KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit tested the new Target Location, Designation, Hand-off System, called the StrikeLink, outside friendly lines here, April 12.
This marks the first time a MEU, and only the second time ever a unit has used this device in a combat environment.
Strikelink is a digital targeting system that provides forward air controllers, forward operators and reconnaissance teams the ability to observe and quickly acquire battlefield targets for indirect fire and close air support in almost any weather condition.
“The Marine Corps determined they needed a digital fire-support capability,” said Maj. Brian J. Newbold, liaison officer, Marine Corps Systems Command. “SYSCOM hired Stauder Technologies to develop and build the system. (For more than a year) it went through testing and safety inspections. After waiting for it to be validated as a legitimate piece of gear, we are at the last step in the process – field testing.”
The 24th MEU (along with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment) seemed ideal to receive and employ the system because of their upcoming combat operations in Afghanistan, said Maj. Philip A. Williams, air officer, 24th MEU, NATO-International Security Assistance Force.
Stauder Technologies dispatched technicians to Afghanistan to teach Marines about operation and maintenance of the system for use in upcoming missions.
“I want to see StrikeLink utilized by Marines as effectively and efficiently as it was designed to, which is to take out the enemy,” said Jim J. Davey, training instructor, Stauder Technologies.
The hands-off system allows observers and controllers to paint a better picture of the battlefield than the human eye alone ever allowed.
Compared to what was used in the past; it’s night and day,” said Capt. Ryan B. Ward, AV-8B Weapons Tactics Instructor, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced), 24th MEU, ISAF. “In the past, we were using binoculars, compasses and maps to plot out a target, and then send the coordinates via radio. That method really hasn’t changed since the Vietnam War.”
“Now, we use digital binoculars that give the distance and range of a target and transmits that information through StrikeLink directly to aircrafts or artillery batteries,” said Newbold, an AV-8B Harrier pilot by trade. “The system completely reduces human error and time.”
In addition to being an efficient communication tool, the system is able to side step some of the enemy’s countermeasures.
“In an environment where we could have an enemy trying to jam our signal or listen into our transmission, this process is all done in a manner where the enemy can’t listen to what we are doing and has no idea of what is going on,” said Ward.
Among the host of new features the StrikeLink offers, scout observers never loose sight of what matters most.
“This piece of gear is to support the ground troops,” Staff Sgt. David S. Baldock, artillery liaison chief, Headquarters Platoon, Weapons Company, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, NATO-ISAF. “When an infantryman is taking fire, he needs that support fast. We’re not talking about minutes to get that support; we’re talking seconds he wants that support.”
“Anytime I can save minutes on the battlefield, it is lives saved.”