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Marines on the Hunt for a Ship-to-Shore Game-Changer

QUANTICO, Virginia -- The Marine Corps wants to change how troops get from ship to shore. And they're willing to consider just about anything to do it.

On the heels of two land wars and with the prospect of conflict with a peer or near-peer global power closer than it has been in decades, innovation is the watchword for the Marine Corps. Marines are testing out new ways to integrate cutting-edge technology into their combat model and updating operating concepts with an eye to an uncertain future. And even time-honored processes are up for reconsideration.

"My father was in World War II. He went ashore in an AmTrac going four to six knots," Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told reporters at the Modern Day Marine expo here Tuesday. "Marines today are going to shore in [assault amphibious vehicles] at about the same speed. Let's look at the technology out there and find different ways to do this."

A Marine Corps task force, Walsh said, is examining the mechanics of ship-to-shore maneuver now with the goal of improving or modernizing the process. The task force, with input from Dr. John Burrow, assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test & Evaluation, will select one prototype by next spring for demonstration at Camp Pendleton, California.

That prototype could be anything from a tactical jet ski that Navy SEALs for force reconnaissance Marines could use to come ashore as an advanced party to a sensor designed to launch off the Marines' brand-new amphibious combat vehicles to provide additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Walsh said. It could even be a decoy system, he said, designed to look like vessels landing on a beach to distract the enemy while the Marines go ashore elsewhere.

The timeline for developing a prototype makes it likely the system selected will be an already-developed technology that is adapted for the Marines' use.

"Our warfare centers have lots of those capabilities right now," Walsh said. "We just have to use them in different ways."

The Marines are taking on this new challenge as they enter a fiscal year with the renewed threat of sequestration spending caps on defense spending and no special source of funding for innovation. But Walsh said Marines are prioritizing the development of new capabilities by being strategic: fielding gear to smaller groups, rather than the whole force, and taking advantage of rapid prototyping when possible. Like other top Marine leaders, Walsh stressed that the Corps had to find ways to innovate despite constraints.

"We've got to start finding the money," he said.

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