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The Marine Corps is entering the future with these battlefield robots

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Mk-2 Instant Eye

In the last eight years, we’ve seen a radical change in how the Marine Corps conducts business. There used to be a joke about how the Marine Corps always gets Army hand-me-downs, but that’s no longer true. The branch has grown into a very modern force that’s been willing to embrace new tactics, technology, and equipment, including the use of battlefield robots.

Although not yet seeing widespread use – or adoption at all – the Marine Corps has been experimenting with several robots.

Mk-2 Instant Eye

Mini drones, or quadcopters, have become a modern piece of warfare and have been used in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and Israel as of late. The current squad-level Marine Corps drone is the Mk-2 Instant Eye. The Mk-2 is a micro-sized drone that is extremely easy to carry and potentially tough to detect.

Toss the drone up in the air, and it will provide you with an eye in the sky. This allows Marines to take a quick peak at what lies ahead and detect ambushes, traps, and more. It’s small enough that Marines can fly it through buildings and windows to get up close with whatever could be hiding in that room. This gives Marines an organic recon capability that’s safer than sending out Marines.

The Mk-2 Instant Eye suffers from the same weaknesses as other commercial drones: Namely, it has only 30 minutes of battery life and its video link has a line of sight range of only two kilometers. The Mk-2, in its current iteration, is a tool that will need multiple batteries or be used conservatively. However, these issues could be resolved as technology improves.

Ultra-Light Robot 

Ultra-Light Robot
The Ultra-Light Robot employing its “arms,” which can be used to climb small obstacles such as stairs, July 3, in Stafford, Virginia. In the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, the Corps will field the Ultra-Light Robot—a small, mobile robot system that enables explosive ordnance disposal Marines to manage or destroy improvised explosive devices or conduct various other reconnaissance activities. (Photo by Matt Gonzales/Marine Corps Systems Command)

The Ultra-Light Robot isn’t the most creative name, but, hey, Marines like to keep it simple. On my first deployment to Afghanistan, our attached Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) element broke out their EOD bot. The thing was massive and, funnily enough, was controlled by an Xbox 360 controller. It reminded me of Johny 5. Thinking back, it’s easy to see why the Ultra-Light Robot is Johnny 5’s replacement. 

The EOD bot was way too big to tote, but the Ultra-Light Robot is about the size of a shoe box. It’s a treaded robot that weighs about 10 pounds in total. It is designed to be throwable so Marines can toss it over a wall, through a window, or anywhere else. Its tow arms allow it to flip over and manipulate the environment as necessary. 

The Ultra-Light Robot is remote-controlled and provides high-definition visual reconnaissance. Further, a single Marine can control multiple robots. The Ultra-Light Robot will be used by EOD to interrogate explosives and by Recon Marines for reconnaissance.

Related: 5 futuristic military technologies that will shape the battlefield

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Remotely Operated Vehicle

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Remotely Operated Vehicle
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Remotely Operated Vehicle being lowered into the water. (Creative Commons)

Jeez, we went from the simply named Ultra-Light Robot to the very long Explosive Ordnance Disposal Remotely Operated Vehicle.

As the name suggests, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Remotely Operated Vehicle is designed to deal with explosives, but only at sea. Marines will be able to toss this water-borne drone into the sea and guide it via a tablet-like device. The robot is equipped with arms and a high-definition camera and will give Marines the ability to defuse or destroy explosive devices near the shore. 

The robot will fit perfectly into the Marine Corps’ new littoral role that will have troops working in and out of littoral zones. It promises to allow for safe landings and safer extractions for the Marine Corps’ new ship killing forces. 

“This robot gives Marines eyes in the water,” Master Sgt. Patrick Hilty, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal project officer at Marine Corps Systems Command said. “It is a capability the Marine Corps has never before had,” he added.

Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie

XQ-58 Valkyrie
The XQ-58 Valkyrie during its first flight, 2019. (88 Air Base Wing Public Affairs)

The XQ-58 Valkyrie isn’t exclusively a Marine Corps robot, but the Marine Corps has purchased two of these aerial drones for experimentation and testing. The XQ-58 Valkyrie system is designed to be a wingman for pilots and is capable of escorting F-22 and F-35 fighters. 

The XQ-58 Valkyrie is controlled by the parent aircraft and can be used as a scout, provide defensive fires, and even become a sacrificial lamb in a dogfight. The drone utilizes a stealth-like design and can be used as a single device or in a swarm with or without direct pilot control. 

This fascinating system can be launched from traditional runways, as well as support ships, shipping containers, and even semi-trailer trucks. It’s small, but easy to operate, allowing it to be deployed in areas where a good airfield isn’t present. 

Related: AI-piloted F-16 takes on human pilot in ‘complex dogfights’

The robot dog 

The robot dog with a LAW anti-armor rocket launcher strapped on it. (Creative Commons)

According to the Military Times, the Marine Corps experimented with a Chinese-made Go1 robot dog. The Marine Corps as a whole would not adopt a Chinese-produced robot, but as a commercial off-the-shelf experimentation, it’s fine.

The Marine Corps did the most Marine Corps thing possible with the Go1… and strapped a LAW rocket launcher to it.

The LAW is a lightweight, anti-armor rocket launcher with a fire-and-forget design. It made a big comeback in Afghanistan and has remained a part of the Marine Corps arsenal. The idea of strapping one to the robot is simple: The robot can be controlled and deployed to engage a threat while Marines remain behind cover. 

A big threat to the infantry is armor, and being able to land hits with anti-armor tools while Marines remain concealed is invaluable. Marines engage a variety of threats – machine gun bunkers, dug-in troops, and obstacles all present a significant danger to Marines. This could be solved with the judicial application of anti-armor launchers. While the Go1 will not be adopted, similar robots could eventually fill this role as Marines’ best friend. 

The future is robotic 

The eight-year-old inside of me is very excited about the idea of robot-fueled warfare, but the adult feels some concern.

The Marine Corps isn’t the only force experimenting with robots, and America’s enemies are most definitely some form of similar technology. Only time will tell if the battlefield of the future might be crawling with robots, drones, and more. The one thing that remains the same is that Marines will be Marines, and we can take some solace from that. 

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.