The Marines want robotic boats with mortars for beach assaults

The Marine Corps’ top future warfare planners say the days of an Iwo Jima-style beach assault — with hours of shore bombardment, waves of amphibious vehicles lumbering through the surf and Leathernecks plodding to shore through hails of gunfire — are long gone.

But the mission to enter an adversary’s country through a ship-to-shore assault is not.

The problem, they say, is coming up with innovative ways to take that beach without exposing U.S. forces to a World War II-esque bloodbath.

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Regiment prepare a newly developed system, the Multi Utility Tactical Transport, for testing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 8, 2016. The MUTT is designed as a force multiplier to enhance expeditionary power enabling Marines to cover larger areas and provide superior firepower with the lightest tactical footprint possible. (Photo from U.S. Marine Corps)

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Regiment prepare a newly developed system, the Multi Utility Tactical Transport, for testing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 8, 2016. The MUTT is designed as a force multiplier to enhance expeditionary power enabling Marines to cover larger areas and provide superior firepower with the lightest tactical footprint possible. (Photo from U.S. Marine Corps)

That’s why the Corps has teamed with the Navy’s top research and development office to come up with technologies that can help with its future warfare plan. Service officials are asking industry for solutions to spoof enemy radars and sensors, mask the U.S. forces going ashore from overhead surveillance and keep manned platforms well out of harms way until the enemy’s defenses are taken out.

Planners are increasingly looking to unmanned systems like drone subs, robots and autonomous ships to do much of the amphibious assault work for them.

“Why put men at risk when we can have autonomous systems do this for us?” said Marine Corps Combat Development Command chief Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh during an interview with defense reporters Oct. 19. “We’re looking for technologies that can help us do ship-to-shore maneuver differently.”

Walsh imagined robotic boats flowing inland with cannon or mortars on them helping suppress enemy defenses; drones and electronic jammers that tell enemy sensors Marines and Navy ships are in one location, when they’re actually in another; drone submarines that find and destroy enemy sea mines so SEALs and other manned systems don’t have to do the dangerous work of clearing beaches — all in an effort to keep the Corps’ primary mission of amphibious assault intact, but giving it a 21st Century twist.

(Briefing slide courtesy of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command)

(Briefing slide courtesy of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command)

Engineers with the Navy’s research and development office alongside MCCDC are asking civilian companies and DoD labs to provide new systems and technologies that can be tested in a wide-ranging wargame set for next year.

Officials are looking for new gear to help Marines get to shore quicker and from farther out to sea; fire support systems that will hit targets both at sea and on land; new mine and obstacle clearing systems; jam-proof communications systems; and “adaptive uses of proven electromagnetic warfare techniques and decoys that lengthen the enemy’s targeting cycle, forcing them to commit resources to the decoys and incite an enemy response.”

“This concept of prototyping and experimenting at the same time is something totally new,” said the Navy’s Assistant Sec. for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Dr. Richard Burrows. “Industry is doing a lot of good things out there and we want to take a look at them.”