The division is the first operational unit in the military to employ autonomous Marathon targets: figures on four-wheeled platforms that can be programmed to operate in concert, and are fast and unpredictable enough to rock the most experienced marksmen back on their heels.
We are now finding range configuration limited only by our own imagination. And the same is true for employment of the targets, which not only test marksmanship skills through evasive, human-like maneuvering, but also make a convincing enemy force that can leave troops dry-mouthed when they charge a shooter at 10 miles per hour.
The targets could increase individual marksmanship effectiveness on a moving target dramatically over the course of just one day. "We're trying to show that these are a valuable target to us,"
"When we first used them, it was sort of little-known that we had these targets. When we got Marines in front of them, that's when the usage rates went up, Marines are asking why are these not on every range."
Among the Marines’ future plans is a live-fire range in which the targets work their way inside an infantry unit's perimeter, putting human troops on the defensive.
"In recent conflicts, what that was, we always outnumbered our enemy," Now, as the we are starting to look at peer-versus-peer, we try to give that to the Marines now. A rifle squad is fighting a rifle squad. A fire team is fighting a fire team."
It's not just the ground-pounders who can benefit from the targets. Amphibious assault vehicle crewmen have fired on the targets using their guns, and tanks have been able to train their 7.62mm coaxial machine guns on them.
"Some of the stuff we would like to see in the future is the ability to incorporate some of our higher-caliber munitions. "Right now, we're up to 7.62 and some of the smaller fragmentation rounds. We would love to incorporate mortars. ... Those are some of the things we have been looking at."
Marines are also planning on rigging the targets to "shoot back" at human troops, possibly by incorporating the Instrumented Tactical Engagement Simulation System, or ITESS, essentially a high-tech version of laser tag.
In a recent field test, SquadX program worked with Marines at the Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, to track progress on two complementary systems that allow infantry squads to collaborate with AI and autonomous systems to make better decisions in complex, time-critical combat situations.
Program highlights manned-unmanned teaming to enhance capabilities for ground units, giving squads battalion-level insights and intelligence
“We are in a race with potential adversaries to operationalize autonomy, and we have the opportunity to demonstrate autonomy in a way that we don’t believe any nation in the world has demonstrated to date. Developing hardware and tactics that allow us to operate seamlessly within a close combat ground environment is extremely challenging, but provides incredible value.”
The exercises Twentynine Palms featured Electronic Attack Module [BEAM] Squad System [BSS] and Augmented Spectral Situational Awareness and Unaided Localization for Transformative Squads [ASSAULTS] system. The systems focus on manned-unmanned teaming to enhance capabilities for ground units, giving small squads battalion-level insights and intelligence.
In the most recent experiment, squads testing the system wore vests fitted with sensors and a distributed common world model moved through scenarios transiting between natural desert and mock city blocks. Autonomous ground and aerial systems equipped with combinations of live and simulated electronic surveillance tools, ground radar, and camera-based sensing provided reconnaissance of areas ahead of the unit as well as flank security,
Troops surveyed the perimeter and reporting to squad members’ handheld Android Tactical Assault Kits [ATAKs]. Within a few screen taps, squad members accessed options to act on the systems’ findings or adjust the search areas.
The program-performer team identified a “steady evolution of tactics” made possible with the addition of an autonomous squad member. They also are focused on ensuring the ground, air, and network assets are always exploring and making the most of the current situation, exhibiting the same bias toward action required of the troops they are supporting in the field.
BEAM-based BSS comprises a network of warfighter and unmanned nodes. In an experiment, the Super Node, a sensor-laden optionally-manned, lightweight tactical all-terrain vehicle known as the powerhouse of the BEAM system, communicated with backpack nodes distributed around the experiment battlespace – mimicking the placement of dismounted squad members – along with an airborne BEAM on a Puma unmanned aerial system (UAS). The BSS provides situational awareness, detects of electronic emissions, and collaborates to geolocate signals of interest. AI synthesizes the information, eliminating the noise before providing the optimized information to the squad members via the handheld ATAK.
We’re establishing superior situational awareness through sufficient input and AI, and then the ability to do something about it at fast time scales.”
The Squad X program has moved quickly through development and is already well along the transition path, due in large part to the program’s focus on partnering with the services to ensure real-world efficacy including an opportunity to test the technology downrange to get real-world information, not simulation. At the most recent experiment with the BSS, service representatives used the system to locate and identify objectives in real time.
For both systems, feedback has included a desire for a user interface so intuitive that training takes an hour or less and any available action is accessible in two screen taps. The ability to provide early input will guard against developing a product that either isn’t used or is used improperly.
“The feedback process, in conjunction with the actual experimentation, gives the Marines the ability to use the technology and start seeing what it can do and, more specifically, what it can’t do.
Marine Corps has been overhauling its infantry squads, and a handful of Marines recently performed field testing alongside autonomous robots developed by DARPA. The robots are part of the agency's Squad X experimentation program, which was started to give infantry Marines the same resources that mounted forces have.
Hot on the heels of the Marine Corps's head-to-toe overhaul of infantry rifle squads, a handful of grunts at the Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California recently conducted field testing alongside a handful of autonomous robots engineered by the Squad X Experimentation program.
The Squad X program was launched to give dismounted infantry squads the same "highly effective multi-domain defensive and offensive capabilities that vehicle-assigned forces currently enjoy," but infantry Marines simply can't support with current combat loads.
But that doesn't just mean robotic mules to move gear: As autonomous platforms become more integrated into current combined-arms squads, Marines will also face a "steady evolution of tactics. "Developing hardware and tactics that allow us to operate seamlessly within a close combat ground environment is extremely challenging, but provides incredible value,"
During the early 2019 test, a gang of autonomous ground and aerial systems that provided intelligence and recon support for Marines outfitted with sensor-laden vests as they moved between natural desert and mock city blocks at Twentynine Palms, while ground-based units provided armed security for the primary force.
The autonomous systems "provided reconnaissance of areas ahead of the unit as well as flank security, surveying the perimeter and reporting to squad members' handheld Android Tactical Assault Kits [ATAKs]. Within a few screen taps, squad members accessed options to act on the systems' findings or adjust the search areas."
The additional recon support and added firepower on squad flanks could prove a major boost to Marine squads as continue to evolve in pursuit of that ever-precious lethality, We're establishing superior situational awareness through sufficient input and AI, and then the ability to do something about it at fast time scales."
We made plans to have troops fire at targets using remote-controlled robotic vehicles as part of a phased effort to learn how autonomous combat vehicles can make small units more effective on the battlefield.
"We're asking them to utilize the vehicles in a way that's never been done before.“ One goal for the autonomous vehicles is to learn how to penetrate an adversary's anti-access/aerial denial capabilities without putting troops in danger.
"You're exposing forces to enemy fire, whether that be artillery, direct fire. "So, we have to find ways to penetrate that bubble, knock down their systems and allow for freedom of air and ground maneuver. These platforms buy us some of that, by giving us standoff."
"The intent of this is to see how vehicles integrate into a light infantry formation and perform reconnaissance and security tasks, as well as supports dismounted infantry operations
"This is not how we're used to fighting. "We're asking a lot. We're putting a lot of sensors, putting a lot of data in the hands of troops. We want to see how that impacts them. We want to see how it degrades or increases their performance."
Autonomous vehicles reduce risk by expanding the geometry of the battlefield so that, before the threat makes contact with the first human element, it has to make contact with the robots. That, in turn, gives commanders additional space and time to make decisions."
Services have been working for several years to develop armored robotic vehicles, but the vehicles being used in these tests aren’t the actual robotic vehicles that will eventually end up in combat — they’re surrogate vehicles designed to simulate a future platform. These tests are aimed not at the vehicle capabilities, but at how their operators utilize them and to learn how to best use future robotic vehicles to attack an enemy without putting soldiers directly in the line of fire.
Robotic systems are able to do that: they’re mobile platforms equipped with cameras and guns, which could be directed into the line of fire by troops who are well out of range. The vehicles are expected to be smaller and faster than the crewed vehicles that we currently field. Because they won’t actually carry people, they wouldn’t need to be as heavily armored, and could dedicate more space to weapons or fuel.
The goal is the ability to move troops farther away from the field than remote-operated robots would allow the insertion of AI and the reduction of manpower necessary to accomplish the mission task, without having the soldier there. We need to move farther forward on that.”
We’re starting to really develop knowledge across the Services in some of the things that we are working in. If a commander expresses a need for it, we’ll be happy to provide the capability.”
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