June 2008

The Ground Sensor Platoon

The Marine Corps' unknown collection asset
Volume 92, Issue 6
LCpl Anthony Davy prepares an imager sensor for emplacement.
Photo by Cpl Jeremy Ross

The need for remote sensor capabilities was first recognized in September 1966 when then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara directed the establishment of the Defense Communications Planning Group (DCPG) to develop a system for monitoring movements of men and material from North to South Vietnam. During October of that year, the DCPG tasked the Navy to develop a remote sensor system (RSS) for deployment in Vietnam.

Thirteen months after initial tasking, the first operational sensors were deployed. Information derived from the sensors was used by the Air Force to direct strike aircraft onto active enemy targets. With mounting enemy pressure on the Marines at Khe Sanh, part of the RSS was redirected to support the Marines and was utilized to direct supporting arms. Due to tremendous success at Khe Sanh, the use of the RSS was vastly expanded by 1968.

As a result of lessons learned in remote sensor employment, the Marine Corps created the sensor control and management platoons (SCAMPs) under the command of the division G–2 (intelligence). The SCAMPs’ mission was to provide the capability for remote sensor employment in amphibious operations, to support contingency operations, and to conduct sensor surveillance employment training and testing as required.


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Nearly 40 years later the original mission statement remains the same, although the name and unit have changed; they are now called ground sensor platoons (GSPs) and belong to the intelligence battalions of I, II, and III Marine Expeditionary Forces (I, II, and III MEFs) and the Marine Forces Reserve. I and II MEFs each have three sensor employment squads (SESs) with two sensor employment teams (SETs) that are comprised of four to five operators and typically support a Marine expeditionary unit. III MEF operates with only two squads; the “plus-up plan” will add an additional SES each to I and II MEFs.

Marines within the GSP are infantrymen and radio operators who attend the 7-week Sensor Surveillance Operators Course (SSOC) at the Navy/Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center (NMCITC) in Damneck, VA. Upon completion of SSOC, the Marines receive a secondary 8621 ground sensor operator military occupational specialty.

The Marines are given instruction in basic intelligence, mapping, equipment, planning, monitoring, reporting, and emplacement techniques. This training provides the ground sensor operator with the crucial skills he needs to employ remote sensors in combat operations.

Since 1969, time and technological advances have greatly enhanced the capabilities for using unattended remote devices to gather and report invaluable information. The capability that the GSPs bring to the fight today is the tactical remote sensor system (TRSS). The TRSS is a suite of unattended ground sensors, retransmission devices, and sensor monitoring equipment that provides all-weather monitoring of activity within and near a given objective area.

TRSS is capable of detecting the presence and movement of vehicles and personnel and providing near-realtime monitoring of sensor activity within radio line of sight and/or over the horizon. The TRSS provides extended range detection and surveillance capability without the requirement to maintain a physical presence in the target area. In effect, sensors can be employed in almost any tactical situation. In an early warning application, the sensors are placed along avenues of approach to provide early warning of enemy movement toward friendly positions.

In this role sensors would be implanted as far forward of friendly positions as possible to provide maximum reaction time. Sensors in the target indication application are implanted along key enemy lines of communications or named areas of interests, and sensor activity can be used to initiate targeting actions. The sensors provide an excellent means of facilitating the targeting process in conjunction with the cueing of other target indication sources.

The means and methods by which sensor operators plan and emplace sensors are driven by the information needed and the capability of the equipment. TRSS sensors are comprised of seismic, acoustic, magnetic, and infrared sensors. These sensors are capable of classifying targets, such as personnel, wheeled, or tracked vehicles, while also providing the direction of movement.

The TRSS retransmission device provides the capability of long-range sensor monitoring. The current retransmission device is also capable of storing sensor activity that can later be retrieved by the operator. The sensors and retransmission devices have sufficient power sources to operate continuously for 30 days.

The monitoring equipment that is used by sensor operators to compile, process, and report sensor-derived information is designed to be lightweight and mobile and to support fast-moving amphibious and expeditionary operations. The TRSS project office at the Marine Corps Systems Command continues to add to the capabilities based on the intelligence community’s and sensor operators’ needs and desires.

The latest capability provides a day and night imaging sensor, and since the beginning of calendar year 2008, satellite communications capability and an advanced acoustic sensor have provided more detailed target classification capability and target location information. Although the role of sensors is primarily surveillance, early warning, and target indication, the proper use and employment is only limited to the imagination of commanders, intelligence officers, and sensor surveillance operators.

Currently the GSPs are continually deployed in support of combat and contingency operations worldwide and are experiencing unprecedented success. This success is exemplified by commanders who are aware of their capabilities and therefore are making the proper utilization of GSP a priority. Typically, the shortcomings of the GSP are not in the form of equipment shortage or personnel but are seen in the lack of the units’ awareness of their capabilities.

SETs have been utilized in a wide variety of innovative conceptual applications. SETs have been supporting company-level infantry operations, early warning missions, sniper employment assistance and, even more, have greatly assisted in the detection of the employment of improvised explosive devices. Currently, to aid in the education of the capabilities and employment of the GSP, the SSOC team at the NMCITC is providing instruction to all levels of intelligence training for both officer and enlisted Marines.

The GSP equipment and Marines of today bring to the fight a wealth of knowledge, technology, and desire to contribute to the success of every mission they support. Those Marines who have used remote sensors can attest to the unparalleled capability that the GSP can provide to aid in the success in winning the fight.

GySgt Ginger is the Director, SSOC and responsible for the training of all enlisted and ground officer sensor operators at NMCITC, Damneck, VA.