By Mark Oliva, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, October 30, 2002

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE SOUTH, Guam — In a secluded corner of the world, away from Pentagon policy-makers and off defense analysts’ radar, a few Marines from Okinawa quietly revolutionize how Marines may fight future battles.

Under a new plan called the squad advanced marksman, or SAM, Marine riflemen could get new tools and new responsibilities on tomorrow’s battlefields.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s Project Metropolis tested the idea in a four-day experiment this week on Guam.

The Corps says every Marine is a rifleman. The experiment’s goal is to see whether the Marine Corps needs something a little better in every rifle squad.

Ten Marines from 1st Battalion, 6th Marines were issued new rifles with scopes and bipods. They also received a new set of responsibilities meant to transform riflemen into more effective long-range shooters and observers.

But this new role wouldn’t make a Marine a sniper or even one of the designated marksmen the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade is touting.

“Our fundamental SAM is a basic rifleman,” said Capt. Joe Tamminen, project officer. “That’s his first and foremost job. Now, we’re giving him some enhanced capabilities. By no means should the word ‘sniper’ ever come into play when we’re talking about the squad advanced marksman. That word is like voodoo.”

If the experiment proves successful, and Marine officials adopt the plan, a SAM will be his squad’s eyes and ears.

He’ll use standard-issue rifles with 4X scopes and night-vision sights to advise his squad leader how to move across the battlefield. The SAM also has a team radio, so he can be linked directly to the squad leader without needing to be next to him.

“This is something that has been kicked around for years, going back to the early ’90s,” said Maj. Dan Sullivan, officer in charge of Project Metropolis. “It’s been resurrected again because of the addition of the designated marksman in the anti-terrorism battalion and the security force battalion.”

But unlike those shooters, the squad advanced marksman isn’t changing his role as much as adapting it.

He’s shooting a match-grade heavy-barreled M-16 called the squad advanced marksman rifle. It’s topped with a Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight or night-vision scopes and fitted with a Harris bipod.

This likely is just an interim fix. The final rifle probably will be the M16-A4, recently approved as the Corps’ new infantry rifle.

Still, those are just the tools. It’s how the SAM will operate that will change the rifle squad’s face.

“We deliberately designed this thing … with the ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’ rule in the front of our heads,” Sullivan said. “Let’s not build an elaborate house of cards that’s so complicated it only works great in a lab environment.” Being designated a SAM, he said, would be “a collateral duty for a rifleman either in the squad or the team.”

The experiment also will help the Marines figure out the details, such as how many SAMs are needed — one per squad or one per fire team.

Also, Tamminen said, “I know we’re looking at trying to figure out how to operate this guy. It’s easy just to throw an optic on a rifle and say, ‘Go ahead, go start shooting.’ We still have to remember he’s still a rifleman. He has to do his rifleman duties.

“We’re kicking around ideas of where to put him in a formation … where to put him in an ambush, where do you put him in an attack.

“Those are questions we’re getting some answers on,” Tamminen said. “We’re getting some good feedback.”

Marines are experimenting with putting the SAM in over-watch positions as the rest of his squad advances on targets. They’re testing placing him in different positions within team formations, to best use the effective long-range fire the scope allows.

“He can see a little farther and a little more clearly,” Tamminen said. “He can pass information to the squad leader. He might be able to see a little more, give a little bit better target description and target identification.”

Squad leaders and SAMs mostly get free rein to test the new role. One pre-experiment exercise already proved the scope’s effectiveness.

“This morning’s ambush, there was some of the opposition force that got out of the kill zone and retreated back to the wood line,” Tamminen said. “The SAM saw them and he tracked them. He also engaged them as they were moving away. Then, he kept scanning that area looking for the counterattack.”

Without the scope, Tamminen said, the Marine wouldn’t have been able to see far or clearly enough to prevent the enemy force from slipping away.

Although the experiment already shows promise for beefing up the Marine rifleman’s role, that doesn’t mean change is imminent, Tamminen said. Data and feedback from the four-day experiment will be forwarded to the Corps’ Training and Education Command, which will decide whether to adopt, change or scrap the plan for the entire Marine Corps.

Warfighting Lab officials are making no predictions. Still, given the recent addition of designated marksman in anti-terrorism operations, the new squad advanced marksman role could be in every infantry Marine’s sights.

“We’re doing it to validate a concept and frame it a little bit better,” Sullivan said. “The final requirement will perhaps fight through some of the tactics, techniques and procedures associated with this guy.

“Ideally, it won’t change things that much,” he said. “It’s got to be low-impact. He’s so … busy as it is. It’s got to be something that’s simple.”

Mark Oliva / S&S
A Marine takes cover behind a corner during an urban assault exercise held at Guam's Andersen South training area.

Mark Oliva / S&S
A Marine squad advanced marksman scans an open area with his 4X scope.

Mark Oliva / S&S
A Marine sprints through a grown-over tangle of hedges and palms in Guam's Andersen South training area during squad advanced marksman training.