By Jim Katzaman, Corporate Communications
Hundreds of miles from Marine Corps Systems Command headquarters at Quantico, Va., joint Marine and Army teams in Warren, Mich., propel hand-driven armored vehicle and remote-controlled robot programs that protect U.S. armed forces around the world.
Both the Light Armored Vehicles, or LAV, and Robotics Systems Joint Project Office are directed by Marines tied to Army counterparts at Warren. On a visit to the sites, Brigadier General Frank Kelley, MCSC Commander, saw firsthand how the military services mesh operations to assure rapid, ongoing support to forward-deployed forces.
LAV has been a longstanding program with decades yet to come. The eight-wheeled amphibious reconnaissance vehicle has been used by the Marine Corps since its introduction in 1983. Program Manager Colonel Mark Brinkman noted that his professional acquisition organization, PM LAV, “has kept the LAV a viable combat platform for 30 years. Sustainment and upgrade efforts will keep it just as viable for another 22 years until the vehicles are scheduled to come out of service in 2035.”
To achieve the projected half century of reliable service life, PM LAV is staffed with Army employees with a mission to support the Marine Corps LAV. “We are co-located in Warren,” Brinkman said, “with multiple Army acquisition organizations that enable synergy on many occasions.”
From the PM LAV office, Kelley then inspected the fully upgraded LAV-25A2. The current model includes an internal and external ballistic protection package, automatic fire-suppression system for its interior and suspension upgrade to support the added weight of the new armor. With these upgrades, the LAV has added survivability against improvised explosive devices and direct-fire kinetic energy weapons.
Protecting Marines amid enemy fire is just one aspect of the Marine Corps Systems Command efforts at Warren. Detecting attacks before they occur rests on the unmanned treads of heroes with mystical names such as Talon, PackBot, Devil Pup and Dragon Runner. These are the robots that spearhead patrols, often paying with their mechanical lives to keep U.S. forces safe.
“Since 2005, there have been 797 robots destroyed in combat,” said Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Stinson, Project Manager for the Robotics Systems Joint Project Office, known as RS JPO. “We like to think that hundreds of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines’ lives or limbs have been saved by those robots we helped to develop, procure, field, train and sustain.”
The Marine Corps and Army employ many of the same robotic systems on the battlefield, receive the same training, and share maintenance and support concepts through RS JPO. The Project Manager for RS JPO is chartered by the Army Acquisition Executive through Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems. At the same time, the Commander of Marine Corps Systems Command is the milestone decision authority for Marine Corps robotic programs by memorandum of agreement between the Corps and Army.
While some RS JPO Integrated Product Team members and staff are still located at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Stinson has already moved his headquarters to Michigan’s Selfridge Air National Guard Base. He expects to consolidate RS JPO sites in Michigan at one location by the end of fiscal year 2013.
RS JPO also has sites at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Huntsville, Ala.; Arifjan, Kuwait; and five Joint Robot Repair Detachments in Afghanistan.
“Much of the current Marine Corps robot fleet was procured as commercial off-the-shelf items via Urgent Universal Needs Statements,” Stinson said. “They are not included on most units’ tables of organization and equipment. However, years of reliance on robots indicate we need to keep some of these assets. Whatever the Marine Corps keeps will need to transition to a new long-term sustainment concept.”
Managing robots guided remotely by joystick or vehicles driven by Marines encased in protective armor, the programs at MCSC’s Michigan sites strive to achieve a common purpose: Ensure safety and effective support for the warfighter. Brinkman said, “It’s a mandate that we take very seriously, and which we pursue every day.”