Marines Test the Drone Robotic Weapons of the Future at ANTX 2017

A military exercise designed to help identify useful technologies for amphibious warfare featured rocket-firing hovercraft, machine gun-armed robots crawling up the sandy beaches of southern California, and hybrid speedboat/submarines. Dubbed “Ship-to-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technological Exercise 2017” or ANTX 2017 for short, the exercise aimed to find out how new emerging technologies, especially unmanned systems, could allow the Marine Corps to storm beaches with fewer casualties.

As the U.S. Marine Corps shifts back to big power warfare, its bread and butter mission of amphibious warfare is coming back into focus. Tensions in the South and East China Seas with China and the Baltic and Black Seas with Russia mean that the next opponent the Marines face might be bigger and more powerful than any they’ve faced since World War II. ANTX 2017 was designed to look at new technologies—about one hundred, actually—and figure out what could help the Corps accomplish the mission. The ten day exercise took place in April at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Here’s a sample of the military tech that was on display.

LCAC hovercraft loaded with two HIMARS rocket launcher trucks, South Korea 2014.

Fire support in amphibious landings is always an issue. As Marines in the landing force encounter pockets of resistance, they need eliminated ASAP before they have a chance to bring their own big guns ashore. In response, the Navy Surface Warfare Center developed the Autonomous Landing Craft – Air Cushion (ALC-AC). ALC-AC is a Navy transport hovercraft made autonomous and toting a Marine Corps HIMARS rocket launcher in the cargo bay. ALC-AC can approach the battlefield and sit offshore with its six 227-millimeter GPS-guided high explosive rockets, providing precision fire support. Once the landing is complete, the HIMARS truck can disembark on the beach and follow Marines inland.

The Marines are also experimenting with turning amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) into drone carriers. During one landing exercise an autonomous AAV came ashore and disembarked a semi-autonomous Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT) 6×6 all terrain vehicle. A quadcopter drone then promptly flew off the MUTT. In a rare display of the Marines mimicking their adversaries, a quadcopter was also used to drop a simulated explosive device (actually, a MRE package) on an enemy position. This mimics the pioneering work the Islamic State has done in using drones to drop explosive devices on their enemies.

MUTT armed with .50 calibre machine gun.

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