Academic journal article Military Review

Trailblazers of Unmanned Ground Vehicles: Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Marine Corps War Fighting Lab

Academic journal article Military Review

Trailblazers of Unmanned Ground Vehicles: Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Marine Corps War Fighting Lab

Article excerpt

We need to change where it makes sense, adapt as quickly as possible,  and constantly innovate to stay ahead of our adversaries. Our ability  to adapt more quickly than our enemies will be vital to our future  success.                     --Gen. Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps 

Necessity is the Mother of Innovation

The Canadian Corps' victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge on 12 April 1917 was, at that point, the largest territorial advance of any Commonwealth force during World War I. The Canadian forces' success was due to the confluence of a new form of artillery tactics called "creeping barrage" and the proliferation of the wrist-watch. The Battle of Vimy Ridge illustrated how an existing and innocuous technology such as the wristwatch coupled with changes in tactics created overmatch and subsequent dominance against German forces (see the sidebar on page 61). Fast forward 102 years and several wars--tactical innovations within the U.S. military need to adapt and overmatch adversaries at a rate inconceivable in 1917. To accomplish this, adaptability requires ingenuity, partnership, collaboration, and exploitation of existing technology.

A brief examination of the U.S. military's twenty-first-century medium-weight unmanned ground vehicle (MUGV) and the eight years of collaborative efforts amongst Department of Defense (DOD) and industry partners illustrates how eight years of collaboration allowed nontraditional industry partners to develop innovative solutions to wicked problems (see figure 1, page 63). (1) This article also highlights opportunities for the Army's maneuver support formations to capitalize on other DOD research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) to inform both the fielded force concepts and the future force concepts. (2)

The first military MUGV, the Gladiator Tactical Unmanned Ground Vehicle, made its debut in 2004 as a teleoperated unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) with the primary focus to support dismounted marines across a range of military operations. (3) Six years later, and After observing lessons learned from the Army's MUGV acquisition endeavor with the Future Combat System, the DOD UGV community of interest was ready to showcase its latest MUGV: the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate (GUSS). GUSS was an optionally manned platform consisting of a commercially available Polaris chassis and existing government-owned architecture. (4) The application for GUSS was simple: to assist marines on the battlefield. From 2011 to 2016, the U.S. military made numerous incremental improvements to its MUGV portfolio, sometimes at pace with commercial industries and at other times dabbling in the world of science fiction. While GUSS and its successors were suitable prototypes for the current operating environment, they did not address the changing character of war nor how to fight a war. The U.S. Army's latest operating concept, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, provides a framework for how the Army intends to compete, defeat, and win in the future operating environment. (5) Before delving into the DOD's most recent MUGV collaboration, it is necessary to briefly describe what robotic governance exists within the DOD during the twentieth century.

Consortium of Innovation

The goal of the DOD Joint Robotics Program (JRP) was to increase the focus of robotics on operational requirements while enabling an interservice coordination and governance forum. After twenty-five years as a directly funded program the JRP ended in 2013 but not before the majority of its projects became either a system of systems or a stand-alone project within other DOD programs. Despite the end of JRP, new MUGVs from the Marine Corps War fighting Laboratory (MCWL) and the Defense Treat Reduction Agency (DTRA)--the combat support agency of the DOD--J9-CXW Weapons and Capabilities Division (DTRA/CXW)--as well as an unlikely partnership with a high performance race car company emerged in 2014. …

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