Tag Archives: Marine Corps

How Marines And Robots Will fight Side By Side

Standard
Illustrations by Jacqueline Belker/Staff

“MARINE CORPS TIMES”

This imagined scenario involves a host of platforms, teamed with in-the-flesh Marines, moving rapidly across wide swaths of the Pacific.

Those small teams of maybe a platoon or even a squad could work alongside robots in the air, on land, sea and undersea, to gain a short-term foothold that then could control a vital sea lane Chinese ships would have to bypass or risk sinking simply to transit.

____________________________________________________________________________

“Somewhere off the coast of a tiny island in the South China Sea small robotic submarines snoop around, looking for underwater obstacles as remotely-controlled ships prowl the surf. Overhead multiple long-range drones scan the beachhead and Chinese military ­fortifications deeper into the hills.

A small team of Marines, specially trained and equipped, linger ­farther out after having launched from their amphibious warship, as did their robot battle buddies to scout this spit of sand.

Their Marine grandfathers and great-grandfathers might have rolled toward this island slowly, dodging sea mines and artillery fire only to belly crawl in the surf as they were raked with ­machine gun fire, dying by the thousands.

But in the near-term battle, suicidal charges to gain ground in a fast-moving battlefield is a robot’s job.

It’s a bold, technology-heavy concept that’s part of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s plan to keep the Corps relevant and lethal against a perceived growing threat in the rise of China in the Pacific and its increasingly sophisticated and capable Navy.

In his planning guidance, Berger called for the Marines and Navy to “create many new risk-worthy unmanned and minimally manned platforms.” Those systems will be used in place of and alongside the “stand-in forces,” which are in range of enemy weapons systems to create “tactical dilemmas” for adversaries.

“Autonomous systems and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the character of war,” Berger said. “Our potential peer adversaries are investing heavily to gain dominance in these fields.”

And a lot of what the top Marine wants makes sense for the type of war fighting, and budget constraints, that the Marine Corps will face.

“A purely unmanned system can be very small, can focus on power, range and duration and there are a lot of packages you can put on it — sensors, video camera, weapons systems,” said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine ­lieutenant colonel and now senior research fellow at The Heritage ­Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The theater of focus, the Indo-Pacific Command, almost requires adding a lot of affordable systems in place of more Marine bodies.

That’s because the Marines are stretched across the world’s largest ocean and now face anti-access, area-denial, systems run by the Chinese military that the force hasn’t had to consider since the Cold War.

“In INDOPACOM, in the littorals, the Marine Corps is looking to kind of outsource tasks that machines are looking to do,” Wood said. “You’re preserving people for tasks you really want a person to handle.”

The Corps’ shift back to the sea and closer work with the Navy has been brewing in the background in recent years as the United States slowly has attempted to disentangle itself from land-based conflicts in the Middle East. Signaling those changes, recent leaders have published warfighting concepts such as expeditionary advanced based operations, or EABO, and littoral operations in contested environment.

EABO aims to work with the Navy’s distributed maritime operations concept. Both allow for the U.S. military to pierce the anti-access, area denial bubble. The littoral operations in contested environment concept makes way for the close-up fight in the critical space where the sea meets the land.

That’s meant a move to prioritize the Okinawa, Japan-based III Marine Expeditionary Force as the leading edge for prioritizing Marine forces and experimentation, as the commandant calls for the “brightest” Marines to head there.

Illustrations by Jacqueline Belker/Staff

Getting what they want

But the Corps, which traditionally has taken a backseat in major acquisitions, faces hurdles in adding new systems to its portfolio.

It was only in 2019 that the Marines gained more funding to add more MQ-9 Reaper drones. The Corps got the money to purchase its three Reapers in this year’s budget. But that’s a ­platform that’s been in wide use by the Air Force for more than a decade.

But that’s a short-term fix, the Corps’ goal remains the Marine Air-Ground Task Force unmanned aircraft system, expeditionary, or MUX.

The MUX, still under development, would give the Corps a long-range drone with vertical takeoff capability to launch from amphib ships that can also run persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare and coordinate and initiate strikes from other weapons platforms in its network.

Though early ideas in 2016 called for something like the MUX to be in the arsenal, at this point officials are pegging an operational version of the aircraft for 2026.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation, said at the annual Sea-Air-Space Symposium in 2019 that the MUX remains among the top priorities for the MAGTF.

Sustain and distract

In other areas, Marines are focusing on existing platforms but making them run without human operators.

One such project is the expeditionary warfare unmanned surface vessel. Marines are using the 11-meter ­rigid-hull inflatable boats already in service to move people or cargo, drop it off and return for other missions.

Logistics are a key area where autonomous systems can play a role. Carrying necessary munitions, medical supplies, fuel, batteries and other items on relatively cheap platforms keeps Marines out of the in-person transport game and instead part of the fight.

In early 2018 the Corps conducted the “Hive Final Mile” autonomous drone resupply demonstration in ­Quantico, Virginia. The short-range experiment used small quadcopters to bring items like a rifle magazine, MRE or canteen to designated areas to resupply a squad on foot patrol.

The system used a group of drones in a portable “hive” that could be ­programmed to deliver items to a predetermined site at a specific time and continuously send and return small drones with various items.

Extended to longer ranges on larger platforms and that becomes a lower-risk way to get a helicopter’s worth of supplies to far-flung Marines on small atolls that dot vast ocean expanses.

Shortly after that demonstration, the Marines put out requests for concepts for a similar drone resupply system that would carry up to 500 pounds at least 10 km. It still was not enough distance for larger-scale warfighting, but is the beginnings of the type of resupply a squad or platoon might need in a contested area.

In 2016, the Office of Naval Research used four rigid-hull inflatable boat with unmanned controls to “swarm” a target vessel, showing that they can also be used to attack or distract vessels.

And the distracting part can be one of the best ways to use unmanned assets, Wood said.

Wood noted that while autonomous systems can ­assist in classic “shoot, move, communicate” tactics, they sometimes be even more effective in sustaining forces and distracting adversaries.

“You can put machines out there that can cause the enemy to look in that direction, decoys tying up attention, munitions or other platforms,” Wood said.

And that distraction goes further than actual boats in the water or drones in the air.

As with the MUX, the Corps is looking at ways to include electronic warfare capabilities in its plans. That allows for robotic systems to spoof enemy sensors, making them think that a small pod of four rigid-hull inflatable boats appear to be a larger flotilla of amphib ships.

Illustrations by Jacqueline Belker/Staff

Overreliance

Marines fighting alongside and along with ­semi-autonomous systems isn’t entirely new.

In communities such as aviation, explosive ordnance disposal and air defense, forms of automation, from automatic flight paths to approaching toward bomb sites and recognizing incoming threats, have been at least partly outsourced to software and systems.

But for more complex tasks, not so much.

How robots have worked and will continue to work in formations is an evolutionary process, according to former Army Ranger Paul Scharre, director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security and author of, “Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War.”

If you look at military technology in history, the most important use for such tech was in focusing on how to solve a particular mission rather than having the most advanced technology to solve all problems, Scharre said.

And autonomy runs on a kind of sliding scale, he said.

As systems get more complex, autonomy will give fewer tasks to the human and more to the robot, helping people better focus on decision-making about how to conduct the fight. And it will allow for one human to run multiple systems.

When you put robotic systems into a squad, you’re giving up a person to run them and leaders have to decide if that’s worth the trade off, Scharre said.

The more remote the system, the more vulnerable it might be to interference or hacking, he said. Built into any plan for adding autonomous systems there must be reliable, durable communication networks.

Otherwise, when those networks are attacked the systems go down.

That means that a Marine’s training won’t get less complicated, only more multifaceted.

Just as Marines continue to train with a map and compass for land navigation even though they have GPS at their fingertips, Marines operating with autonomous systems will need continued training in fundamental tactics and ways to fight if those systems fail.

“Our preferred method of fighting today in an ­infantry is to shoot someone at a distance before they get close enough to kill with a bayonet,” Scharre said. “But it’s still a backup that’s there. There are still bayonet lugs on rifles, we issue bayonets, we teach people how to wield them.”

Where do they live?

A larger question is where do these systems live? At what level do commanders insert robot wingmen or battle buddies?

Purely for reasons of control and effectiveness, Dakota Wood said they’ll need to be close to the action and Marine Corps personnel.

But does that mean every squad is assigned a robot, or is there a larger formation that doles out the automated systems as needed to the units?

For example, an infantry battalion has some vehicles but for larger movements, leaders look to a truck company, Wood said. The maintenance, care, feeding, control and programming of all these systems will require levels of specialization, expertise and resources.

The Corps is experimenting with a new squad formation, putting 15 instead of 13 Marines in the building block of the infantry. Those additions were an assistant team leader and a squad systems operator. Those are exactly the types of human positions needed to implement small drones, tactical level electronic warfare and other systems.

The MUX, still under development, would give the Corps a long-range drone with vertical takeoff capability to launch from amphib ships. (Bell Helicopter)
The MUX, still under development, would give the Corps a long-range drone with vertical takeoff capability to launch from amphib ships. (Bell Helicopter)

The Marine Corps leaned on radio battalions in the 1980s to exploit tactical signals intelligence. Much of that capability resided in the larger battalion that farmed out smaller teams to Marine Expeditionary Units or other formations within the larger division or Marine Expeditionary Force.

A company or battalion or other such formation could be where the control and distribution of ­autonomous systems remains.

But, current force structure moves look could integrate those at multiple levels. Maj. Gen. Mark Wise, deputy commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said recently that the Corps is considering a Marine littoral regiment as a formation that would help the Corps better conduct EABO operations.

Combat Development Command did not provide details on the potentially new regimental formation, confirmed that a Marine littoral regiment concept is one that will be developed through current force design conversations.

A component of that could include a recently-proposed formation known as a battalion maritime team.

Maj. Jake Yeager, an intelligence officer in I MEF, charted out an offensive EABO method in a December 2019 article on the website War On The Rocks titled, “­Expeditionary Advanced Maritime Operations: How the Marine Corps can avoid becoming a second land Army in the Pacific.”

Part of that includes the maritime battalion, creating a kind of Marine air-sea task force. Each battalion team would include three assault boat companies, one raid boat company, one anti-ship missile boat battery and one reconnaissance boat company.

The total formation would use 40 boats, at least nine which would be dedicated unmanned surface vehicles, while the rest would be developed with unmanned or manned options, much like the ­rigid-hulled inflatable boats which the Corps is currently experimenting with.”

https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2020/02/03/war-with-robots-an-inside-look-at-how-marines-and-robots-will-fight-side-by-side/

Captain Maggie Seymour Ran 100 Days for Veterans, Special-Needs Athletes, And Gold Star Families

Standard

Maggie Seymour

Maggie Seymour
Courtesy photo

“TASK AND PURPOSE”

“Maggie Seymour is a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves and a current doctoral candidate at Old Dominion University.

After leaving active duty in 2017, she ran across the country in 100 days to support veterans, Gold Star families, and special-needs athletes.”


“On July 22, I ended my active-duty service with the Marine Corps and started a 100-day run across the country. I decided to leave the Corps for a variety of reasons; some cultural, some personal, but mostly because I didn’t want to move every three years. I was tired of rebuilding a life and community with every PCS. In that same sense of community and service, I wanted my last PCS to be a tribute to the communities that had embraced me over my time on active duty. I set out to raise $50,000 for veterans, special-needs athletes, and Gold Star families.

Going into this run, I was woefully under trained, slightly overweight, and more than a little arrogant — not unlike many service members transitioning to civilian life. So it was to even my own surprise that on Oct. 28, I reached the Atlantic Ocean, relatively injury-free and on schedule.

It has been a month since I finished and I am still not sure how I did it, but I have a feeling it was through a little bit of luck, a lot of stubbornness, and my military training. As it turns out, the Marine Corps did a pretty good job in preparing me for that grueling 2,850-mile trek.

Here’s five ways how:

Bearing

I called it grace, but bearing would be appropriate, too. The Marine Corps teaches bearing in any number of ways. I learned to keep a straight face and cool head mostly by counseling Marines through some notoriously bad decisions, like the time my chief intentionally impregnated his mistress, while still married. Or when that same chief held a “commitment ceremony” with his pregnant girlfriend, again while still married. Overcoming those experiences prevented me from completely losing my shit when on Day 64 of this run, my support driver drove to the day’s end point instead of the start point, wasting an hour of the blessed cool morning air. It allowed me to stay in control when that sweet old lady in Virginia hit me with her car. There is a strength in being able to remain calm, especially when everything around (or inside you) is going apeshit.

Flexibility

Pick a cliché: Go for the 80% solution. Semper Gumby. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. They all mean the same thing: The Marine Corps changes. A lot. Orders get modified hours before the movers show up. The movers don’t show up. The movers show up drunk. All of these changes force us to learn how to flex. I started the run in July and reached the California desert by the second day, unprepared to face the searing heat that even most American tourists know to steer clear of — clearly understanding weather isn’t my forte. In the desert, everything is trying to kill you: the sun, the sand, the animals, even the plants (jumping chollas, anyone?). My enemy became the rocks and sand, the goat trails and wadis, my blisters, and always my own mind. So, my crew and I flexed. I began running at night to avoid the heat of the day. We adjusted the route to make the timeline. My crew bought safety vests, cooling towels, and a second cooler. When one route didn’t pan out, we found another. When the van needed a repair, we called friends. When we hit a fence, a mounter, or a herd of cattle — we went over, around, or under it.

Land Navigation

As if running in the desert in the dead of the night wasn’t bad enough, the desert between eastern California and Phoenix has very few roads suitable or legal for pedestrians. In some stretches of the trek, there were no viable roads at all. Luckily my crew and I know how to read a map and use a compass (or rather the compass app on the iPhone) and picked our way across the desert, avoiding becoming those lost lieutenants, or in this case lost captains. Thanks to The Basic School.

The ability to suffer monotony

At the end of each day, my crew would congratulate me on another day down. I’d bitterly ask what my reward was. Cheerfully, they would reply, “You get to do it again tomorrow!” Running 33 miles a day for 99 days was my own personal Groundhog Day from Hell. It reminded me a lot of deployments; the days were long, but the weeks were short, no matter how miserably monotonous. Every Marine — from a staff officer preparing commander’s update brief slides and non-judicial punishments to the infantry lance corporal cleaning his weapon — knows the feeling. The level of tedium experienced day after day in the Marines kills motivation and feeds misery. Luckily the Corps gives you company in your suffering. Shared torment reminds you that you’re not alone and that someone always had it worse. When the monotony of the run became nearly unbearable, I always had a friend to reach out to — someone who reminded me that it could be worse.

Success is a team effort

When the 1995 VW Eurovan camper named Diana that was meant to carry my support driver, running partners, me, and my gear broke down the day before the launch of the run, I started to panic. Luckily my friends — also Marines — stepped in. One friend lent me a Jeep. Another called a tow truck so that Diana could make the launch party. Other friends transferred my coolers and running gear from the van to the loaner Jeep and kept me calm. Throughout the run, this teamwork was a running (pun intended) theme. My crew made me weird potato-chip sandwiches, ran my ice baths, and even rubbed my feet. Friends from afar sent me messages, linked me up with places to stay at different stops of the journey, and spread the word about my mission. Everyone chipped in with whatever support they could. I got through this run the same way I got through any tough challenge in the Marine Corps. I asked for help. I asked for a lot of help, from a lot of different people. I reached out to those people who knew what they were doing, I reached out for logistical support, emotional support, medical advice, or just simple encouragement.”

http://taskandpurpose.com/marine-corps-prepared-run-across-country-100-days/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ebb-1/2&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

 

 

 

The First Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) — the Lewis B. Puller

Standard

635699849930724402-Puller

“MILITARY TIMES”

“Berthing for 250 troops, flight deck, fuel and equipment storage, and repair spaces make the AFSB a key asset for special purpose Marine air-ground task forces and special operations units.

The AFSB’s hangar has two aviation operating spots capable of handling MH-53E or equivalent helicopters. Its reconfigurable mission deck area can store embarked force equipment to include mine sleds and rigid-hull inflatable boats.

Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford in March spoke of “a gap in our ability to do crisis response from the sea,” specifically in Europe and Africa. Dunford said he expects combatant commanders to request the AFSB to fill that gap. The Marine Corps unit that responds to crises in Africa is currently based in Spain.

Where the new AFSB might eventually be positioned is unclear. Dunford mentioned the Mediterranean, which abuts Africa’s northern coast, the assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition told Congress that the Gulf of Guinea, off Africa’s western coast, might be the chosen staging place.

The importance of finding a midpoint between Europe and Africa for positioning troops ahead of a crisis was illustrated during the Marines’ evacuation of U.S. Embassy personnel from Juba, South Sudan, early last year amid worsening security conditions on the ground. It took nearly 16 hours to fly 250 Marines from Morón, Spain, the headquarters base for Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa, to a forward position in Entebbe, Uganda, ahead of the evacuation.

Touted as an alternative to the additional amphibious ships Marine and Navy brass want but can’t afford to build, the mobile landing platform is designed like a civilian oil tanker with a center deck that submerges to receive landing craft and connectors, equipped to serve as a sort of forward operating base at sea. The afloat forward staging base is a variant of the MLP, with an added flight deck and other features.

“This ship represents a leap forward in flexible capability for the U.S. Navy,” said Capt. Henry Stevens, Strategic and Theater Sealift program manager for Program Executive Office Ships, in a Navy release.

The MLP program comprises five ships across two variants. The Montford Point and John Glenn were delivered and are serving in the fleet. A yet-to-be-named fourth MLP, also an AFSB variant, is under construction and expected to be completed in 2018. A fifth AFSB is planned for procurement in fiscal 2017. In addition, the Ponce, a converted dock landing ship, is serving as an interim AFSB and is deployed to 5th Fleet.

Lt. Gen. Puller, known as “Chesty,” led one of the most storied careers in the Corps. The former enlisted leatherneck rose through the officer ranks as he fought in some of the Corps’ fiercest fights to include Guadalcanal and Peleliu in World War II, as well as the Inchon landing and Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Puller spent all but 10 years of his 37 years in the service overseas, according to his official biography. He earned 14 personal combat decorations and is the only Marine to earn the Navy Cross five times.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/2015/06/15/afsb-lewis-b-puller-delivered/71253230/

Settlement Finally Brings Justice to Marine Corps Whistleblower

Standard

Franz Gayl

Franz Gayl

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT” (POGO):

“Gayl’s disclosures resulted in real, positive change. Unfortunately, instead of being praised, he was harshly retaliated against. His punishments included reprimands, suspensions, harassment, personal abuse, denial of bonuses, a lengthy criminal investigation that found no wrongdoing and a rewritten job description that took away the scientific functions he had been hired to do. Eventually, his superiors made it completely impossible for him to do his job by suspending his access to classified materials, placing him on administrative leave and banning him from the Pentagon.

Things started to turn around in 2011, when OSC began investigating Gayl’s case and requested that the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) issue a “stay” to the Marines’ plan to put Gayl on indefinite suspension. The MSPB granted the request and the case eventually moved into mediation.

As a result of the mediation, the Marine Corps will create a team that will develop guidelines to help service members and civilian employees understand their whistleblower rights. Gayl is the first publicly announced member of the team.

In addition, the settlement offers Gayl an official commendation for service to the Marine Corps and a guarantee that neither his salary nor job will be downgraded prior to his retirement.

The Project On Government Oversight has been advocating for and supporting Gayl through much of his ordeal. In 2008, POGO urged the Senate to hold the Marine Corps responsible for its treatment of Gayl, and in 2010, POGO sent a letter to Secretary Gates, urging him to end the retaliation against Gayl. POGO also collected signatures from thousands of supporters who demanded that Gayl be reinstated.

“We are extremely proud to have advocated on Mr. Gayl’s behalf over the past seven years and are gratified to see that the Marine Corps and Pentagon have finally recognized his actions, which sped up the delivery of MRAPs and saved thousands of lives,” POGO executive director Danielle Brian said.

More than seven years after he first raised concerns about a lack of safe military vehicles in Iraq—truth telling that got him reprimanded and suspended—Marine science advisor Franz Gayl can finally get back to work. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced today that the Marine Corps and Gayl have settled his whistleblower case through OSC’s mediation program.

Gayl blew the whistle in 2007 because of the Pentagon’s delay in delivering Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an interview with USA Today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the delivery of the MRAPs—hastened because of the attention Gayl drew to the issue—saved “thousands and thousands of lives.” According to Gates, MRAPs are 10 times safer than the Humvees that they replaced.

Gayl, a retired Marine Corps major and current civilian employee, also spoke publicly about the flawed whistleblowing system he encountered while speaking out about the delivery delays. According to a press release from the Government Accountability Project, which offered legal counsel for Gayl, the suggestions he and national security whistleblower Robert MacLean made were eventually incorporated into President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 19, which extends protections to whistleblowers with access to classified material.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2014/09/settlement-finally-brings-justice-to-marine-corps-whistleblower.html