Marines Designate Infantry Battalion as New Experimental Unit

The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab tested an experimental Legged Squad Support System during RIMPAC 2014. (Marine Corps/Sarah Dietz)
The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab tested an experimental Legged Squad Support System during RIMPAC 2014. (Marine Corps/Sarah Dietz)

Marines assigned to the legendary "Dark Horse" battalion may get the chance to try out new gear, technology, and fighting methods before they are introduced service-wide.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said Friday that 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., would spend the next year acting as the Corps' experimental unit, working with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to field-test new ideas and equipment over the course of ordinary training and operations.

"They're going to be our experimental platform, if you will, and we'll give them capabilities and do it in an efficient way -- which is, give it to Marines and let them figure it out, because they're our best developers and experimenters," Neller said.

It's the first time the Marine Corps has ever designated an experimental unit, and underscores the heavy emphasis the Marine Corps and Navy communities are placing on innovation.

Speaking to following remarks at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego, Neller said 3/5 was chosen because its schedule made it available. The unit is now deployed to Japan for six months with the Unit Deployment Program.

"Normally, when you go to UDP, you end up sending a company here, a company there, and since we're looking at distributed ops and how that will all work, everything that was already built in their schedule will already fit that," Neller said. He added that Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force out of Japan, had shown a keen interest in being part of the planned experimentation.

The unit will participate in the international Rim of the Pacific maritime warfare exercise this summer, Neller said. This year, RIMPAC will feature some 40 experiments and experimental concepts.

Marines with 3/5 can also expect to operate with quadcopters or other small unmanned aerial vehicles, try out new communications gear, and experiment with changes to rifle company operations.

"So it's organization, capabilities, technologies, how to distribute companies, how do we sustain them, how do we logistically sustain them, how do we make sure they have enough fire support, how do we move them?" Neller said.

While many experiments are already planned, it's possible new ideas will surface as the year progresses.

"There will be stuff we'll discover along the way," Neller said. "We'll be counting on the Marines to say, 'Hey, it would really help us if we had something that did this.'"

Initially, he said, Marine Corps brass had considered setting up a dedicated experimental unit to work with the Warfighting Lab, but the idea was scrapped as too difficult to pull off. However, using a traditional infantry battalion has its own advantages.

"We've found, over the last 15 years of war, the most innovative people out there are the Marines doing the operations," Neller said.

    -- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

    Story Continues