By SECURITY CORRESPONDENT
A military exercise designed to help identify useful technologies for amphibious warfare featured rocket-firing hovercraft, machine gun-armed robots crawling up the sandy beaches of southern California, and hybrid speedboat/submarines.
Dubbed “Ship-to-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technological Exercise 2017” or ANTX 2017 for short, the exercise aimed to find out how new emerging technologies, especially unmanned systems, could allow the Marine Corps to storm beaches with fewer casualties.
According to Popular Mechanics, as the U.S. Marine Corps shifts back to big power warfare, its bread and butter mission of amphibious warfare is coming back into focus.
Tensions in the South and East China Seas with China and the Baltic and Black Seas with Russia mean that the next opponent the Marines face might be bigger and more powerful than any they’ve faced since World War II. ANTX 2017 was designed to look at new technologies—about one hundred, actually—and figure out what could help the Corps accomplish the mission.
The ten day exercise took place in April at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Here’s a sample of the military tech that was on display.
Fire support in amphibious landings is always an issue. As Marines in the landing force encounter pockets of resistance, they need eliminated ASAP before they have a chance to bring their own big guns ashore.
In response, the Navy Surface Warfare Center developed the Autonomous Landing Craft – Air Cushion (ALC-AC). ALC-AC is a Navy transport hovercraft made autonomous and toting a Marine Corps HIMARS rocket launcher in the cargo bay.
ALC-AC can approach the battlefield and sit offshore with its six 227-millimeter GPS-guided high explosive rockets, providing precision fire support. Once the landing is complete, the HIMARS truck can disembark on the beach and follow Marines inland.
The Marines are also experimenting with turning amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) into drone carriers. During one landing exercise an autonomous AAV came ashore and disembarked a semi-autonomous Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT) 6×6 all terrain vehicle.
A quadcopter drone then promptly flew off the MUTT. In a rare display of the Marines mimicking their adversaries, a quadcopter was also used to drop a simulated explosive device (actually, a MRE package) on an enemy position. This mimics the pioneering work the Islamic State has done in using drones to drop explosive devices on their enemies.
A smaller version of the MUTT armed with an M2 Browning .50 caliber heavy machine gun propelled itself along on the beach on four sets of tank tracks. The MUTT can perform fire support and armed reconnaissance duties, laying down suppressive fire for Marines or scouting out dangerous areas where the enemy is likely.
Capable of semi-autonomous operation, the presence of a weapon indicates this particular vehicle is remotely driven by a human—autonomous armed systems aren’t yet a reality, with considerable ethical concerns still to be worked out.
A number of smaller drones were also tested, including the Vapor 55 drone. The small, human-sized helicopter can carry a payload of 34 pounds, which was used according to USNI News as “aerial command and control, linking Marines with other drones and systems on ship and ashore”.
An even smaller, drone, the Expeditionary Eye (Ex-Eye for short) fits in the palm of the hand and relays a live video feed back to an Android tablet.
Finally, the Marines went full James Bond and showed off an actual speedboat/submarine hybrid. Named Hypersub, the 45 foot long vessel uses two 480 horsepower diesel engines to cruise at 38 miles an hour on the surface.
It can then switch to a pair of electrically-powered thrusters to move at up to six miles an hour underwater, for an average of twelve hours. The Hypersub has a maximum dive depth of 1,200 feet.
There’s no word on exactly how the Marines want to use Hypersub, but some applications are obvious. Hypersub could be useful as a covert transport for reconnaissance Marines, allowing them to approach hostile enemy shorelines underwater to escape detection.
It even has provisions for launching and recovering remote operated vehicles, meaning it could send drones to scout the shoreline before it sends actual Marines to scout the shoreline.
According to USNI News, the Marines would like to take the best technologies showcased at ANTX 2017 and push them into future exercises, including the biennial Bold Alligator and Dawn Blitz exercises.
From there, they’d be finessed even further into fully operational systems that deploy with Marines worldwide.
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