By Mr. Tollie Strode Jr., Maneuver Battle LabNovember 30, 2018
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. (Nov. 30, 2018) -- The Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Armed Services envisions the seamless incorporation of unmanned systems in combat formations and across all domains -- land, air, maritime, space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.
The Army's Maneuver Battle Lab joined the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab's (MCW) / Futures Directorate to take a close look at robotic-enabled warfare during the Marine Corps' manned-unmanned teaming limited operational assessment conducted at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC) in Indiana Nov. 5 through 15.
The MCWL executed the assessment to investigate a Marine Infantry company's effectiveness in combat when equipped with robotic air and ground based capabilities, including supporting communications and mission command infrastructure.
Marine Maj. John Kivelin, ground combat element (GCE) ground robotics officer for the MCWL Science and Technology Division, expects the robotic concept of operation pursued in the experiment will show how future Marine Corps Infantry units will expand the physical dimensions of their respective areas of influence and their overall combat effectiveness.
"The ground systems equipped with autonomy and basic obstacle avoidance provide capabilities, equipment, sustainment and other support for dismounted maneuver units providing a myriad of warfighting functions that dismounted units do not currently possess," said Kivelin.
He explained that logistics is an intuitive area that robotics have a role.
"Ground systems can help sustain operations in austere conditions, or follow the unit with offensive capabilities, countermeasures, communications, radars, and other systems supporting maneuver," he said.
The labs accomplished comprehensive evaluations of several robotic capabilities, including a system sponsored by the Army's Robotic Enhancement Program.
The Maneuver Battle Lab evaluated the Marine infantry company's use of a developmental mission command capability, the Integrated Development Environment for the Actualization of Swarms (IDEAS) architecture, to employ several unmanned aircraft in reconnaissance tasks while organized as a "swarm."
Lance Cpl. Parker J. Wean, a swarm operator for Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, described the capability as "incredibly attractive."
"The swarm identified two hostiles on a roof top, and we called the acquisition into the radio operator in the company level intelligence cell (CLIC)," Wean said. "The platoon commander authorized a call for fire using the Switchblade (precision drone-like munitions) and took out the threat."
The Marines used the aircraft to fly beyond natural and manmade terrain features in the urban environment, overcoming the terrain limitations to collect actionable information.
Lance Cpls. Victor D. Ordonezmaya and Tony B. Lard added the swarm gets your attention when it is approaching you.
"The enemy on the rooftop deep in the objective saw all of those drones coming at them and tried to hide," said Ordonezmaya. "They were out of action forty-five seconds later."
The labs evaluated how small-unit leaders may leverage the information to improve their situational understanding in larger areas of influence to achieve greater combat effectiveness.
Marine Capt. Shane F. Halpern, Echo company commander, described combat with a more robust and effective kill chain in the future.
"The air systems provide good information," he said. "However, the company is more effective by having organic precision effects capability to take advantage of it.
"The kill chain gets more responsive and effective when we're able to launch a weapon like the armed quad copter to immediately attack acquired targets with precision," he added.
The Maneuver Battle Lab and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab have a history of working together to evaluate the technical veracity and military value of robotic capabilities.
The Army's early experimentation with robotic equipped formations provided the Marine Corps a baseline for development of the enhanced Infantry company concept that was evaluated during the assessment.
The labs joined forces in 2012 to assess several systems such as the Tactical Robotics Controller (TRC), a Marine Corps technology used to control unmanned air and ground systems.
In 2018, The Marine operators used the TRC, once a concept and now a fully operational universal controller, during the operational assessment to manage autonomous movement by the Expeditionary Modular Autonomous Vehicle, an armed unmanned ground system.
They also used the TRC to control the remote weapon station mounted on the platform that fired a heavy machine gun.
Robotics is an inevitable consideration for future warfare. Experimentation will continue to serve as an invaluable means to evaluate the veracity and shape the development of emerging warfighting concepts and robotic capabilities. The Marine Corps' manned-unmanned teaming assessment is another example of how the Armed Services can collaborate by sharing venues, troops and resources to appraise opportunities and get at experimental objectives.
Army Col. Thomas Nelson, director of the Robotics Requirements Division for the Maneuver Center of Excellence, envisions a promising future for Joint capability development.
"The manned-unmanned teaming assessments conducted jointly by the Army's Maneuver Battle Lab and the Marine Warfighting Lab are exactly the type of experimentation that will enable both services to successfully integrate robotic platforms across the multi-domain battlefields of the future," he said.
The Army's Maneuver Battle Lab and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab have a partnership that continues as the Services transition to a robotic-enabled future.