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Marines Want New Headset That Will Amp Up Battlefield Sounds

The Marine Corps released a request for information for a suite of hearing enhancement devices to help Marines communicate better and increase their lethality on the battlefield. (U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Ezekiel Kitandwe)
The Marine Corps released a request for information for a suite of hearing enhancement devices to help Marines communicate better and increase their lethality on the battlefield. (U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Ezekiel Kitandwe)

A new request for information issued by the Marine Corps this week seeks devices that can fit inside or around the ear of an infantry Marine to hear important battlefield sounds and commands -- even while protecting his or her ears from sound damage.

The RFI, issued Sept. 5, cites plans by Marine Corps Systems Command to buy between 7,000 and 65,000 of these devices over the next three years. According to the specs, they must work with the issued Enhanced Combat Helmet and be compatible with Marine Corps radios. They must be designed to be used in addition to the combat arms earplugs used by troops to guard against hearing damage.

"Marines have the earplugs and they do provide protection, but sometimes they choose not to wear them because they want to be aware of their surroundings at all times," Steven Fontenot, project officer for Hearing, Eye Protection and Loadbearing Equipment at Marine Corps Systems Command, said in a statement. "The new headset we want to acquire will allow Marines to wear hearing protection, yet still provide the opportunity to communicate and understand what is going on around them."

According to a release, Systems Command has already begun testing headsets designed to enhance hearing. In a February test, 220 Marines from the infantry, artillery, reconnaissance and combat engineer communities were asked how a sample headset worked, how easy it was to use, and how comfortable it was.

Tests have taken place at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and during live-fire exercises within the Infantry Training Exercise on the West Coast, officials said. Another test involved reconnaissance Marines deploying to Norway with the headsets to assess their function in cold weather.

"Marines wore the headsets throughout their regular training cycle to assess comfort and how well they integrated with the ECH," Fontenot said in a released statement. "We want to make sure the headset we acquire is rugged and capable of operating in a wide range of environments a Marine might encounter, from cold weather to extreme heat."

The posted request for information contains few specific parameters, but officials said in the release that they want a headset system robust enough to protect against hearing loss from battlefield weapons systems that don't even exist yet, but could pose even greater hearing risks when they become operational.

Marine Corps Systems Command is seeking information from industry by Oct. 5, and looking to begin purchasing hearing enhancement devices as early as Fiscal Year 2020.

"It is likely we will field a suite of hearing systems, and Marines will get what they need based on their specific role and unit," Nick Pierce, Individual Armor Team lead, said in a statement. "The ultimate goal is to field a hearing system that will help Marines communicate better and increase their lethality on the battlefield."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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