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Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a huge urban training center this summer to test the Leather Necks ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city full of innocent civilians.
North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots, and other high-tech equipment at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana in August 2019.
You’ll spend weeks winding your way through underground tunnels simulating fires in a recreated city center. You’ll also compete against their peers armed with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets that the enemy can now easily bring into battle.
It marks the beginning of a four year effort known as Project Metropolis that executives say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is directed from the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after the service providers discovered a problematic problem in the Middle East after nearly two decades of war: the opponents have examined their tactics and weaknesses and now know how to exploit them.
Sgt. Dalyss Reed, a rifleman with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, maneuvers through a breakthrough hole while conducting an urban access assault.
(Photo by Lance Cpl.Dalton S. Swanbeck)
With tensions rising with Iran, China and Russia, it is likely that Marines could face a far more sophisticated enemy than the insurgent groups they fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just this week, Iran shot down a massive US Navy drone that can fly at high altitudes and collect a lot of surveillance data. President Donald Trump said he stopped retaliatory strikes just minutes before operations began.
Less than two weeks earlier, a Russian destroyer almost collided with a US Navy warship in the Philippine Sea. These are just a few examples of close calls that could have resulted in Marines and other U.S. forces battling peer-tech geared militaries near their peers in highly populated areas.
At the same time, the Marine Corps document released in 2016 stated that the service was not manned, trained or equipped to fight in urban centers. Maj. Edward Leslie, senior urban dense operations planner for the Warfighting Lab, told Military.com.
“The enemy has changed,” said Leslie. “… You obviously have more access to drones. I think the enemy’s perceptual skills have increased, they can see as well as we can at night, and they have skills that can take advantage of our technology or disrupt our technology. “
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
The Marine Corps is not alone in facing these new challenges. Spending half a billion dollars training soldiers to fight underground, the Army has begun sending small units to their vast training center in California, where leaders are challenged with more complex warfare scenarios.
The Army also noted that young sergeants in most infantry and melee units do not know how to maneuver their squads or perform simple land navigation, Military.com reported this spring.
Those are skills Marines need to keep improving, Leslie said, as so many of the advantages they are used to on the battlefield are weakening. It’s not just a room cleaning that Marines must be good at, he said, but all of city operations – things like figuring out ways to get into a building without destroying it, since it’s right next to a school or hospital lies.
“I think that’s the value we’re going to get [with Project Metropolis],” he said.
A next generation fight
The Marines and British Royal Marines Training Center, which will be in use this summer, is a sprawling 1,000 acre site that houses dozens of buildings, some of which have up to seven floors and basements. The complex also features underground tunnels and active farmland worth more than a mile.
The urban center was used not only to train troops, but also to help leaders prepare for pandemics or natural disasters.
The Kilo Company will complete four phases in the month they are there, Brig. General Christian Wortman, who recently served as commanding general of the Warfighting Lab, told reporters in May 2019. It will be in a five-day simulated force-on Force combat culminates in which the Kilo Company Marines, armed with new high-tech gear, face a like-minded enemy force with their own sophisticated gear.
The concept was introduced last summer by Commander General Robert Neller to help the Marines better prepare for battle against a nearby enemy. The British Royal Marines participating in the exercise will either join the Kilo Company’s efforts against the attacker or act as another force operating in the same region, Leslie said.
The Metropolis project will build on years of experimentation carried out by the Marine Corps as part of its Sea Dragon 2025 concept. Leslie said the grunt that picks up the next leg of experimentation in Indiana will continue to be challenged to deploy some of the new technology Marines have tested in a more complex urban setting, much like they will likely do in a future war zone.
Marines have experimented with different sizes of infantry squad to include drone operators. Now, Leslie said, they’ll be looking at organizing teams to operate a new tactical self-driving vehicle called the Expeditionary Monitor Autonomous Vehicle, which will carry a .50 caliber machine gun.
“This is going to be a big deal,” he said. “We want to see what the organization table looks like to work with and is it different if it’s an urban vehicle?”
Marines practice military operations on urban premises at Camp Buhring, Kuwait, Nov. 23, 2012. The Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit is deployed as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group as the Theater Reserve of the U.S. Central commands providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation under the U.S. 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl.Timothy R. Childers)
Rifle squads will continue to experiment with unmanned aerial systems, Leslie added, to detect enemy positions without sending anyone into a danger zone. You will use ground robots capable of mapping the inside of buildings and test the Marines’ decision-making when they are overwhelmed with information.
“We really want to see how the technology integrates and how it works in a dense urban setting,” he said.
Wortman said the Kilo Company will also operate non-lethal systems to turn to when in an area where civilian casualties are to be mourned. They will have access to kamikaze drones and “more sophisticated tools for emitting deadly fires,” he added.
It’s important for them to see that Marines will be able to use these new tools quickly and easily, Wortman said, as they don’t want them fiddling with new systems in the middle of combat situations.
Build on the past
Marines are not new to urban combat.
Leathernecks witnessed some of the bloodiest urban battles since the Battle of Vietnam in Hue City in Fallujah, Iraq. Approximately 12,000 US troops fought in the second leg of the 2004 battle to return this city to the Iraqi government. 82 US troops were killed and 600 more injured in the fierce battle that went from house to house in search of insurgents.
The Marines learned during these battles, Leslie said. But a lot has changed in the last 15 years, he added. With adversaries having access to cheap surveillance drones, night vision, and other technology, the military leaders who make life and death decisions on the battlefield must adapt.
The goal, Wortman said, is to keep the Marines armed and competent in order to maintain their lead on the battlefield.
Each city has a different character too, added Leslie. So what the Marines saw in Fallujah will not be what to expect in a new battle.
The Marine Corps has also made a lot of revenue since the fighting slowed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Leslie said. Today’s generation of Marines are incredibly tech-savvy too, Wortman said, and they’ll likely find ways to use some of the new equipment they hand over to them during this experiment and innovative new ways to use it.
“We expect that these Sailors and Marines will teach us about the possibilities of this technology because they will apply it in creative ways … in ways that the technology developers did not fully anticipate.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.