MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
In a world filled with rapid advancement in technology, the Marine Corps is always looking for new ways to improve training, making it more realistic each step of the way.
Marines from Division Schools, 1st Marine Division, tested what could be one of the next big advancements in Marine Corps training at Camp Pendleton, Feb. 18, 2016.
Robotic targets, brought here by Australian contractors, offered the Marine Corps a dynamic moving element that could bring a new level of realism to training. Nathan Fung, a robotics engineer with Marathon Targets, explained how they can make the Autonomous Robotic Human Type Targets create situations that will be unpredictable to the Marines during training by programming routes and reactions for the robots.
“The software is hugely customizable,” said Fung, a native of Sydney, Australia. “You can customize how many hits it takes to kill them, whether they auto revive afterward and how fast they will go. They can go up to eight miles per hour on pretty much any terrain.”
Fung explained that the targets have a GPS that guide them through ranges. Making it even more unpredictable, the robot can sense obstacles up to 25 meters away by using laser technology correcting its path to avoid running into mounds, walls, people, or other obstructions. Additionally, the targets can provide immediate feedback when hit, indicating where the target was hit by the round.
He said the targets can be programmed to respond to each other when they are hit. They can make the targets converge on the wounded, run away, or even move toward Marines in an offensive response.
Targets used by the Marine Corps today largely consist of paper and steel that are mostly stationary or on a guided track, making them easily predictable. On top of this, the paper targets have to be replaced constantly during training as they get torn apart. These new robotic targets offer a solution to that.
“They’re fully armored and can take anything up to a .338 Lapua [round impact],” said Fung. “It can get shot thousands of times and will still hold its structure, so you don’t have to replace it in the field.”
The Marine Corps thoroughly tests all new equipment before allowing it to be regularly implemented in training.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Muro, the chief instructor with Division Schools’ Urban Leaders Course, put together a team of Marines to test the targets and gather data to analyze how they could be incorporated into training.
“I brought Marines in from Expeditionary Operations Training Group and all the Division Schools aspects,” said Muro, a Boerne, Texas, native. “These Marines are going to be engaging these targets at different distances with different weapons systems, running through all the pre-programmed drills so we can competently assess how we can use these targets in our training.”
Muro said he sees the value in using these targets in urban environments because it would add an aspect with live-fire capabilities they previously did not have.
“For example, when Marines are walking through the town and see the target moving from one building to another, they would only have a few seconds to identify it, determine whether it’s a threat or not, and possibly engage it,” said Muro.
Muro said that his Marines saw potential in the targets. The snipers liked how the targets could add a moving aspect to long-range shooting while also being able to provide instant feedback as to where on the target they hit.
“These Marines are subject matter experts in their fields,” said Muro. “They’ve been picked from throughout the division to come represent their parent units and train Marines from all over camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms.”
After many tests and assessments, the Marines had the information necessary to make a competent recommendation on if and how to implement these targets.
“I’m very excited to be out here,” said Muro. “We have the opportunity to test out some of the stuff that could shape the Marine Corps for the future.”
Muro believes these targets could drastically change what Marines are used to seeing in training, but the change will all be for the better.