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/Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch

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