Marines Field New Technology that Can Measure Bullet Trajectory, Simulated Wounds in California Exercise

Joint Terminal Attack Controller Virtual Trainer during a gear demonstration at MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms
U.S. Marine Corps Nyron Lewis, combat photographer, Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command, uses the Joint Terminal Attack Controller Virtual Trainer during a gear demonstration at MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, California, Dec. 28, 2023. (Jonathan Willcox/U.S. Marine Corps)

In its largest annual war game, the Marine Corps outfitted thousands of Marines with new technology this week meant to measure just how deadly they can be -- an effort to shed decades-old equipment and usher the service into a new age of combat data collection.

The exercise this month at Twentynine Palms, California, included 2,700 Marines, 230 vehicles and more than a dozen buildings equipped with technology that can measure bullet trajectory down to the inch, simulated wounds in different places on the body, and real-time individual Marine locations -- all metrics that earlier equipment could not accurately capture.

The new equipment, called the Marine Corps Tactical Instrumentation System, or MCTIS, is a welcome replacement to older generations of "laser tag" training systems, which were time-consuming to equip, inaccurate and generally unreliable, Marine officials told

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"At the end of this, we're going to be providing information that's usable by every level across the board," Lt. Col. Rory Hermann, the Marine Corps' product manager for range training systems, told on Tuesday. "So, whether you're the regimental commander, you're getting the feedback from how your battalions performed, down to the squad leader [who] can look at how his Marines performed."

The MCTIS can tell the Marine through voice command when they are being bracketed by indirect fire, for example. It also tells the Marine whether and where they have been wounded through pulses from a watch-like device worn on the wrist. Some sensors are attached to vehicles and can simulate being hit with an anti-vehicle weapon, to include detecting which Marines were wounded and at what position in the vehicle they were hit.

That information, as well as other metrics like location and even the Marine's posture, are then routed through a central command hub where leaders can see how their forces are moving en masse. After an exercise is over, commanders down to team leaders can then bring their Marines in for an after-action review, or AAR -- something that officials told has been a boon for the system's performance.

Officials said they were able to successfully demonstrate the capability in the exercise, adding that one of the largest hurdles was quelling the "hangover" from old equipment, which had cultivated a few habits this new equipment is hoping to overcome. They said they understood that introducing new equipment may come with a "cultural shift" or face possibly skeptical Marines who are accustomed to the old gear, but ultimately it will change the way they train and analyze their ability to fight.

For example, old force-on-force gear, such as the multiple integrated laser engagement system, or MILES, often saw Marines tying the system down to their gear with parachute cord or zip ties so it wouldn't fall off in the field. One official told that Marines should "give this a chance before someone tries to do that."

"That's going to be part of that cultural shift," said Col. Jesse Attig, a Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command modeling and simulations officer. "Until people see how reliable the system is, how effective it is in supporting their training, they still may have a bit of hangover from the older gear."

For the individual Marine, the system includes a body harness, helmet harness and weapon mount. A battery pack is designed to sustain a Marine for five days before it needs to be changed out.

The head harness provides posture information, so a control hub can see whether the Marine is standing, kneeling or in the prone position. It also includes a quick-release strap for Marines in amphibious situations, so they can quickly shed the equipment and not be weighed down by it during an emergency situation.

The bracket for the weapon, which contains a small-arms radio transmitter that is accurate down to the inch for shooting, according to Saab officials, can be adapted to several different weapons systems from an AK-47 to an M4. Saab Inc., a defense company, was awarded the contract for the new force-on-force system in 2021.

Even buildings were outfitted with the equipment.

"They can actually instrument the buildings with sensors both outside and internally to detect where personnel are in the building," Hermann told on Tuesday. "And then also what effects are being had from the weapons outside the building."

A MCTIS attached to the building can register it as being made of wood or concrete and will be able to tell whether Marines' weapons systems can penetrate the material or not. Older systems, which relied heavily on inaccurate lasers, did not have the same measurements, so a Marine hiding behind a tree could easily evade a .50 caliber machine gun lasering him or her during an exercise, for example.

"From the perspective of the Marines, they're appreciating the data that they're getting back," Hermann said of feedback he's received about the system in the exercise. "The fact they can use this for further development of their teams and themselves and down to the individual Marine ... they've expressed that they appreciate that part of the system."

One of the objectives of MCTIS is "giving the exercising force time back," David Rees, one of Saab's site leads, told

Older systems, depending on the unit and how quickly they could move through, could take hours to equip and get out the door to actual training. Saab, according to Rees, is contractually obligated to get a Marine company equipped with the MCTIS in 70 minutes or less -- that includes loading Marines' data into the system so it can accurately measure their actions come training time.

"We know how complex it is to get into an exercise at any scale," Rees said. "So, the shorter contact time that we have with them whilst having the same confidence and them having the confidence that the equipment is properly fitted and working properly, that's a key objective for us to continue to get that tied down."

MCTIS is an initiative under the Marine Corps' Training and Education Command, or TECOM. It falls under what is known as Project Tripoli, an effort to modernize the way Marines train as the overall Corps looks to become more agile and adaptable.

A TECOM official previously described the Marine Corps' old portfolio of simulations as "isolated," singularly purposed, and "poorly positioned" to support exercises of different scales.

"While high-quality [live, virtual and constructive] training is available," the official said, "limitations on time, technology, standards and technical expertise reduce the availability of this training."

Given that technology has improved since initial simulations were rolled out decades ago, the Marine Corps sees an opportunity to update its repertoire in light of greater institutional changes under Force Design. For the training side, according to the official, it hopes to replicate the "conditions, threat and capabilities that a commander will experience on tomorrow's battlefield."

Efforts like the MCTIS aim to make data available from the individual Marine to echelons above them, including what officials described as "the human factor."

"There's actually a really interesting rich history when you talk about the value of instrumentation of Marines or soldiers in informing other efforts beyond training," Lt. Col. Matthew Morse, the senior modeling simulation adviser for Project Tripoli, told in a recent interview about the project’s efforts.

"Things like your rate of fire under different conditions, your accuracy, when you're maneuvering under fire -- those are things that you're really only going to get good quality data if you're instrumenting your personnel," he said.

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