Editor’s Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.
Thank the Marine Corps‘ first experimental infantry unit, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, for the quadcopters that are coming to grunt squads and a host of high-speed technology that will follow.
But after two years of experimentation during training exercises and a deployment to the Pacific, 3/5 is standing down — and a logistics unit is on deck to take its place.
During a town hall address to Marines deployed to Bahrain in December, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller announced that Combat Logistics Battalion 8, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be the next designated experimental unit for the Marine Corps.
Commanded by Lt. Col. Kenneth Gawronski, the unit most recently deployed with the Marines’ crisis response task force for Africa earlier in 2017. CLB-8 was briefly deactivated in 2013 following combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but restored in October 2015 as new operational demands surfaced.
The move from infantry experimentation to logistics is by design, Neller told Military.com in an interview.
“There’s probably as much innovation in logistics [as infantry], with additive manufacturing and distribution and every flying quadcopter, drone, delivery of supplies,” he said.
There is overlap, too, Neller added. The Marines in the logistics unit would often use the same weapons, same vehicles, and same communications at their infantry counterparts.
And as the Corps highlights a future strategy that emphasizes smaller units operating independently and at greater distances apart, logistics will spend more time in the spotlight.
“If we’re a distributed force or can operate at range, it’s one thing to put the force into the battlespace,” Neller said. “Maybe a more difficult thing is, how do you supply it, how do you sustain it? How do you do medical, how do you do evacuation, how do you do maintenance?”
The Marine Corps has already begun experimenting with the futuristic side of maintenance.
And in a July 2017 interview with Military.com, the Corps’ deputy commandant for installations and logistics, Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, revealed the service is actively pursuing swarming supply delivery drones and a 50-pound “hoverbike” pallet that can make autonomous supply runs.
The specifics of the experimentation cycle for CLB-8 are still unclear. Neller said he expects the unit to begin its experimentation program sometime this calendar year. But as there are no combat logistics battalion deployments to Okinawa as part of the Marines’ unit deployment program, it’s not yet clear if the unit will participate in an operational deployment while experimenting.
“There will probably be some capabilities of things we’ll give them, and we’ll train and practice and probably take them out to [Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center 29 Palms for the Integrated Training Exercise] and do some sort of mobilization readiness exercise,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do as far as an operational deployment.”
The concept of an experimental unit that remains part of the operational force began with Neller in early 2016, when he announced 3/5 had been chosen for the job.
The unit not only tested new technology, including unmanned ground systems, aerial drones and more; it also tried out new concepts and configurations, such as changing the number of Marines in a squad and adding new leadership positions.
In an interview earlier in December, the commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, told Military.com that the experiment cycle had yielded 41 separate recommendations, ranging from ideal squad size to what new gear and technology to buy.
While some decisions have already been made, he said, other recommendations will be evaluated later this month.
“Now we have to get together with the commandant and figure out which ones are we going to accept,” he said.
The article originally appeared on Military.com.
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