Marine Corps leaders are directing commands to go faster and equip warfighters with the tools they require to fight and win in a more timely manner.
The Marines largely did away with large service-level experiments that focus on new ideas or concepts, but recently brought them back as a means of out innovating adversaries.
The acquisition community is now leveraging experiments such as Sea Dragon and the recent generate requirements and feed mature systems into programs of record.
Following the S2ME2 ANTX, Marines were able to put some contracts in place after identifying some systems worth pursuing.
For other technologies and experiments, the service might be able to buy some systems that are ready for fielding or use what was learned through that experimentation to feed into requirements generation.
Marines are working to generate rapid requirements, then buy a few capabilities, put them in the experiment and then use that to take a concept of operations and inform requirements fed back into the process and eventually into a program of record.
Marines have opportunity for engineers to take technologies from mature experiments and put them in the hands of Marines.
“When we put it in their hands, they figure out how to use it and they come back and tell us this is how we need to use this thing, this is how we to develop the concepts of operations and the concepts of employment and the tactics, techniques and procedures to put it out there and field it.”
“It’s up to us as the headquarters to say OK, got it. We’re going to figure out how field it to you and get it to you.”
The Marine Corps is looking at ways to insert new technology into its forces earlier in order to prepare for future battles. Key to this effort is experimentation.
Last year, the service introduced a new operating concept called, “How an Expeditionary Force Operates in the 21st Century.” The document — which focused on how Marines will fight in 2025 — put an emphasis on the need for the service to return to its seafaring roots, conduct maneuver warfare and fight as a combined arms force.
“We have a campaign of Marine Corps Force 2025 and within that campaign we have a Sea Dragon 2025 experimental process. The goal is “to get our force postured for 2025, to be agile, lethal, naval and expeditionary, and we found that as we go through the experiment process, we’re building closer and closer relationships with the research-and-development enterprises.”
Testing new technologies with Marines in live experiments allows the service to realistically see if a particular system is fit for the battlefield.
“We understand that warfare is inherently, despite all of the technologies, … a human endeavor. “We want to recreate the uncertainty and fear and the danger associated with that so that we can get the best picture.”
The first phase of the experiment concluded in the fall of 2017 when the service took an infantry battalion and established it as an experimental force.
“We put them in the construct of a sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force and we reorganised them, changed some of their training, their equipment, and over 18 months we conducted a series of operations and experiments before operationally deploying them in this configuration.
Much thought went into creating an adaptive enemy red team that reflected not what today’s threats look like, but what tomorrow’s would resemble based on how fast U.S. adversaries are adopting new technologies.
“Our experiment force could lose and could lose repeatedly during our experiments and we could learn from those losses.
The service looked at the size of squads, contemplated how to incorporate manned-unmanned teaming and examined mobility issues.
History shows that mobility often is key to determining whether a unit will accomplish their mission or not, he said. Forces with the greater tactical and operational capability have an advantage.
One of the biggest takeaways from the experiment was that the individual Marine is a “tremendous innovation engine.
“The creativity of our Marines and small teams gives us a significant advantage.
“The Marine that grows up withaccess to the education we have, when compared to the rest of the world … is a factory for good ideas.”
When exposed to new tools developed by industry and other research-and-development partners, Marines often find unique ways to employ the technology in a way that has a strategic effect.
Other efforts the service embarked on recently include its first advanced naval technical exercise experiment, where it asked industry to develop new ways to move Marines from the ship to the shore in contested environments.
How these innovations would be implemented was open for debate, he said. “We won’t necessarily do it the way we did it in the past. We’ll take your ideas and try them out.”
The service built a “playground,” where industry had access to sailors and Marines from the amphibious force.
“What we ended up having was a playground with young Marines, young officers and a lot of industry engineers and scientists … solving the problem.
The Marine Corps benefits from bringing warfighters and industry together.
“There’s something special when the engineer and the young Marine put their resouces together and come out with a better product right on the spot.
Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, better known as DIUx, is pushing forward new technology that will give the service added capability by focusing on several technology areas including autonomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning, information technology and human systems.
The unit is meant to cut through the Pentagon’s red tape and make it easier for firms in tech hubs to do business with the Mairnes. Officials hope the outfit will speed the acquisition of cutting-edge warfighting tools.
DIUx has been working on a number of technologies that can be used by the service, Swor said.
“We’re really quite satisfied with what’s going on there for the Marine Corps. The service pushes for “projects that tend to be more practical, more physical. One promising program is known as the electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or EVOTL platform.
The platform will be able to travel 200 nautical miles at 200 knots and carry four passengers or 800 pounds of payload. The system uses six rotors to fly. It takes off vertically and is able to immediately transition to forward flight and take a Marine company landing team and break them into smaller, four-man teams and put them ashore in separate aircraft.
“That enhances your mobility, it lets you surprise the enemy … and it really de-risks the force because instead of six aircraft you can now have 35 aircraft,” which makes the invading troops harder to target.
The organisation is also working on giving the system autonomous capabilities. “Initially it will be piloted, but we’re paying to get the autonomy developed.
For now, the company is “living on the DIUx dime” because it doesn’t have commercial customers. They will eventually, but this is a great example of someone who is reliant on us.”
The Marine Corps turns to its Warfighting Laboratory to help counter threats. The lab’s divisions—Futures Assessment, Concepts and Plans, Wargaming, S&T, and Experiment—all play a role in shaping future needs, trends and technologies as well as the operating environment the Marines will face. “We are the headlights of the Marine Corps modernisation effort. We are looking out a little further than other Marine Corps offices.”
The warfighting lab is currently looking into autonomous systems and robotics; artificial intelligence; counter-unmanned aerial system capabilities; lasers; electronic warfare; and systems coordination, among other technologies. The lab considers size, weight and power issues “in everything they do to support a mobile, agile Marine Corps.
The warfighting lab has been looking at autonomous systems and robotics for quite some time now. “We’ve always recognized that autonomous systems, whether they are in the air, on the ground or at the surface, are going to play a role in the future landscape and future warfighting environment.
The big question is how best to incorporate the technology so that it becomes a force multiplier rather than a burden. Naturally, the service wants to avoid robotic technologies without the capabilities it needs to perform specific missions.
Unlike robotics and autonomous systems, AI is an area the lab is just starting to explore. We don’t fully understand yet what AI could mean or what it will mean in the future. We do have smart people looking into it, and we do recognize it as an emerging capability that we need to take advantage of it.”
Technologies are especially needed to counter the proliferation of what the Marines are calling “U-Excess,” unmanned aerial, ground, surface and subsurface systems. “We now are living every day with the fact that unmanned aerial systems are flying pretty much everywhere.
We are predicting a quick migration to enemy use of unmanned ground systems, surface systems and subsurface systems.
“Envision a future where you have a patrol that is looking for an aerial system, and instead a ground system comes up or is sitting along a trail. It could be in a sleep mode and camouflaged and then activates based on vibration or voices. Then it does what it is designed to do, which could be a collector to listen to discussions and stay quiet, or it could become basically an improvised weapon.
To combat this risk, the warfighting lab is broadening its work in unmanned systems. “Based on our experience from the counter-IED fight, we recognise that as we start to develop capabilities to counter air systems, it is only logical that the enemy will start to look at other capabilities. Our goal is to stay one step ahead and anticipate what is coming.”
New tech will allow the Marines, for example, to walk into a operational theatre and already know where the hot spots are, potentially shuting down these connections in advance and turn them back on when they leave. “It is important for that tactical unit to be able to have immediate effects as they are experiencing them.
The warfighting lab will take fast growing technologies and put them to the test in several experiments throughout the fiscal year, including smaller events called “limited object assessments as well as larger events, giving Marines opportunities to put technologies into the hands of operators in the field, along with other lab partners, to gain a common understanding of potential capabilities and technologies.
“These experiments are crucial in sorting out useful technologies and capabilities.”
The technological renaissance is providing a lot of options, and with all the technologies you could make a case for each one. But they cannot all be pursued. “The problem is that we can’t afford to buy everything so we have to make an assessment of capabilities and to make recommendations on capabilities that will have the greatest return on our investments.”
The lab has developed processes that allow senior leaders to make smart decisions about the technologies they need for programs of record, the technologies they do not need and the technologies that may be obsolete in three to five years. But making choices can be challenging, he says, because people are swayed by technology and the “bright, shiny new object.
“The hardest part is trying to make sure that the people who are in love with their technologies understand what it is that they are in love with. It is difficult to convince people that, ‘Yes, it is a great capability, but is it greater than this other capability over here?’
“Everything we consider has to get a fair shake. There have been technologies that nobody liked that turned out to be pretty effective.” And at the end of the day, when the Marines are kicking in the door, those technologies could make all the difference.