Magazine article National Defense

Marine Corps Develops Equipment Wish List

Magazine article National Defense

Marine Corps Develops Equipment Wish List

Article excerpt

The Marine Corps is looking for new capabilities as it prepares to return to its amphibious roots and operate in more challenging environments.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets will be critical, including unmanned aerial vehicles of varying types and sizes, service officials said.

In addition to Group 1 UAVs that weigh less than 20 pounds, the Corps also needs larger, long-endurance drones to support its operations, said Brig. Gen. J.D. Alford, commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory's futures directorate.

"[I want] something that stays up a long, long time, has lots of lookers/listeners, and can kill somebody when I need it to," he said at a recent National Defense Industrial Association conference. "We need help with that, and I know we've got some people working on systems that come from the sea or otherwise."

The Office of Naval Research--which develops cutting edge technologies for both the Navy and Marine Corps--has teamed up with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on the tactically exploited reconnaissance node (TERN) program.

The goal of TERN is to develop a medium-altitude, long-endurance Group 4 unmanned aerial system--weighing more than 1,320 pounds--that can launch and recover from small ships or possibly even rooftops.

"It doesn't need a runway, it's vertical launch and recovery," said Jeff Tomczak, deputy director of the science and technology division at the warfighting laboratory. "When you have a Group 4 UAS that can launch from an amphib that has long-duration [and can] potentially carry weapons, ISR, stay on station a long time--that opens up the door to a lot of possibilities."

Lethal drones that are easily man-portable would also be useful for the warfighter, officials said. A Marine needs an ISF asset "in his pocket" that can kill something from the air after he launches it, Alford said.

Marine Capt. Benjamin Brewster, who recently completed an assignment as a field testing officer, said he would like an "Android-type device" with a government-owned mapping app "that steps into my UAS architecture that I have over me whether... that's a Group l that I take out of my backpack and throw up in the air and it creates a local network within the area I'm operating in, or whether that ties into some sort of Group 5 UAS that's pulling off larger-band, full-motion video down to my device."

Equipping units with quadcopters that could potentially carry weapons would be useful in urban areas, officials said. But they noted that aerial systems aren't a silver bullet, which is why the Marine Corps is also interested in ground robots and other intelligence-gathering tools.

"If you have compartmentalized microenvironments within a city... you can't just fly a helicopter over [it] or a satellite or a singular reconnaissance method to get all the information you need," said Col. Cliff Weinstein, head of the concepts and plans division at the warfighting laboratory. "You have many different types of technologies that may have to be leveraged for inside buildings ... [or] the subterranean environment."

Another high-tech capability that the Marine Corps is pursuing is autonomy and manned-unmanned teaming. Alford has visited robotics companies to examine their products.

"I saw a lot of cool stuff [but] most of it is not what we want or need," he said. "It's too heavy, it's too expensive, it takes too many batteries... and the average squad would just put a claymore on it and blow it up to get rid of it."

It would be ideal if "I could put a robot in my pocket and throw it on top of a building... [or] I could hook a very small piece of gear onto an ATV or a Humvee and it would follow me autonomously," he said. "That's what I need."

The Corps is looking to put "fifth domain" weapons like cyber and electromagnetic warfare devices in the hands of infantrymen, officials said. …

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