The United States Marine Corps is highly regarded as the most elite branch of the US Military, and though they’re famous for their outstanding capabilities in the air, on land, and sea, there’s also another world they thrive in: the world of invention. Using advanced technology, power- and time-saving innovations, and gadgets that seem straight out of a sci-fi movie, the USMC constantly strives to better outfit its Marines.
If “night-vision goggles” are the latest military innovation you’re familiar with, then you’ll want to check out these awesome gadgets and pieces of tech Marines trust to keep them several steps ahead of the enemy at all times. Trust me, the Marines have come a long way from seeing in the dark.
When it comes to flying a fighter jet, a pilot’s best friend is their field of vision. And now, thanks to new X-Ray Helmets used by the USMC, that field of vision has expanded to include a 360-degree view. By providing fighter-jet pilots with helmets that display the entirety of their surroundings on the infrared spectrum — effectively turning night into day and giving them “eyes in the back of their head” — pilots benefit from increased visibility, “night vision,” and even the ability to peer through the clouds below. A Marine’s role in the air is always changing and adapting to fit the needs of the mission, so they need tools in their arsenal that are equally adaptable. Whether the Marine is engaging in attack missions, fighter escort, air defense, reconnaissance, or (their specialty) close air support, the X-Ray Helmet’s extra visibility gives a distinct and malleable advantage to the pilot.
Virtual reality isn’t just disrupting the video game industry, it’s also revolutionizing the way Marines train for missions. VR Training lets infantry practice in realistic settings, with artillery, aircraft, and even vegetation added to enhance the realism of a simulation. While fighter pilots have had resources like this for years, new VR training programs finally offer a similar experience to Marines on the ground. “It was a struggle in the past to get training,” says Maj. George Flynn, in a release about the new VR systems. “Now we can use the system to fully replace elements or supplement live fire exercise.” The Marines are known for their rigorous training and mission preparations, and VR Training adds another layer of realism to their exercises, fine-tuning the Marines’ exemplary talents and skills when it comes time to face — and defeat — the enemy.
Unmanned systems are quickly becoming an indispensable addition to the Marines’ arsenal in the field. One of the most exciting new unmanned vehicles is the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate, or GUSS, a multi-use ground vehicle that can function with or without a driver. The GUSS can be used to do recon, as a people mover, or to resupply Marine units without having to devote a driver to the task. It can function by tracking a predetermined, GPS-guided path; in “follow-me” mode; or under direct command from its controller. When the Marines are called to action, they need to be quick to respond and ready to jump right into action. Unmanned vehicles take extra burdens off of Marines (through everything from air support to carrying a Marine’s water), making these whip-fast responders even quicker on the draw.
Though it may look like a leg brace (or a bionic limb), the PowerWalk is really an ingenious device that can channel and store energy. A Marine wearing the PowerWalk actually builds up energy while walking, running, and generally moving about. That energy can then be used to recharge batteries and other devices. Not only is this a great use of natural movement, it also takes extra weight (from batteries and chargers) off the backs of Marines. By conserving energy and taking some of the burden off the packs of Marines, they’re even better suited to overcome any obstacles that stand in their way. As an added bonus, the comfort and maneuverability of these “robo-legs” won’t slow down infantry or stifle the movements of reconnaissance Marines.
The Marines knew they needed a better power solution while out in the field. Lugging around generators and gallons of fuel wasn’t cutting it, so resourceful Marines used leftover military parts and solar panels to power their devices. As Marines are often first responders during conflicts, the ability to charge gear with repurposed solar power could powerfully improve their effectiveness and mobility. During testing and development they powered a beacon transponder; in the future this technology will help power an array of instruments, saving fuel, manpower, and time.
Marine Corps scientists are in the final rounds of testing new systems for controlling robots. The goal with these new control systems is to keep Marines from staying hunched over a set of knobs and buttons, when they could be doing what they do best — taking action out in the field. With new technologies like a watch that tracks the wearer’s gestures or a “biosleeve” that reads electric currents in the user’s arm, the USMC aims to keep their Marines more engaged in their surroundings while at the helm of an automaton. The idea is to let a Marine interact with a robot in much the same way he or she would interact nonverbally with his or her squad. As Marines adapt to cutting edge technology, they’re using robotics to help them succeed at all types of missions. Keeping their heads up means Marines can essentially be in two places at once, as they work with robotics and continue to lead the charge in the field.
After years of testing, the Marine Corps soon will be ready to roll out lightweight plastic-cased ammunition. By replacing traditional brass ammunition casings with highly durable polymer ones, Marines will be able to carry up to 40% more ammunition with them in the field. In a world where every ounce of gear is carefully accounted for, the ability to carry significantly more ammunition makes a monumental difference to a Marine. If Marines can move quicker and carry more ammo thanks to plastic ammunition, then they’re that much more efficient when carrying out combat objectives in the field.
A Marine’s job will never be easy, but thanks to the continuing advances of technology, the Marines will grow ever more sophisticated, efficient, and prepared. For more information on the ever evolving responsibilities of the Marines and the high-tech equipment that facilitates their missions, visit marines.com.
Giaco Furino is a writer living and working in Brooklyn. He contributes frequently to The Creators Project, CONtv, Rhapsody magazine, and more.