ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
NEWS FROM AUVSI DEFENSE: Marine Corps to Expand Unmanned Systems Arsenal
As the Marine Corps looks to purchase new unmanned systems, it is putting a premium on capacity, said the head of the service’s Combat Development Command Aug. 20.
“We're interested in all platforms — surface, subsurface and aviation,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Smith. “[We want] unmanned systems that are truly numerous because there is a quality in quantity in this particular regard. We're looking for things that can do reconnaissance, that can do a radio relay, we're looking for some lethal payloads. But we're looking for numerous" quantities of robotic capabilities.
Following the publication of new Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s Planning Guidance document — which was released last month — the service is now focusing on increasing the number of systems in its inventory, Smith said.
“If you read that guidance — and that's the guidance that I'm following as the force developer — it is about how do we produce enough bulk, enough number, ... enough capacity that I can actually inflict a dilemma on the enemy" by forcing adversaries to contend with a large number of unmanned Marine Corps platforms, he said during remarks at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s Defense-Protection-Security Conference in Washington, D.C.
The service needs smaller, more affordable systems that can be operated by the youngest Marines, he noted.
“The commandant has asked us to look at numerous and inexpensive programs instead of the exquisite,” Smith noted.
However, not all platforms in the inventory are expected to be small. Berger’s planning guidance said the Marine Corps needs a family of systems, including Group 5 drones which are characterized by their large size and long endurance. The service has been working on its own version known as the Marine Air-Ground Task Force unmanned aircraft system expeditionary, or MUX, program. An industry day for the program was held in July, Smith noted.
The Marine Corps has also been pursuing unmanned surface vessels in partnership with MITRE Corp., Smith said.
“We're testing 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats," he said. "The technology is actually fairly simple. You can put it on really any platform. But what we're looking for is a long-range vessel that has the ability to do resupply, move personnel or ... move cargo.” Such a system would need to be able to travel long distances across the Pacific Ocean — where the U.S. military is competing with China — and in harsh sea conditions, he added.
Berger's guidance called for the Marine Corps to ramp up its development of unmanned platforms in the coming years.
“We will ... work rapidly, starting with [the fiscal year 2022 Program Objective Memorandum], to develop a much broader family of unmanned systems suitable for reconnaissance, surveillance and the delivery of lethal and non-lethal effects in the air, on land, and on and under the sea," Berger said.