Articles

The officer in charge of a major Marine wargame says failure means success

The officer who's running a massive Marine Corps and Navy war game in April that'll test around 50 new technologies for storming beaches actually wants things to go wrong.


Navy Capt. Chris Mercer, a top tester for the service's future concepts and technologies office, went so far as to say during a March 23 meeting with reporters: "If we don't fail, I haven't done my job."

 

A MV-22 Osprey. The tilt-rotor's game-changing technology took a lot of R&D to get right. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon Maldonado)

Now, before you start measuring Mercer for a new white coat with a very snug fit, think about this. With the upcoming Ship To Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2017 in April, the Marines are looking to change how they carry out forced-entry operations. Forget what you saw in "The Pacific" – the renowned HBO series actually presents an outdated view on such operations. It's not going to be sending hundreds of Higgins boats to storm a beach under heavy fire. Instead, the Marines, rather than storming a surveyed beach, will be looking for what Doug King of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory called a "gap in the mangroves."

Amtracs severely damaged on the shores of Iwo Jima. (Robert M. Warren, United States Navy)

But how will they find that gap? The answer lies in new technology – and this is what ANTX 2017 is intended to evaluate. With over 50 dynamic demonstrations planned for the 11-day exercise and another 50 static displays, ANTX 2017's purpose is to find out what the state of today's technology is – and to turn "unknown unknowns" into" known unknowns" or "known knowns" — to borrow from the logic former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made popular.

"In these early stages of prototype demonstrations and experimentation, the intent is to push the envelope and take on higher risk technologies," Mercer told We Are The Mighty. "We expect to find systems that perform well technically, but score low in the operational assessment and vice versa."

"If everything is performing well and going exactly as planned, then we were probably not aggressive enough in our efforts to advance."

Ben Swilling, a roboticist with Boston Dynamics operates "Spot", a quadruped prototype robot, during a demonstration at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 16, 2015. (Photo: Marine Corps)

So, that's why Mercer is hoping to see failures during ANTX 2017 — if you don't fail, you don't learn.

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