CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The Marine Corps’ big West Coast trade show kicked off on Thursday, and it featured more than 60 defence contractors showing off everything from drones that can fit in the palm of your hand to 30mm machine-guns that can blast a target with 200 rounds in under a minute.
Sponsored by the Marine Corps League, the 2017 Marine West show held at Camp Pendleton’s 22 Area parade field gives a chance for Marines to check out the latest and greatest in military technology, and perhaps later, ask their bosses to buy it for them to use downrange.
“This event is really for the [non-commissioned officers] to see equipment they like,” said Maj. Gen. Mike Regner (Ret.) of the Marine Corps League. “And then tell the general what they need in the field.”
Business Insider took a look around the show and spoke with a number of vendors to see what Marines might be adding to their kit soon.
Here’s what we saw.
Marine West 2017 was held at the 22 Area parade deck on Camp Pendleton, right across from the base air station.
Right outside the doors was a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) by Oshkosh Defence. The company scored a AUD$8.75 billion (US$6.7 billion) contract in 2015 to replace much of the ageing Humvee fleet with these trucks.
But, before we could head in, there was an opening ceremony that featured a Marine Corps colour guard.
Then they cut the ribbon and we headed inside -- along with a couple hundred Marines eager to check out the latest gear.
One of the first places we stopped was Cecos Group, which had a booth for its virtual reality training simulation.
After getting this Marine fitted with the HTC Vive headset, Rob Monroe explained what she was looking at and how she could control things in the virtual world.
We could see what she was seeing on an external screen: A room filled with weaponry. Monroe explained how she could take apart the rocket-propelled grenade launcher and learn about its components.
Over at the booth for Flir, Bill Treuting showed us the optics that help the military and law enforcement operate in the dark.
One piece of gear we were impressed with was the AN/PAS-33 thermal binoculars. Meant for use by forward observers, these have 10x magnification, detect body heat, and can give the operator the distance, direction, and GPS coordinates of the target with the press of a button.
Flir also has plenty of optics for weapons. Mostly used by special ops, these click right in front of the operator's regular M4 rifle day sights.
This included the fairly-new Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggle system made famous by US Navy SEALs. I tried a pair on and was amazed by the quality and clarity of what I saw.
Saab -- yes, that Saab -- was also on hand to show off its beloved 'Carl Gustaf,' which shoots an 84mm rocket.
Then there was Heckler & Koch, showing off some of its small arms. Both of these are the HK416 rifle (the top one has a suppressed barrel).
Quite a few Marines wanted to play with the M320 grenade launcher. It's a single-shot, super compact, 40mm grenade launcher that can fit in a pouch on the user's side.
They also had their M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. Meant to replace the M249 SAW, this semi- and full-auto rifle can lay down more accurate and suppressive fire for infantry squads. It also takes the exact same 5.56 mm ammo magazines as everyone else and is faster to reload.
... And its sub-machine guns, which are mostly used by law enforcement and military special ops. From top to bottom, there's the UMP, MP5, and MP7.
Besides the weapons, there were also the accessories, like Streamlight's various flashlight attachments that light up a room and blind the hell out of whoever is on the other end.
We got to play with this robot from Endeavour Robotics, which is mainly used for clearing roads of improvised explosive devices. This one is just 30 pounds and can fit in a backpack.
The company's first generation of bots were controlled by video game controllers. Now they have Android tablets, and they are super intuitive.
The Marines are currently testing a couple of Qinetiq's products, like this crazy machine gun-wielding death robot called the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System.
Sierra Nevada Corporation was on hand to show off their own counter-IED solution -- a backpack-carried system that jams remote controlled bombs. They asked that we not take a photo of the actual system on their table, since it's 'sensitive' and currently in use by troops overseas.
There were some vehicles packed into the show as well, like BAE's Amphibious Combat Vehicle, a replacement for the service's Assault Amphibious Vehicle which is currently being tested.
... and individual, more comfy seating. That's a welcome change for Marines used to being squished together on benches on the sides and middle.
It was the insane 30mm chain gun on top that can fire 200 rounds per minute. The M230LF cannon is usually seen on aircraft, but it may be making its way onto more ground vehicles in the future.
One of the coolest pieces of gear we saw was probably the Black Hornet 2, a handheld drone that gives a small unit their own personal aerial reconnaissance when out on patrol.
Operated with this simple handheld controller, it can fly for about 25 minutes out to roughly a mile. Typical altitude is around 10 to 200 feet in the air.
CAE Healthcare's booth attracted plenty of Navy corpsmen who were interested in the medical trainers.
The company specialises in realistic gear that can be worn by actors to train medics. Docs can cut into one of its chest suits for example, and fake blood will come out as they try to plug a bullet wound.
Other vendors had super lightweight solar mats Marines could recharge their radios and other electronics with ...
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