Training exercises are being held at two former Air Force installations in California; George Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base. The installations provide more room and a more realistic environment. Older facilities provided 20 to 30 buildings, while the large bases have more building variety and provide a square kilometer or more of maneuver space, enough for battalion-sized and larger exercises. Iraqi city battles, such as Fallujah and Najaf, have been multiple battalion operations.
"Distributed operations" is another new concept that will be implemented throughout the Corps. Small units rifle platoons, squads, and fire teams will operate more independently. In urban block-to-block fighting, small units often find themselves out of communication with battalion and company-level headquarters, so they need to be able to perform many of the functions usually performed at higher levels, such as calling for fire support. To conduct distributed operations, the Corps will have to improve (the already excellent) education, training, and equipment of Marines in small combat units. It will require installing a "patrolling culture" similar to what the Marines were doing in Vietnam.
New equipment is part of the program. The Corps is acquiring a new class of mobile light trucks called internally transportable vehicles (ITVs) that are small enough to fit into the cargo bay of CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. General Dynamics is scheduled to deliver four prototype ITVs in 2005 and eight in 2008 to equip an infantry battalion. ITVs will be armed with machine guns and used to perform recon patrols and raids.
A "rifleman's suite" of equipment is also specified, and would include an M-16A4 rifle with a collapsing stock more suited for urban combat, day and night rifle scopes plus a bipod for improved marksmanship, a flash suppressor for better location concealment, a better bayonet, a personal radio to allow squad members to talk to each other over short distances without shouting, and a compass and GPS device.
One man in each squad would be trained to call in fire support. Currently only three in each battalion are trained for such duties. Enlisted personnel would perform some of the functions previously restricted to lieutenants and captains, so they would require more training.
Finally, the platoon organization would be "tweaked," by shrinking the squad size from 14 to 12, with a second command group created from the two men taken from each of the three squads. The second command group would be used to help run the platoon and could either replace the platoon leader's unit or conduct operations independent of the platoon leader.
The Marine Corps is using the latest "lessons learned" from Iraq to develop new training, tactics, weapons and equipment. As a result, every Marine Corps battalion will receive a two-week basic urban-skills training (BUST) course. BUST, once limited to a small number of Marines, focuses on urban combat skills, including patrolling techniques, clearing rooms, dealing with IEDs, handling detainees, collecting intelligence, conducting sniper operations, and working with the local population.