Marine Experiments Find the Human Element is Key to Utility of Unmanned Solutions
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Some of the unmanned and robotic equipment that was tested in experiments to find ways to help the warfighters were unsuccessful because they were approached as a “thing” rather than as part of the system in which they would work, officers from the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory said Feb. 7.
The extensive series of experiments in unmanned gear also illustrated that because warfare is a primarily a human endeavor, the human element was fundamental to the solutions, the two Marines said at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Defense, Security and Protection symposium.
Maj. Justin Gogel, director of the Rapid Capabilities Office, cited the disappointing experiments with a four-legged robot called “Big Dog” that was considered a possible tool to lighten the load of foot-mobile infantry Marines. Although it could carry a considerable load, Big Dog was rejected because it was too noisy and too clumsy to go everywhere a Marine could and required too much logistical support, he said.
“Marines are very mobile, have a very low signature and a low logistics tail,” Gogel said. “Big Dog violated every one of those” qualities.
Marines fight in an integrated system, the Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, he said, noting “sometimes robotics fit in the system and sometimes they don’t.”
Their experiments taught service officials that it was necessary to work with the engineers to determine how technology could improve on what they do, “rather than looking at a specific thing.”
If they have a thing, they want to fit it into the existing system, instead of moving ahead with the state of the art, he said.
Lt. Col. Daniel Schmidt, officer in charge of the lab’s field testing branch, said the experiments also have shown that for the new technology to be useful, it has to be trusted by the users. And trust, he said, “isn’t about the technology, it’s about us… the human interface.”
The experiments have shown that the younger Marines are “completely accepting” of the new technologies because they grew up with smartphones and computerized games, while “Justin and I are still dealing with the fear factor of robotics.
“We are really exploiting the experience of our younger generation,” he said.
Schmidt said the Sea Dragon 2025 series of experiments finished the first phase on the ground combat element last year and is moving into tests with logistics. Then they will move into intelligence next year.
The warfighting lab also will be doing experiments on fifth-generation urban warfare and on the expeditionary advanced base operations concept that is one aspect of the new program dealing with littoral operations in a contested environment.