DN - Defence Notes

AUVSI 2017: Technologies threaten USMC ops

9th May 2017 - 12:05 GMT | by Scott Gourley in Dallas


Building on several years of demonstration and experimentation experience, the US Marine Corps had defined a way ahead for robotics and autonomous systems. However, that experience is balanced against the fact that similar technologies could be employed by potential adversaries.

That was the message during an educational briefing by Dr Bill Powers, a former marine corps officer and research fellow at the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities.

Speaking on the opening day at AUVSI Exponential in Dallas, Texas, Powers asserted, 'Robots are coming.'

Establishing a foundation of documentation like the Joint Concept for Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Powers pointed to a continuing general lack of agreement on unmanned terminology between the services and the fact that robotic systems are evolving much faster in the commercial world than the military.

In terms of the marine corps 'road to success' with robotics and autonomous systems (RAS), he pointed to a number of specific studies, events and projects, and their contribution to the marine corps RAS strategy, including Operational Impact of Unmanned Systems Employed in a Megacity Environment to specific hardware demonstrations like LOCUST and CICADA.

Among the greatest concerns identified by Powers was 'the democratisation of technology to where it is going to be available to anyone, everywhere.'

'We have a programme at the [Marine Corps Warfighting] Lab[oratory] called Commercial Hunter,' Powers explained. 'Under that programme, we put teams of college students together and say, “Here's a problem we have. We want you to go on the internet with a [notional] unlimited amount of money and we want to see what kinds of solutions you can come up with. Pretending that you are the bad guys, what can you do to either kill marines or inhibit our operations?"'

He noted that results to date have been 'scary,' he stated, 'Those kids are unbelievable. Three of the projects we've done in the last nine years have become classified after they have given us their results. So there are ways out there that are available right now. If you have got the money and the wherewithal, you can do it; you can find it; you can get it; and you can build it.'

Powers also identified a Project Hunter effort currently underway, where students are looking at 'swarming unmanned ground vehicles.'

'We have a college team up at Penn State University that's looking at that problem right now: How do you swarm ground vehicles and make them a threat to our formations?'

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