Logistical support for forward-deployed Marines will be revolutionized in the coming years by new technologies like 3-D printing, unmanned aircraft and "smart" logistics gear that can be networked to solve problems faster, a top Marine said.

"We’re looking to see what is the art of the possible and try to apply those visionary capabilities that are being developed to what we need to do," Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, the Marine Corps' assistant deputy commandant for installations and logistics, told Marine Corps Times. 

Williams spoke Wednesday at a panel at the Navy League’s annual Sea, Air, Space Symposium just outside Washington, spotlighting ways the Navy and Marine Corps are working to harness modern technology to improve readiness and increase Marine Air-Ground Task Force preparedness.

Today’s Marines are carrying 100 pounds on their backs and are going further distances than ever before, Williams said during the panel. The CH-53K and F-35 are "exquisite platforms," he said, but create an "uncomfortable" problem for logisticians, especially when the Corps continues to mix old and new technology.

The Navy printed this submarine

3D printing is a big priority in the U.S. Navy and it's fulfilling bigger and bigger orders. (Daniel Woolfolk/Staff)

"We’re getting heavier, we’re getting bloated, and it requires more," Williams said.

The Corps is looking for ways to stay light and ready.  For Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, the deputy commandant of installations and logistics, a top priority is in command and control logistics and information technology.

"To try to modernize that with emerging technologies is his No. 1 priority," Williams said.

One big "game changer" will be 3-D printing technology, Williams said during Wednesday’s panel. It’s disruptive in a good way and can improve performance and print "obsolete stuff" from older platforms.

It will also allow Marines to manufacture things in a less complicated way.  Where we had five parts before, we may now be able to print in one, he said.

For example, Williams said, there’s a Marine at the tip of the spear who has a drone that goes down.

"In the old days … that thing had to get evacuated. But guess what? I can print one now."

The 3-D printing technology can improve readiness and response times for the entire supply chain, he said.

A key for all these technologies is "smart logistics" — networking equipment and devices to communicate and "talk" to each other. All the platforms should be in sync, he said, and then they can diagnose and fix problems in optimal time.

A final area is health care for forward-deployed Marines, he told Marine Corps Times after the panel, and finding ways to evacuate folks using cutting-edge technology.

Right now, teams of Marines and civilians are doing experiments and exercises, and looking to the private sector to find ways to optimize technologies and to continue to improve readiness.

"Boy, there are some exciting things going on out there," he said.