For the past 14 years the United States Marine Corps has been engulfed in land-locked engagements in the Middle East.
The message from the highest levels of Marine Corps leadership is it's time to get back to the Corps' maritime roots with the assistance of industry, academia, and Naval Research and Development Establishment partners, including the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific).
The Ship-to-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation (S2ME2) Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) 2017, a first-of-its-kind opportunity for Marine Corps operators to test rapidly prototyped technologies meant to provide dominance in littoral zones, took place at Camp Pendleton from April 17-28.
"Why are we doing this? Because we want to get better, and the world has changed-our adversaries are gaining capability and we don't want a fair fight so we're always looking for an edge," said Gen. Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps. "Right now we're just looking for ways to take advantage of technology, manufacturing, the things that are out there -artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing- to try to create capabilities that are going to make us as individual Marines and our organizational units better."
More than 50 different technologies were tested or on display at the exercise, which culminated with a demonstration of what a future amphibious assault of the beach may look like-unmanned air, land and maritime vehicles surveyed the area before Marines ever stepped foot on the beach; advanced antenna systems provided more secure and robust communications links; Marines harvested kinetic energy from their own footsteps to power their devices providing near real time situational awareness data; and additive manufacturing allowed the troops to be more self-sufficient: "With industry moving out very fast, how do we leverage what industry's doing across the commercial world?" asked Lt. General Robert Walsh, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and Deputy Commandant, Combat Development and Integration. "Bringing in operators, laboratory capability developers, technologists, our warfare center engineers who are the key to all this, along with the industry piece of it, into a sandbox and letting everybody play in the sandbox and help us figure out where we're going to go."
SSC Pacific brought 12 of these rapidly developed technologies to S2ME2 ANTX 2017 to get feedback from Marine Corps operators and potentially fast track the capabilities to the fleet, including advanced antennas and communications systems, additive manufacturing on-the-move, networking capability for unmanned air and maritime vehicles, and positioning systems for a GPS-denied environment. "Our role is to accelerate the fielding of critical capability to our Marines and Sailors," said Dr. John Burrow, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation. "That's what we do-it's all about speed."
Randall Olsen, an SSC Pacific scientist whose Directional Ad hoc Networking Technology (DANTE) antenna was demonstrated at S2ME2, said while speed to capability is key, he and his cohorts have their eye on the long term. "DANTE is an antenna, and sort of a breakthrough both in cost and in weight: it's 10- to 100-times lighter and 10- to 100-times less expensive than existing technology for this antenna," Olsen explained. "We're with this for the long haul to see it transition through, so we're working with all sorts of organizations to make sure it happens. As a civilian contributor to support the warfighter, that's what we're here for- to make their life better."
Carly Jackson, SSC Pacific's director of prototyping for information warfare and one of the main organizers of the event, explained the key differentiating element of the exercise was to demonstrate new technology developed in rapid response to real world problems facing the fleet. "This is a relatively new construct where we use the Navy's organic labs and warfare centers to bring together emerging technologies and innovation to solve a very specific fleet force fighting problem. It's focused on first wave and mainly focused on unmanned systems with a big emphasis on intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance," she said. "We've seen tremendous development and integration happening here... not only among our government teams and across the various system commands, but also with our industry partners and industry-to-industry collaborations as well."