MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – As US Marine Corps officials at last week's Modern Day Marine expo touted the need for innovation, companies in the small business tent showed how technology is already reshaping modern warfare.
Speaking during a panel presentation for industry, Maj. Gen. Vincent Coglianese, assistant deputy commandant for installations and logistics, said the Marine Corps needs to embrace innovation, not only in terms of equipment but in its thinking. He called upon the defense industry to look beyond traditional methods to help the Marine Corps adapt.
"That innovation, those solutions, and not thinking, 'That's the way we used to do it' — how we're going do it in the future in this challenge is what we need help with," he said.
Among those showcasing their innovations, GATR Techonologies, a Huntsville, Alabama-based antenna company, brought its inflatable communications terminal to Quantico. Housed in an inflatable ball, the 2.4-meter antenna and terminal weights less than 200 pounds total, and can fit easily into two portable hard cases.
The antenna, which can help units establish broadband linkups in remote areas, has been used by Special Forces since 2008, and is currently used by all four service branches.
"It's a really big antenna in a little-bitty box," said GATR CEO and President Paul Gierow.
There are currently around 400 units in the field, mostly with Sspecial Ooperations forces, he said.
Traditionally, a Marine Expeditionary Unit satellite communications load-out would weigh more than 25,000 pounds and take up almost 2,600 cubic feet, compared to just 3,000 pounds and 189 cubic feet for GATR's inflatable satellite antenna system, according to the company's figures.
That dovetails This fits with recent efforts desire to reaffirm the Marine Corps’ its expeditionary capabilities.
"We think these forces are going to be operating in distributed, often dismounted in complex urban terrain," said Col. Roger Turner Jr., office of the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps for plans, policy and operations with Headquarters Marine Corps at the Pentagon, during the industry panel. "And anything we can do to lighten the load on individual Marines and sailors out there is critical."
Another eye-grabbing display in the small business tent was Survice Engineering Co.’s scale model of its hover bike, which is currently undergoing tests in the United Kingdom.
The vehicle features four rotors, similar to those on quadcopter drones, but in a slightly different configuration. Rather than spread out into four corners, there are two overlapping rotors overlap in the front and back, leaving room for an operator and cargo in the middle.
The vehicle can carry a payload of 800 pounds and can travel 50 mph miles per hour for three hours, giving it a 150-mile range, said Robert Baltrusch, Survice’s industrial design team lead. It is designed to stay aloft even if one of the rotors is disabled by enemy fire, and unlike many quadcopters currently available, it does not spin uncontrollably if one rotor fails.
The Belcamp, Maryland-based company is working with UK-based Malloy Aeronautics to develop hover bikes with a goal of keeping in-flight noise under 80 decibels, making them more difficult to spot when flying low and fast.
Advanced technology was also on display in small packages, such as Aegisound's noise-reducing headsets for flight deck personnel supporting the very loud F-35 jump jet. By placing digital active noise reduction in custom-fitted earbuds inside larger cups worn over the ears, the Christiansburg, Virginia-based company offers three forms of hearing protection for on-deck personnel.
Used properly, the headset can reduce noise levels by 30 decibels, making radio communication possible when paired with a noise-reducing microphone and muzzle.
Aegisound’s top-of-the-line headset can run up to $5,000 each, but a relatively minor cost up front could save money down the line, as hearing loss while on active duty can lead to huge expenses later on. The American Tinnitus Association projects that tinnitus and other hearing loss-related claims will cost the Department of Veterans Affairs about $2.75 billion in 2016, up from $720 million a decade earlier.
Just as with other parts of the budget, cost considerations are important for companies looking to bring innovation to the Pentagon, said Bill Taylor, the Marine Corps' program executive officer for land systems.
This can be especially challenging in periods lacking budget clarity for the Pentagon and its suppliers, such as the current uncertainty surrounding what Congress will do when the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
"Just like competing for programs of record, I would suggest that industry's ability to prioritize innovation is taking a hit as we progressively move through these budget struggles," Taylor said. "Just like competing for contracts, the ability to invest in innovation is significantly impacted by declining budgets."