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Marines battle test new technology Down Under during Talisman Saber

A Marine from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., holds a tiny Black Hornet drone aboard the USS Bonnhome Richard off the coast of Queensland, Australia, Thursday, July 20, 2017.

MARCUS FICHTL/STARS AND STRIPES

By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 25, 2017

SHOALWATER BAY TRAINING AREA, Australia — The Marine Corps offered a glimpse into how the service might operate in the future during the massive, monthlong Talisman Saber drills in Australia.

The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., showcased Sea Dragon 2025 — a program the service described as a “commitment to innovation through experimentation” and a “quest for solutions to the problems of tomorrow” — during an amphibious assault with Australian soldiers late last week on the central Queensland coast.

“[Sea Dragon 20025] is an initiative for innovation in the Marine Corps,” Capt. Tyler Anthony told Stars and Stripes after his troops stormed the beach. “All we are doing is applying some new thoughts and technology.”

A three-tier system of drones provided aerial surveillance as Marines waded ashore. These included the micro Prox Dynamics Black Hornet for fireteam and squad use, the medium-sized PSI InstantEye for squad and platoon use and the larger company level Aeryon Sky Ranger. Tilt-rotor V-22B Ospreys dropped off Polaris MRZRs — a cross between a dune buggy and an all-terrain vehicle — to give Marines instant mobility once they reached land.

The experimental unit also tested new features for tablets used by each Marine. Command-and-control variants of the MRZRs offered Wi-Fi bubbles and HF, VHF and UHF connectivity, and the KILSWITCH app provided on-the-fly situational awareness and map overlays of friendly forces and potential bad guys, said Capt. Joe Masini, who is evaluating the systems as part of a team from the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Va.

While the drones and tablets don’t always communicate with each other, the Marines hope they will in the future, officials on the USS Bonhomme Richard told reporters last Thursday.

The unit also tested other gadgets, including Magpul’s PMAG magazine, which is light and allows Marines to see how many rounds are left, and Iridium satellite phones that can be used anywhere in the world.

“These things will save time and manpower,” Masini said.

However, some Sea Dragon 2025 technology wasn’t popular with all Marines at Talisman Saber.

“I felt like we were there more to support the technology than the technology supported us,” said Sgt. Douglas Shaffer, a squad leader who took part in last week’s amphibious assault.

“The [drone] is awesome to have; you can send it up, see what’s over the trees and you can clear the [landing zone] and clear roads, but what the Marine Corps has not thought through is clearing airspace,” said Shaffer, who added that waiting for clearance to send a small drone 30 feet into the air delayed his squad.

“It kills our flow,” he said.

Officials reminded Shaffer the program is not for the Marine Corps of today, but for the one in the future.

While Shaffer said he believes the Marines will work the kinks, he was blunt about whether his squad members would be willing to take the stuff into battle right now.

“I honestly think they would rather just leave it back on the ship,” he said.

Masini hopes to have a full assessment, including qualitative data and operator interviews from the Talisman Saber drills, within the next couple of months.

fichtl.marcus@stripes.com
Twitter: @marcusfichtl

A Marine from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendelton, Calif., packs away a suite of drone systems aboard the USS Bonnhome Richard off the coast of Queensland, Australia, Thursday, July 20, 2017.
MARCUS FICHTL/STARS AND STRIPES

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