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New radar system brings the fight back to terrorists

3 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Nobody around 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment's command operations center likes it when Cpl. Wesley S. Fomin's handheld computer beeps.  When it does, everything comes in the room comes to a halt.  It means mortars are inbound.

It isn't a normal pocket-sized computer he holds in his hand, but the second piece of the Marine Corps' first line of defense against mortars - the lightweight counter mortar radar system.

The other piece is a 150-pound radar.  The LCMR can pick up the arc of a mortar crossing its 7000 meter-span.  It bounces seven signals on the object in the air in just a shade under a half a second, ensuring it is indeed a mortar and reports a 10-digit grid to Fomin's palm pilot. 

The Marines in the COC hear "whump" of the mortar impact and are already getting ready to set up counter-fire.  Fomin relays the coordinates to the Marines' 81 mm Mortar Platoon, who rotate their tubes and give the attackers a taste of their own medicine.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom II is the first time this thing has been used by a Marine Corps unit," Fomin, a 24-year-old from Oklahoma City, Okla., serving as a field artillery radio operator the battalion.  "It's so new we just learned how to use it last week."

When the Marines here replaced the Army's 1st Armored Division earlier this month, they took over the LCMR.  In typical Marine fashion, they improvised to stretch the capabilities of the radar.

"When this thing gets too hot it shuts down," Fomin said.  "The Army couldn't use it during the hottest part of the day because of that."

The Marines fixed the problem by hooking the radar to one of their air conditioners. 

"The AC keeps it cool enough to run 24 hours a day," he added.

The actual radar system operates sort of like laser-beam security system.  The radar establishes a plane high above ground level.  If anything breaks the plane, the system begins to track it.

"The great thing about the LCMR is it scans 360 degrees all the time, so we're not watching for a blip on the radar," said Lance Cpl. Dennis Aguiar, a 23-year-old forward observer from Chico, Calif.  "We (forward observers) can't be in multiple spots at once, but the LCMR can.  It can track mortars launched in separate spots shot in different directions."

This feature helps the Marines protect not only their own base camp but also their units in the field. 

"If something is shot up within the 7,000 meter range, we can track it even if it's not being shot toward the radar," Aguiar said.  "This means our units in the field also benefit from the LCMR."

The handheld computer system is similar to most, using a common and familiar operating system.  The common-based programs make it easier for Marines to learn to us the protective radar.

"Your average Marine could pick this system up and be able to operate it a few days later," Aguiar said.  "Even if you don't know what the 10 digit coordinates mean, you can still relay them to someone who can."

The system not only benefits the Marines tactically against their enemies, but also psychologically.

"When the guys shooting at us know we can track their position as soon as they launch a mortar, it will make it harder for them to stay alive," said 1st Lt. James M. Moore, a 31-year-old artillery liaison officer from Clinton, S.C.  "The lightweight system was designed for the Special Forces but it would be an asset to any battalion."

The psychological impact also benefits the Marines, once they overcome their skepticism.

"When a staff sergeant asked me if the system worked, I asked him if he heard our outgoing fire after we were last mortared," Fomin said.  "When he said yes, I told him he answered his own question."

Fomin said Marines around the battalion are learning to trust the gear and now when his computer beeps, it's only moments until Marine mortars start flying back.

"It's good to know we have this piece of equipment here," Fomin explained.  "It's good to know we don't have to wait so long to fire back and when we do, it'll be a lot more accurate.  And that's the whole goal, to find out where they're shooting from and kill the bastards."