Marine Corps infantry battalions are now beginning to receive a new warfighting tool that got its start in a Camp Lejeune barracks room.
The service is in the process of fielding the Tactical Decision Making Kit, or TDK, a hybrid of augmented reality technology, a first-person shooter-style simulation, and software that allows Marines to play out various scenarios on the screen and see the effects of various decisions made in combat.
It's a complicated system, but it has humble beginnings. In April, Military.com broke the news that the Marine Corps had invested $6 million from its new rapid acquisition account in the tactical decision-making system, after 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, a Camp Lejeune, North Carolina infantry unit, cleared out space in a barracks to design and demo the project.
According to officers who worked on the project, the Marines figured out how to use quadcopter drones to create a 3D map of a real training area, which they could then upload and use to design, run and debrief realistic missions. With the Marine Corps' Instrumented-Tactical Engagement Simulation System, or ITESS, equipment, they could also physically run combat scenarios in a simulated battlespace.
“So now what we’re seeing these guys do is, they’re gaming in their barracks, squad-on-squad — gaming back-and-forth on decision-making,” Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told Military.com at the time. “… They all get to take it 3D, plug it into what they look at virtually, figure out how they’ll attack it, then go conduct the mission.”
According to a new release by Marine Corps Systems Command, the tactical decision-making kits began delivering to Marine Corps infantry battalions in May, and fielding will continue through October of next year. The kit includes a high-performance laptop with double the standard amount of memory, a graphics adapter and high-resolution display, and a rapid central processing unit, officials said. It also includes software and tools for augmented reality combat simulations.
As Marines train with the new kit, officials from the Office of Naval Research will collect data from each infantry battalion with the system, assessing how it improves or affects training and operations. The data, to be collected through January 2018, will help Marine Corps leaders decide whether or not to make this one-time barracks project a program of record for the service.
“There are aspects of field training that can never be replicated in a non-field environment, so the TDK is used to supplement and enhance, not replace, regular training,” Capt. Ryan Steenberge, project manager of the TDK with the Rapid Capabilities Office at Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, which worked with 2/6 to develop the kit, said in a statement.
“In the Marine Corps, we like to say we’re the best maneuverers and thinkers out there," Steenberge said. "The commandant has a huge drive to make every Marine a decision-maker, and the TDK offers that opportunity.”