine Corps) has referred to II MEF as the 'experimental MEF' since many new concepts are tested here."  Therefore, it seems natural that II MEF forces have partnered with other Marine, service and Department of Defense organizations to map out future warfighting concepts and issues. 

In summing up the potential outcomes of MC-02, Berndt said, "this experiment is incredible when you consider the magnitude of it and its capabilities."