Students wearing the Instrumented-Tactical Engagement Simulation System I train at the Urban Training Center aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Quantico will get ITESS II systems in March. (Mike Morones/Staff)
The simulation equipment that infantry Marines use during force-on-force, non-live-fire training is getting a significant upgrade. Think of it as laser tag on steroids.
In the months ahead, more commands will have gear that allows Marines to fire at each other using lasers affixed to everything from AK-47s to AT-4 rockets, according to Marine and industry officials. By 2015, even notional artillery fire will be possible.
The improvements provide Marines with the most realistic training to date, bringing them as close to combat as possible without putting them in the line of fire. That translates into a deadlier, more efficient force by preparing even newly minted Marines, who have never seen combat, to execute missions when bullets start flying.
The first generation of simulated-fire training equipment called the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System — MILES — was introduced in the mid-1980s but was barely a step above laser tag.
“It was glorified cowboys and indians” said Lt. Col. David Wallis, the commanding officer of Infantry Training Battalion at the School of Infantry–East aboard Camp Geiger, N.C.
Marines wore an array of cumbersome sensors and used their rifles, retrofitted with lasers, to fire at each other during combat training exercises. But the lasers were easily deflected by branches, shrubbery and even rain, limiting their usefulness, he said.
The systems also did not accurately simulate a rifle’s range or ballistics, according to Brandy Castle, senior business development manager at Cubic Defense Applications, which has developed the latest generations of hyper-realistic simulation systems that have replaced MILES.
MILES was replaced by the Instrumented-Tactical Engagement Simulation System or I-TESS I in 2004, offering training Marines much more fidelity, but the fielding of I-TESS II early this year added entire layers of realism to non-live-fire exercises by introducing a broad suite of weapons, shoot-through-wall capabilities and even simulated biological and radiological attacks.
I-TESS II, now fielded at many of the Corps large installations, will arrive at Camp Geiger and Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., by March. Both still use I-TESS I.
Second generation I-TESS incorporates laser small-arms transmitters that work not only with M16 rifles but also M240G medium machine guns, .50-caliber M2 machine guns, M40 sniper rifles, AK-47 assault rifles, AT-4 rockets and rocket-propelled grenades.
“The I-TESS II system has a shoot-through-wall capability, which transfers effects of direct fire weapons to occupants in primary and secondary rooms,” according to written responses from Marine Corps Systems Command, which is responsible for the development and procurement of the system.
Even a notional bomb dropped from a simulated aircraft on a Military Operation in Urban Terrain trainer — a simulated cityscape — can “kill” Marines inside structures, Castle said.
The system can also track the dispersal of chemical or biological agents during an attack, accounting for wind and distance while detecting if Marines don their gas masks quickly enough and if they have created a proper seal, she added.
Minefields, IEDs and grenades can also be incorporated into a training exercise, with sensors transmitting a kill or wounded message to any Marine in the blast radius.
But the realism of the simulated engagement is just part of the system’s utility. Every move made by each individual Marine is tracked in real time and recorded in such detail that instructors can tell if Marines use proper formations while maneuvering, are facing the right direction and if they are standing, prone or kneeling.
That provides instructors with an invaluable training aid. They can run through a blow-by-blow after-action assessment with students and highlight everything they did right and wrong, Wallis said.
With the fielding of I-TESS II nearly complete, Marine procurement officials are now turning their attention to the development and integration of the Squad Immersive Training Environment or SITE, which will add indirect artillery and mortar fire to the system. A contract for the upgrade was awarded to Cubic in late October. The company will deliver the SITE upgrade to I-TESS II by the first quarter of fiscal 2015.
With SITE, students will be able to call in artillery fire. The system will calculate ballistics and transmit a kill message to Marines who are within a certain distance of the impact. That will not only provide grunts with more realistic training, it will bring artillerymen into training exercises, allowing them to run through the targeting and firing process all the way through to pulling the lanyard.
In the future, MARCORSYSCOM hopes to incorporate non-lethal munitions to simulate indirect fire, which will fly to targets but explode in a non-harmful puff of smoke while emitting a kill-signal to Marines in the vicinity.
“We want to put Marines in an environment where they are going to experience the threats, the sights, the sounds of actual combat but in a safe environment where they can make mistakes and learn,” Castle said.■