Watch Marines train with 'Squad X,' DARPA's team of autonomous robot battle buddies

Military Tech
Squad X: Dismounted Units Partner with AI to Dominate Battlespace

There are #squadgoals, and then there are squad goals — and only one of them includes a potential future accompanied by autonomous robots.

Hot on the heels of the Marine Corps's head-to-toe overhaul of infantry rifle squads, a handful of grunts at the Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California recently conducted field testing alongside a handful of autonomous surrogate vehicles engineered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Squad X Experimentation program.


The Squad X program was launched in 2016 to give dismounted infantry squads the same "highly effective multi-domain defensive and offensive capabilities that vehicle-assigned forces currently enjoy," but infantry Marines simply can't support with current combat loads, according to DARPA.

But that doesn't just mean robotic mules to hump gear: as autonomous platforms become more integrated into current combined-arms squads, Marines will also face a "steady evolution of tactics," as Squad X program manage Lt. Col. Phil Root said in a DARPA release announcing the field tests.

"Developing hardware and tactics that allow us to operate seamlessly within a close combat ground environment is extremely challenging, but provides incredible value," Root said.

An artist's depiction of the Squad X Core Technologies in action(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)

During the early 2019 test, a gang of autonomous ground and aerial systems that provided intelligence and recon support for Marines outfitted with sensor-laden vests as they moved between natural desert and mock city blocks at Twentynine Palms, while ground-based units provided flank security for the primary force

The autonomous systems "provided reconnaissance of areas ahead of the unit as well as flank security, surveying the perimeter and reporting to squad members' handheld Android Tactical Assault Kits (ATAKs)," DARPA said. "Within a few screen taps, squad members accessed options to act on the systems' findings or adjust the search areas."

The additional recon support on squad flanks could prove a major boost to Marine squads as continue to evolve in pursuit of that ever-precious lethality. And don't worry: DARPA has your inevitable SkyNet concerns in mind.

"A human would be involved in any lethal action ... But we're establishing superior situational awareness through sufficient input and AI, and then the ability to do something about it at fast time scales."

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Aliah Reyes, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovery team recovery noncommissioned officer, sifts through dirt during a recovery mission in Lang Son Province, Vietnam, Oct. 29, 2019. (Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

The 80-minute ride each day to the site in Lang Son Province, Vietnam, through mostly unspoiled forestland and fields, reminded Air Force Master Sgt. Aliah Reyes a little of her hometown back in Maine.

The Eliot native recently returned from a 45-day mission to the Southeast Asian country, where she was part of a team conducting a search for a Vietnam War service member who went missing more than 45 years ago and is presumed dead.

Reyes, 38, enlisted in the Air Force out of high school and has spent more than half her life in military service. But she had never been a part of anything like this.

Read More
A smoking U.S. Army Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle in Poland on January 18, 2020 (Facebook/Orzysz 998)

A U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicle burst into flames on the side of a Polish roadway on Saturday, the Army confirmed on Monday.

Read More
A U.S. Soldier assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) runs for cover during a live fire exercise at the 7th Army Training Command, Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. (U.S. Army/Gertrud Zach)

A memo circulating over the weekend warning of a "possible imminent attack" against U.S. soldiers in Germany was investigated by Army officials, who found there to not be a serious threat after all.

Read More

The U.S. Navy will name its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after Doris Miller, an iconic World War II sailor recognized for his heroism during the Pearl Harbor attack, according to reports in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and U.S. Naval Institute News.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly is expected to announce the naming of CVN-81 during a ceremony on Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to USNI. Two of Miller's nieces are expected to be there, according to the Star-Advertiser.

Read More
Comedian and activist Jon Stewart meets with members of Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM), a coalition of veteran and military service organizations, Jan. 17 on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy of TEAM)

Comedian Jon Stewart has joined forces with veterans groups to make sure service members who have been sickened by toxins from burn pits get the medical care they need, according to the Military Officers Association of America.

"Quite frankly, this is not just about burn pits — it's about the way we go to war as a country," Stewart said during his Jan. 17 visit to Washington, D.C. "We always have money to make war. We need to always have money to take care of what happens to people who are selfless enough, patriotic enough, to wage those wars on our behalf."

Read More