Marines Adapt to Protect Against Threats from IEDs
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 21, 2005 The Marine Corps is adapting the way it protects its servicemembers against improvised explosive devices, according to a statement read to the House Armed Services Committee here today.
"Our Marines and sailors are our most precious assets, and the preservation of their lives through better and more capable equipment has been, and always will be, a top priority for the Marine Corps," Gen. William L. Nyland, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, and Brig. Gen. William D. Catto, commanding general of Marine Corps Systems Command, declared in a joint statement presented to the committee by Nyland.
Those measures are centered on providing protection from IEDs and similar blasts. And the measures used when Marines returned to Iraq in March 2004 to protect them from IEDs simply are no longer sufficient.
Nyland said the threat in March 2004 was from 60 mm and 81 mm mortar rounds. Today, he said, the enemy's choices for use in IEDs include 122 mm and 155 mm artillery shells, "daisy-chained" series of shells, triple-stacked mines and suicide car bombs. And, he added, it takes a combination of solutions to defend against the stepped-up insurgent tactics.
"While there is no one absolute armor, technology, tactic, technique or procedure that can counter these growing threats 100 percent of the time, we too are adapting and are providing our warfighters more and more effective solutions as the threat changes and we understand what works and what doesn't," Nyland said.
For instance, Marines now know that up-armoring vehicles is a good way to save the lives of those who encounter an IED.
Though committee chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter questioned delays in getting vehicles up-armored, Nyland assured the committee that the goal is to provide the best protection available to Marines in theater.
"From the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, the Marine Corps has had a critical imperative to provide armor protection to all of our rolling stock," Nyland said. "The goal was to provide the best level of protection possible to 100 percent of in-theater vehicles. To that end, the Marine Corps has evolved the vehicle armor since we have been in combat in OIF II."
That evolution involves three generations, including Level III, the first generation. At this level, fabricated armor was affixed to vehicles. At the time, it was the best solution available and fully met operational requirements, according to the joint statement.
At Level II, up-armoring required upgrading all armor kits to the second generation of armor. This included Marine depot-built 3/8-inch rolled homogeneous armor.
"In all, more than 4,100 vehicles were equipped in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force," according to the statement.
At this level, in a joint effort with the Army, the Marine Corps received a distribution of 200 add-on armor kits and 94 up-armored Humvees. The continually evolving threat made it clear that improvements to the Level II up-armoring were necessary.
"Marine Armor Kits" were the answer. MAKs are integrated kits that can be installed at the unit level. They offer significantly improved protection against small-arms fire, IEDs, and up to 4-pound mine blasts, according to the joint statement.
While improvements are being made, no Marine Corps vehicle has left a forward operating base since August 2004 without Level II protection or better.
The Marine Corps also has benefited from an amendment to the Rapid Acquisition Authority to Respond to Combat Emergencies. This authority makes it possible for the secretary of defense to waive all rules and regulations to procure needed equipment if U.S. forces are incurring casualties.
The Joint Explosive Ordinance Disposal Rapid Response Vehicle, also referred to as the Cougar, was the first hardened engineer vehicle delivered to Marine expeditionary forces. According to the joint statement, it has dramatically improved the protection levels for Marines involved in activities such as the detection and removal of IEDs used by insurgents. The Cougar is designed to withstand mine and IED blasts. The Marine Corps will receive 38 of the 122 Cougars that will be fielded.
Another measure of protection being employed is IED Countermeasures Equipment. The ICE system uses relatively low-power radio frequency energy to jam remote-controlled devices that can detonate IEDs.
"Although 1,066 systems was the initial requirement, we are procuring an additional 2,000 ICE systems with the $30 million received in the (fiscal) 2005 supplemental funding in an attempt to better support OIF II," Nyland said.
He said that while this type of battle is not what the Marine Corps had always planned for, the service is adapting and will continue to do so as needed.
"We will continue to make every effort to maximize whatever assets are in theater for all of our operating forces," he said.