The U.S. Marine Corps have issued a request for information (RFI) for a device that assist infantry Marines hearing with battlefield sounds and commands—e.g., a form of ruggedized hearing aid. The device must be compact enough to fit inside or around the ear even while protecting a soldier’s ears from damage. The RFI cites plans by the Marine Corps Systems Command to purchase between 7,000 and 65,000 of these devices over the next three years. They must work with the Enhanced Combat Helmet and be compatible with Marine Corps radios. They must also be designed for use in addition to combat arms earplugs to guard against hearing damage.
“Marines have the earplugs and they do provide protection, but sometimes they choose not to wear them because they want to be aware of their surroundings at all times,” said Steven Fontenot, project officer for Hearing, Eye Protection, and Loadbearing Equipment at Marine Corps Systems Command. “The new headset we want to acquire will allow Marines to wear hearing protection, yet still provide the opportunity to communicate and understand what is going on around them.”
Systems Command has already begun testing headsets designed for enhanced hearing functions. Tests have taken place at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio and during live-fire exercises within Infantry Training Exercise on the west coast. “Marines wore the headsets throughout their regular training cycle to assess comfort and how well they integrated with the ECH,” Fontenot said. “We want to make sure the headset we acquire is rugged and capable of operating in a wide range of environments a Marine might encounter, from cold weather to extreme heat.”