The United States Military is known for its extensive use of robots both on the battlefield and elsewhere. Affiliated to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (or MCCDC), the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is one of the many organizations currently working on research, development and testing of such automated systems.
As part of Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment, during last year’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise, it unveiled a bunch of incredibly futuristic military robots that are engineered to enhance the soldier’s efficiency as well as performance during combat. Among the 40 technologies tested during the experiment were the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS), the Multipurpose Unmanned Tactical Transport (MUTT), the PGI Phantom, the PD-100 Black Hornet Nano, the InstantEye and others.
The brainchild of UK-based defense technology company QinetiQ, the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System will take the place of the SWORDS weapon-mounted robot of the TALON family. According to the developers, its main tasks include reconnaissance, surveillance as well as identification of targets. Slightly larger than its predecessor, the MAARS weighs approximately 167 kg (or 369 lb), and comes fitted with hi-tech sensors, arms and ammunition. This in turn allows it to engage in combat with the enemy.
Powered by a battery that can last somewhere between three and twelve hours, the contraption can travel at speeds of around 11.3 km/h (about 7 mph). It relies on seven strategically-placed cameras for situational awareness, navigation and target acquisition. The unmanned robot features a range of powerful weaponry, including an M240B machine gun, as many as four grenade launchers mounted on a fully-rotating turret and finally, up to 450 rounds of ammo. The first MAARS units were sent to the U.S. Military as try-outs back in 2008.
During the 2016 Rim of the Pacific training exercise, members of Company K, the 5th Marine Regiment, 3rd Battalion and the Company Landing Team also tested a number of futuristic ground gear like the Multipurpose Unmanned Tactical Transport. As its name suggests, the MUTT is a robust tethered vehicle that is programmed to follow human movement. Developed by the American Robot Company (AMBOT), the 340-kg (750-lb) machine is engineered to carry heavy loads and supplies for dismounted infantry on all kinds of terrain. It moves at about 6.4 km/h (or 4 mph), with the highest speed being nearly 12.8 km/h (8 mph). Speaking about the contraption, engineer officer Capt. Mike Malandra said:
… we have Marines working on the Robotic Vehicle Modular System that has two different payloads. Right now it has the Remote Weapon Station on it. It also has a CART which is a Combat Armed Robotic Targeting payload. These two payloads are designed to get some bigger assets down to the infantry platoon, squad and the fire team level. So, right now it has a M134 minigun with the ability to put 3,000 rounds down range in a minute… carry more ammo for them, and allow more fire power to the fight, so it allows the Marine to not be as burdened carrying everything with him. Then the CART is targeting designation system and they can use this to remotely designate targets for aircraft or any other laser guided ammunition.
The PD-100 Black Hornet is one of the most futuristic technologies currently being tested by the U.S. Military. Touted as the “world’s smallest drone”, this micro-unmanned aerial vehicle, built by Norway-based Prox Dynamics, is currently being used by the militaries of 19 countries, including Britain, Australia and so on. Resembling a miniature helicopter more than a drone, the noiseless PD-100 is equipped with three cameras aligned in different directions as well as night vision, infrared and day sensors. It is small enough to fit in one’s hand and pocket, weighing only around 16 g (with batteries). What’s more, it takes less than 20 minutes to train someone to operate one of these.
The 10 x 2.5 cm (or 4 x 1 in) microdrone assists foot-soldiers by providing situational awareness details. The on board cameras can send high-resolution images as well as videos over a distance of 1.6 km (1 mi). Once fully charged, it can remain airborne for up to 20 to 25 minutes, and is capable of attaining speeds of about 18 km/h (or 11 mph). In keeping with its plan to equip each Marine infantry squad with its own UAV by the end of 2017, the U.S. Military has purchased a small number of PD-100 Black Hornet, and is currently in the process of testing them out. Arne Skjaerpe, the general manager at Prox Dynamics, said:
From our perspective, this was developed to give the dismounted squad its own ISR capability. That was the big idea, and still is the big idea… Right now we are in a very good dialogue with [Marine Corps Combat Development Command] and the Marine Corps Warfighting Labe to see how they think they want to move forward. And we, needless to say, want to offer them whatever capabilities they need.
Another drone technology tested by the warfighting lab was the InstantEye quadcopter. Inspired by hawk moth’s amazing flying prowess even in the face of strong winds, the team at Massachusetts-based Physical Sciences Inc (PSI) has developed an incredibly stable and robust unmanned aerial vehicle that they claim can fly right through a hurricane. While that is yet to be proven, this tiny contraption can withstand winds of 48 km/h (i.e. 30 mph). The on board camera can be controlled by the ground-based pilot and is designed to help survey unknown territories. It is also cheaper than the Black Hornet.
Other technologies experimented during the training exercise were those pertaining to clean, reusable energy, medical support as well as water purifying systems. Maj. Jason Dempsey of MCWL added:
Here at the [MCWL], we test and evaluate future concepts and technologies; ultimately what we are trying to do is determine how we can make the Marine Corps more efficient, more lethal, and more survivable.
To see some of these futuristic robots in action, watch the video provided below: