Unitech helps Marines play 'high-end laser tag'

The sound of gunfire, blinding smoke and the overall confusion that pervade a battlefield are all real. But instead of lethal bullets, eye-safe lasers loaded with data are the ammunition that the Marine Corps uses for tactical training exercises.

Universal Systems and Technology Inc. of Centreville, Va., won a $14.6 million contract from the Marine Corps to support logistics and maintenance for the Corps' inventory of training tools called the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, said Bill Barfield, vice president of the simulation division for the company, which goes by the name Unitech.

"It is a very high-end form of laser tag," Barfield said of the system, first developed in the 1970s for the Army. "It has codes impregnated on the laser beam that identify the shooter, the type of weapon, the lethality of the weapon and a whole host of other data."

Laser transmitters are mounted on real weapons, such as an M16 rifle or a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon. Detectors are mounted on targets such as troops and vehicles. Data is collected when the detectors are hit by laser pulses.

"It's really a tactical training system for commanders," Barfield said. "They deploy troops, tanks and other assets for war games. Then data collected by the engagement system is presented to the commanders in after-action reviews. They can look at their tactics and make corrections to have the minimum casualties in real battles."

The systems tracks hits, misses and near misses and also logs whether targets were properly engaged. A small-caliber rifle shot, for example, would have little or no impact on a tank.

Under the contract, which is for one year with four one-year options, Unitech will maintain the inventory of the system's components for the Marines.

"We provide the support necessary to set up the exercises," Barfield said. "We go to the field with the Marines during the exercises. We provide training support while they're in the exercise, and we maintain all the inventory of [engagement system] equipment for the Marines between the exercises."

Unitech also generates the after-action reports, using a system the company developed. In the last year, Unitech has participated in more than 350 exercises and has trained nearly every Marine deployed in Iraq for combat, Barfield said.

Six Marine Corps sites for this system are: Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.; the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.; Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; and Camp S.D. Butler, Okinawa, Japan.

Staff Writer Doug Beizer can be reached at dbeizer@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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