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Marine Corps Warfighting Lab Tests Autonomous Reconnaissance

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Marine Corps Warfighting Lab Tests Autonomous Reconnaissance

(Source: U.S Marine Corps; issued April 29, 2016)

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia --- The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory showcased and tested the capabilities of the Unmanned Tactical Autonomous Control and Collaboration, April 18–21, 2016, at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The UTACC is a team of aerial and ground robots using the Distributed Real-time Autonomously Guided Operations Engine (DRAGON) to provide multi-dimensional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to squad-level units.

“Imagine a squad formation where you’re walking in a column or a wedge with robots to the front, overhead and flanks,” said Capt. James Pineiro, the head of MCWL Ground Combat Element Branch. “What they’re providing you is advanced warning of threats, locating enemies and targeting enemies.”

The robots are prototype models to test the capabilities of the DRAGON software in a practical situation. The software enables advanced data sharing and data-to-decision services employing Artificial Intelligence. With DRAGON's advanced capabilities, operators communicate to autonomous systems with tasks to perform and not how to perform them.

“We are testing the software and the concept,” said Pineiro. “We’re finding out that the path planning and the mission planning is going great.” During the demonstration, the robots surveyed a simulated town for insurgents by roving with the ground robot and hovering over obstacles with the aerial robot.

Upon retrieving efficient information on targets spotted, the operator of the robots relay the information to an M80 Stiletto, a Naval vessel used to operate and test technologies in a maritime environment to accelerate the delivery of capabilities into warfighters' hands, according to Lt. Col. Andrew R. Winthrop, the Deputy Director of the Rapid Reaction Technology Office and the project manager of the UTACC.

“The Stiletto was one component of the larger UTACC demonstration,” said Winthrop. “Based upon capabilities resident in its Integrated Bridge System (IBS), Stiletto was the ideal platform to demonstrate Kongsburg Defense System's Sea Command Prototype IBS.

“The UTACC demonstration closely aligns with Stiletto's focus on developing and demonstrating autonomous systems. Additionally, the Sea Command System was already installed onboard Stiletto and was quickly adapted for the UTACC demonstration.”

The Stiletto would then launch simulated missiles onto the designated targets, demonstrating that a single operator could rapidly engage targets ashore using autonomous systems, according to Winthrop.

“This was a successful demonstration,” said Winthrop. “The Stiletto was able to seamlessly integrate with a ground controller operating the DRAGON system. The ground operator took remote control of the Sea Command system and was able to launch a simulated missile at a target detected and classified by autonomous systems.”

The Chief of Naval Operation's Rapid Innovation Cell and Marine Corps Warfighting Lab have expressed interest in follow-on demonstrations with Stiletto as UTACC progresses, according to Winthrop.

“Our future plans are to take this scenario in an outdoor environment with Marines for operational experimentation,” said Pineiro. “The intent is to have every robot operating in the battlespace to be a sensor, shooter and sharer. We intend to go bigger.”