Headed for Iraq, Marines Check out New Combat Gear

Article excerpt

In preparation for extended deployments in Iraq, U.S. Marines are looking to stock up on new equipment to replace or supplement existing gear.

Weapons for urban combat are at the top of the list. One example is a 63-ton behemoth-known as an assault breacher vehicle--designed to plow through minefields. Its job is to clear a lane for other vehicles and troops. It has a range of tools designed to defeat mines and roadside bombs, explained Jeff Augustine, a team leader at the Marine Corps Systems Command, in Quantico, Va.

"It has a surface mine plow that can withstand the first blast and continue to march right on through the minefield," he said. Other tools include a full-width mine plow, a combat dozer blade, a rapid ordnance-removal system, demolition charges and a lane-marking system.

The breacher is built on the chassis of an M1A1 tank. It has a new turret designed to provide improved protection for the vehicle commander, Augustine said. The turret is armed with a .50-caliber machine gun for self-defense.

The vehicle can be operated by a two-man crew or by remote control.

The breacher currently is being tested at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Augustine said. The Corps plans to deploy it to Iraq this summer. Over the next two years, the Marines intend to buy 33 of the vehicles.

The Marines also are purchasing large numbers of weapon sights for individual weapons. One example is the Parascope Urban Combat Sight-made by Vitronics Inc., a division of MTC Technologies Company, of Dayton, Ohio. It allows Marines to shoot around a corner or over a barrier, exposing only their hands and arms to enemy fire.

The sight allows targets to be viewed both from side and rear ports without mirror inversion or distortion, said Philip Karcher, a Vitronics representative. Using the side port, targets may be engaged from the safety of a protective barrier. Shooters also can aim conventionally, with both eyes, open through the rear port.

Another advantage is that "the sight is purely optical," Karcher explained. "There are no electronics to break down or batteries to die."

The sight mounts on the standard Picatinny 1913 Rail System used by the M16 and M4 rifles. "We fired 700 rounds with the sight at Aberdeen," Karcher said. "Accuracy was very good, and there was a huge reduction in the exposure profile."

The sight was released in the fall and was evaluated immediately by the Rapid Equipping Force, he said. A special operations unit also is trying it out in Iraq. The sight comes with an optional cover to protect it against harmful aspects of the environment, such as sand.

Any Marine armed with one of the Remington 700 weapon systems-such as the M24 sniper rifle-can mount as many as four visible and infrared illumination and aiming devices on it by equipping it with a Modular Accessory Rail System.

MARS, as the system is known, "brings these rifles into the 21st century," said Michael D. Haughen, military product specialist for the Remington Arms Company, of Olympia, Wash.

Unlike the Picatinny system, MARS has three pieces, including a top rail for mounting day and night-vision sights, and two side rails that can be moved or removed to accommodate devices for specific missions, Haughen explained.

Haughen, who retired from the Army after 17 years in Special Forces, designed MARS himself. "It took about two years to develop the system," he said. It was released in mid 2004, and has been adopted already by the U.S. Special Operations Command's 75th Ranger Regiment.

Marines headed to dusty Iraq also need better cleaning products for their weapons. Some units are buying the M4/M16 Soft Pak Kit, made by Otis Technology Inc., of Lyons Falls, N.Y. The kit is a half-pound cleaning system that replaces more than three pounds of conventional gear, explained Jerry Williams, the firm's law-enforcement and military sales manager.

The kit comes with a flexible cleaning rod, making it easier to brush out a rifle's entire barrel, from breech to muzzle. Mud or snow can be dislodged from the muzzle. A bullet stuck in the neck can be knocked out. Specific tools are included to clean locking lugs, bolt face, carrier key, bolt and slide, as well as scopes.

The kit can be used to clean all 5.56 mm weapons systems, including the Army's experimental XM-8 rifle, Williams said. It includes patches that can be used up to six times and a mohair brush for cleaning optics lenses.

Meanwhile, mundane combat gear such as boots, socks and tents also are getting more attention as more Marines deploy.

Starting in October, Marines were required to wear new combat boots. These brown, suede boots replace two older versions, the black and the jungle green boots. The new ones are issued in boot camp and sold in post exchanges. They are lighter and more flexible, more like athletic shoes, explained Onder Ors, general manager at Bates Uniform Footwear. Only two manufacturers are authorized to make the boots-Bates, which is headquartered in Rockford, Mich., and Belleville Shoe Manufacturing, of Belleville, III. The Marine Corps is working to expand licensing to allow more manufacturers to produce the new footwear. Meanwhile, Marines are warned not to buy unauthorized look-alikes. Approved boots will have a Marine emblem on the out side of the heel and an approval certification number on the inside tongue of each piece of footwear.

The boots come in two varieties, one for infantry combat in temperate climates and another for jungles and deserts. They require minimal break-in, and are breathable and quick drying, Ors said. They feature partial speed lacing and removable cushion inserts. Unlike older boots, they require no shoe polish.

The boots' soles have cleated rubber bottoms for improved traction. When the soles wear out, they can be replaced, Ors said. That, however, could cost as much as $50. By that time, the entire boot would be showing some age. "You might as well invest in a new boot," he said.

Almost as important for keeping feet comfortable are the socks that a Marine wears inside the boots, said Sam Mathews, a representative of SealSkinz Waterproof Socks and Gloves, of Duarte, Calif. SealSkinz socks "use a solid membrane, without pores," Mathews said. "Liquid water cannot pass through, keeping the foot dry, but water vapor can, permitting the foot to breathe. The foot stays dry until there is a break in the membrane." Socks last up to two years, he added.

The socks seem to be popular with military units. "The 82nd Airborne Division bought 7,000 pairs in 2003," he said. The 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Special Forces and Colombian military services also have bought them.

The socks can help prevent "a lot of foot injuries, including blisters and jungle rot," Matthews said. "You can run into lots of problems if you don't take care of your feet."

Tired of spending nights in sleeping bags spread out over hard ground, swatting at insects, many Leathernecks are considering buying a combination cot and one-man tent made by Kamp-Rite, of Lovelock, Nev.

The Tent Cot, as it is known, is a folding bed with its own tent and mosquito netting, explained Rob Bentley, director of military sales. It sits 11 inches off the ground, keeping campers dry and away from rodents and other pests.

The cot has doors and windows on all four sides with tie-up straps. It can be equipped with a fan. By tilting one end up, it can be converted into a lounge chair during the day. It folds to a six-inch thickness for storage.

The Tent Cot has been available for three to four years on the commercial market, and is just now being offered to military organizations. So far, the biggest military customers have been Air Force units, followed by those of the Army, Bentley said.

Many Marines also are purchasing new folding knives. Among the innovative blades being selected is the Trident Folder, made by SOG Knives, of Lynnwood, Wash. It was developed in cooperation with the Navy SEALs, according to Scott Sherwood, vice president for sales and marketing.

What makes the Trident different, Sherwood said, is its patented groove that allows the operator to cut parachute cords, fishing lines and thin rope without opening the knife. "That can save valuable time when you're in a hurry and possibly under fire," he said. The Trident also features a one-handed opening action that works both for the right and the left hand, he said.

In addition, "it has a built-in safety spring that prevents the knife from opening unexpectedly and injuring the operator, his clothing or other equipment," Sherwood said. The Trident is 8.5 inches long with a 3.5-inch blade, and it weighs 4.5 ounces. It comes with a pocket clip and a storage pouch.

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