USMC Robot Warrior
By Robert Bruce

Editor’s note: We at Small Arms Review take very seriously the obligation to keep freedom’s forces abreast of the latest in battlefield technology. As more and more unmanned systems are being fielded by America and her allies, their unique capabilities are enhancing the combat soldier’s survivability, capability and lethality. Robert Bruce has been closely following developments in weaponized robots and a three part series of his in-depth reports begins here with GLADIATOR.

“Machines are expendable. Marines are not.” Larry Hennebeck, APM, Gladiator

The agonizing decision of who to order forward into enemy territory will probably get a little easier for Marine officers to make in the not-too-distant future. Instead of sending one of his men on point down a boobytrapped trail, or to clear a path through a minefield, sniff out chemical or biological agents, or stealthily find an ambush, Gladiator can get these dangerous and dirty jobs instead.

If he gets hit, nobody has to write a letter to the family because Gladiator is a Tactical Unmanned Ground Vehicle - TUGV for short - now under intensive development by the US Marine Corps in partnership with other Department of Defense organizations. This remote-controlled, armed and armored robot is undergoing troop testing right now and is expected to join the Marine Air-Ground Task Force sometime around 2007.

Super Snooper

Today’s working prototype, called CVM for Concept Validation Model, gives us a good idea of what the future version may be like. It’s a tracked, steel-armored midget tank, roughly the size of a Mini Cooper car, equipped with a sophisticated sensor array. Controllable day and night television cameras are supplemented by fixed cameras on all sides, infrared proximity devices and acoustic sensors, giving 360 degree situational awareness.

Wearing a backpack Operator Control Unit that sends and receives data via secure radio link, Gladiator’s “driver” steers the machine via television, also getting precise location information from its Global Positioning System. This is integrated with a laser rangefinder for exact distance and compass bearing to things of interest such as enemy crew-served weapons.

A Commander’s Remote Data Terminal is under development, which will independently receive all pictures and sensor information, giving leaders real-time intelligence as Gladiator does its job. This can be exploited in any number of ways including immediate and pinpoint strikes by artillery and aircraft.

Mission payloads can be tailored to specific situations and run the gamut from mere scouting to serious shooting. An NBC detection system gives feedback as Gladiator explores suspected hot zones, contaminated by nuclear, biological or chemical agents.

R2D2 With Attitude

Gladiator’s weapons packages seem limited only by size and weight, already including both non-lethal and thoroughly lethal systems. In the first category we find FN’s interesting M303 pneumatic rapid fire paintball-type gun. This accurate, long range weapon can shoot all sorts of loads from paint markers, to stingballs, to the foulest malodorants or incapacitating agents. Larger doses of such crowd-displeasers as CS and DM can be selectively fired from banks of projectors.

When lethal force is required, the CVM’s turret has most recently been fitted with the awesome M240G 7.62mm belt fed machine gun. This fast firing, highly accurate and astonishingly reliable machine gun is able to deal with just about any unarmored threat. As the system matures there is no reason why self-loading anti-armor weapons such as the Mark 19 and its successors can’t be used.

LVOSS (Light Vehicle Obscuration Smoke System) projectors can make thick clouds of screening smoke to hide Gladiator or closely following Marines, and safe paths through minefields and razor wire can be instantly cleared using the devilishly clever APOBS. This stands for Anti-Personnel/Obstacle Breaching System, a rocket propelled line charge that shoots a string of powerful bomblets out to 45 meters. These detonate to explode buried mines and blast away concertina wire seconds before a Marine assault.

What’s Next?

The CVM is undergoing a series of field tests alongside men of the 2nd Marine Division. Likely combat scenarios are being played out including MOUT (Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain) and more traditional infantry warfare such as defense and movement to contact.

The results of these trials and some very energetic technological initiatives by commercial and academic partners in the Joint Robotics Program will be incorporated in a new series of Technology Demonstration Models (TDM). These TDMs should show dramatically enhanced capabilities in all categories including mobility, survivability, communications, reconnaissance, and direct action against threats.

Gladiator’s missions will also be expanded, fitted with special modules for mine detection, urban breaching, tactical casualty evacuation, combat resupply, counter-sniper action, communication relay, and more.

Plans call to begin fielding improved Gladiators as early as 2006, with the goal of building nearly 200 systems so that each USMC infantry battalion and engineer company can have three on board by 2009.

Blue Thunder

With Gladiator’s remarkable range of capabilities, it is only natural that law enforcement agencies would be paying close attention. It probably won’t be long before these Marine machines start showing up in SWAT teams nationwide. Who says RoboCop has to have two legs?

System Description

The Gladiator Tactical Unmanned Ground Vehicle will provide the Marine Corps’ Ground Combat Element with an unmanned tele-operated/semi-autonomous ground vehicle for remoting tasks in order to reduce risk to the warfighter and neutralize threats to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. Operating forward of units, the Gladiator will perform combat tasks while permitting the operator and supported unit to remain covered and concealed some distance away, thereby reducing their exposure to hostile enemy action.

The Gladiator will be capable of performing scouting, surveillance and target acquisition, obstacle breaching, nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance, direct fire (lethal and non-lethal), obscurant delivery, and engineer reconnaissance.

The system will be modular and expandable to support easy integration and development of future Mission Payload Modules (MPM). These will be simple to install in a field environment, allowing commanders to increase their operational capability by tailoring the capabilities to best meet requirements.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N11 (August 2005)
and was posted online on May 3, 2013


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