When you think of ship-to-shore maneuver and amphibious assaults, Marine Corps planners want to banish the image of an Iwo Jima-style beach landing.
Instead, they envision a near future where tactical elements push forward through contested littorals while drone swarms provide cover overhead; where autonomous amphibious assault vehicles and decoys confuse the enemy; and where heightened awareness and maneuverability allow Marines to come ashore in formerly forbidding environments.
All of these futuristic capabilities and more will be put through their paces and featured on display at the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise next month aboard Camp Pendleton, California, a first-of-its-kind effort to equip the Marines for a new era of ship-to-shore maneuver.
In all, some 50 technologies will be demonstrated and another 50 shown in static displays so that analysts, experts and rapid acquisition personnel can determine which ideas show promise for future experiments or longer field tests.
The major beach assaults of World War II may be a thing of the past, but service officials maintain the Marine Corps needs to retain its ability to land on hostile coasts, likely those belonging to technological peers.
“Having a revanchist Russia, a surging China concentrates the mind,” Col. Daniel Sullivan, chief of staff for the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and co-lead for the upcoming experiment, told reporters near Quantico on Thursday. “Now that we have near-peer competitors and with them technological acceleration … you’ve got to go fast.”
Doug King, director of the Ellis Group, the Corps’ internal warfighting think tank, said the amphibious assault he envisioned is not “a bunch of [amphibious assault vehicles] lined up, putting ashore at 6 knots” to land on a surveyed 1,000-meter beach.
“I want to go to a gap in the mangroves that I can penetrate to where nobody’s going to find me, that I can get in and I can, when necessary, concentrate my forces of maneuver against them,” he said.
In the experiment, technologies will be divided into six different mission threads:
- Team Shield technologies will support early intelligence to prepare the battlespace and reconnaissance.
- Team Spear will address identification and isolation of enemy threats.
- Team Dagger will encompass threat elimination, mine detection and breaching.
- Team Cutlass will address maneuver ashore, the traditional amphibious assault mission.
- Team Broadsword will feature technologies to help Marines fight and project power once ashore.
- Team Battleaxe will include command-and-control; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and combat operations center technologies to coordinate assault.
Many of the technologies featured in the experiment will be unmanned or autonomous, ranging from a quadcopter drone that can produce high-resolution 3D maps of a battlespace from the air to an autonomous amphibious vehicle that can come ashore without risking troops’ lives. Other systems aim to mask signatures and provide stealth and concealment so an assault force can approach unnoticed.
Planners credited initiative from the office of the secretary of the Navy and inspiration from some 120 scientists, engineers and industry representatives during a week of meetings at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock, Maryland, for the speed with which the Camp Pendleton experiment became a reality.
Planning began in late August 2016, and by the end of the year, more than 124 technology submissions had been received, said Navy Capt. Chris Mercer, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development Test and Evaluation and co-lead for the experiment.
At Carderock, experts from various fields “were educating us on the realm of the possible,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been doing S&T development for a while, but not like this. It’s face-to-face, kneecap-to-kneecap, go fast.”
During the experiment, which will run April 24-28, technologies will be evaluated to inform future concepts and requirements. The most mature and useful gear and equipment will likely be selected for future testing and use by Marines during the Bold Alligator war game this fall at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and possibly put on a track for more extended field tests, officials said. From that point, technologies may be selected for rapid prototyping and fielding.
“Instead of having the contractor or the engineer operating [the technologies], we’re going to try and get Marines actually operating them,” Sullivan said.