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The Future of Unmanned Systems for the Warfighter

The MIX-16 testing is part of a marked effort the study new unmanned systems and speed up their acquisition for the Marines.

Robots are becoming the warfighter’s new friend, expanding from niche fields like EOD robots and Hellfire missile strikes to systems which will be employed by and alongside troops on the ground. Currently available unmanned systems from both the defense and commercial industry are already being tested by warfighters, such as the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines: the testbed for upcoming unmanned systems from the Corps’ warfighting laboratory as part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment (MIX-16). This tests is designed to accelerate the acquisition process, as well as find out what the need of a trooper is for unmanned systems, as well as what robotic systems could do for warfighters in the future.

The Call of the Commandant

Recently, the Marine Commandant General Robert B. Neller has issued a challenge to his troops:

“Identify missions or tasks assigned to your unit that currently requires a Marine (or Marines) to accomplish, that could, and should, be replaced by robotic, autonomous, or unmanned systems. Missions or tasks that are prime candidates for autonomous solutions are typically dull, dirty or dangerous in nature.”

The Marine Corps Innovation Challenge, as it is known, is already underway, soliciting answers to this question and others from Marines, Sailors, and governmental civilians of the Marine Corps on their website. It even comes with its own video:

The Dull, Dirty, and Dangerous

The General’s first question strikes a common note for ground forces everywhere. From grunt work to dangerous jobs, having automated assistance can free them up for more important tasks and reduce the risk to dangerous tasks. Let’s go over some of the most common tasks in each category:

The Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) is a UGV designed to follow a squad and carry its gear, and has already been deployed.

Dull: Routine Time and Labor-Intensive Tasks

Tasks in this category fall under the category of “grunt work”. These are tasks that are critical to the long-term health of the warfighters, but are also tasks that could be automated, freeing up the manpower to be better used elsewhere:

  • Filling Sandbags: Base construction and entrenchment are a vital but backbreaking job of expeditionary forces, freeing them up allows for more security for the location.
  • Resupply: The Armed Services have been looking at converted and “optionally manned” airlift and ground transport vehicles that could deliver routine supplies unmanned.
  • Squad Supply and Support: Just like larger “optionally manned” vehicles, there are also options for squad-sized support, hauling patrol packs and even larger weapon systems.

Dirty: Dealing with Hazardous Materials

Dealing with potential CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosives) threats has been a hallmark of conflicts of the last decade, if thankfully with few confirmed uses. By being able to send in robotic systems that can detect these hazards, it keeps troops safe and able to avoid the detrimental effects of their CBRNE suits (such as limited situational awareness and heat exhaustion). Similarly, UAV and UGV systems could help in water or fire hazard environments, such as sea rescue or ship firefighting.

The Army is interested in Autonomous Tactical Airborne Drones (like Shield AI’s above) that can enter and map out a building at the push of a button.

Dangerous: Dealing with Unknown Threats

Closed rooms and suspicious packages: two major threats for troops on the ground. While the EOD bot has become a stable for EOD teams, the unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) as well as autonomous UAV systems have created new opportunities as the squad level outside of ordinance disposal.

  • Squad-Level Recon: Being able to bring ground robots to the squad level allows for warfighters to deal with booby traps and IEDs themselves in time-critical scenarios.
  • Autonomous Building Exploration: Being able to send in UAVs and UGVs to map a building interior while searching for threats give troopers more knowledge and helps avoid ambushes.

Here at Protonex we have a long history of supporting the power needs of warfighters, from Marines and Soldiers to SOF Operators. As unmanned systems become more and more integrated on the squad level, we’re here to help reduce the weight required to recharge them, as well as give them as much uptime as possible. We’ve worked with UAV manufacturers like Aeryon to provide superior in-field charging solutions, so you and your unmanned systems Never Run Out of Power. Want more Time on Target? Contact us today to learn more.