“Field Level Build of Unmanned Vehicles Promise Solutions to Air Lift/Distribution Domains Change How Marines Move Goods Into and Throughout Battlefield”
Since significant levels of loitering time is common for helicopter supply lift time, a clearer sense of where supplies are could cut down on that. Modern networked logistics systems would go a long way in helping maintainers and logisticians be more efficient. In the longer term, that could look like a barcode system that in real time tracks equipment on the battlefield.
If you can track all the supplies moving around the battlefield with a networked system that cant be compromised you could create movement tables for people and cargo nearly real time.
Most basic is using unmanned aerial vehicles to move goods. Experience with K-MAX in was “very good for getting goods out, very good for geo-isolated, very remote locations. And it the supply network was very user-friendly.”
Marines are aiming to bring in small UAVs and as large as K-MAX and “everything in between.” On the larger end, he described a scenario in which a manned CH-53K could carry a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle JLTV into the battlefield, while a couple unmanned vehicles brought 4,000 pounds of ammunition or other supplies that the JLTV would need.
Leaders are asking to buy a lot of very basic UAVs and tack on mission packages as needed rather than buy expensive multi-mission UAVs. We would rather have 50 trucks at a low cost, then if 25 get shot down it’s not a disaster. Whereas if I only have 10 Swiss Army knife, does all things, and we lose those 10, not good. That’s our view on it-- operating these UAVs in a swarm tactic.
But UAVs aren’t the only unmanned vehicles Marines are eyeing. The Motor-T community is the second largest in the corps, behind infantry, and that a fleet of unmanned ground vehicles would save a lot of manpower and keep Marines safe from roadside bombs and other threats.
Marines are also interested in pursuring unmanned surface craft to bring goods from ship to shore and join the Navy in the undersea unmanned vehicle business, where small vehicles could be placed on the ocean floor and activated at a later time.
DoD envisions vehicles swimming to a designated location and bringing along the supplies stored inside whenever an operator sent out the electronic network signal. A small UAV could fly over and send out the signal, and a larger UUV could be sent out to distribute the undersea cache vehicles, further exploiting unmanned technology.
“So for the next 10 to 15 years it’s a hybrid logistics model, so you’ve got to move a lot of water, fuel and ammo to the battlefield to a heavier, more logistics-dependent force, but the way you offset that is bringing along these new technologies, the first being unmanned capability.”
The Marines are planning to take their do-it-yourself ethos further and begin prototyping, manufacturing and deploying full-blown 3D printed systems, such as surveillance drones.
The Marines will deploy a tiny unmanned aircraft dubbed the “Nibbler,” which would become the first 3D printed drone used in combat operations by conventional forces. Marines see it as just the beginning of a new way of equipping and supplying forces in the field.
The Marines’ Nibbler is significant because it would operate just like other, far more expensive, portable unmanned aircraft that are used for “over-the-hill” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
3D printing gained an early following in the military because it was seen as a solution to the perennial problem of shortages of spare parts for aging weapon systems. The Marines have embraced the technology, which they see as compatible with their “adapt and overcome” culture.
“Imagine being in a forward deployed environment, and you can ‘order’ the weapons and equipment you need for the next day’s mission from an entire catalog of possible solutions. These solutions can all be upgraded literally overnight, in order to integrate new components or adapt to new requirements. On a very small scale, Nibbler shows us that this is possible right now with the UAS family of systems.”
The goal is to have a “small manufacturing capability” locally. All that would be needed is a desktop printer, a box of components, and a spool of plastic 3D printing filament for a“near infinite set of different UAS that we could produce from those basic elements.”
The Nibbler will be used for surveillance missions, along with several other 3D printed unmanned aircraft that the Marines are still developing.We can have a backpack-able fixed wing UAS for long endurance ISR. We can have a small quadcopter for building clearing operations. “We will forward deploy these capabilities into a combat zone as soon as possible.”
A drone made by Marines in a trailer obviously will not be a substitute for high-end aircraft made by Pentagon contractors, but that is beside the point. “Ultimately, it's about optimizing specific mission needs to the equipment we use to fight those missions. Many of the requirements today could be met with lower end equipment, and often the priority is to get things fast, which is one reason this technology is catching on.
We see a future of “micro-factories” propping up in overseas combat zones and even on large Navy ships where troops will make spare parts and systems like drones, trucks and small radios. “On demand, as needed, closer to the point of need. That’s something we don’t have. We assume when we forward deploy, we bring every single thing we might need, just in case. The assumption today is that the supply chain may or may not support our needs.”