Rise of the Machines: Unmanned weapon could save lives

1 Dec 2003 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Its name is Gladiator. It has no blood, fears nothing and responds to a Marine's order in battle with out asking questions. Marines from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment recently tested the Gladiator, a relatively new tactical unmanned ground vehicle, during riot-control scenarios held at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain Facility here, Nov. 24-25. "This is solely a Marine Corps system right now, and the design has been in the making for two years. Today, we're testing it to see how it operates with nonlethal weapons," said Ray A. Grundy, deputy director, Nonlethal Weapons Programs Experimentation Assessment and Integration, Marine Corps Combat Development Command. "Right now, the only thing keeping rioters from our Marines is a 3/4-inch plastic shield. Hopefully, the Gladiator can change that."For the testing conducted here, both the tracked and wheel-based variants of the vehicles were used. Additionally, nonlethal weapons were mounted to the vehicle, which shot rubber pellets at dummy targets.The Gladiator is a remote-controlled, 2,000-pound vehicle capable of integrating with any current infantry weapon to include the M-240G medium machine gun and the Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided missile system (TOW). Operated by a hand-held controller with a color screen, the operator can be up to four kilometers away and see what the Gladiator sees in real time, thanks to a camera mounted on the vehicle. It was designed after many common gaming systems so that younger Marines could operate it easily."We know a lot of the 'Generation X' Marines have Sony Playstations and stuff like that in their barracks rooms. We designed the controlling system a lot like a game controller, so a lance corporal could pick it up and be able to operate it without a lot of in-depth training," said Grundy.The goal for MCCDC is for all Marines in the infantry battalions to know how to operate the Gladiator."If the operator becomes a casualty in combat, we want the Marine behind him to be able to pick up the controls and go (on with the mission)," Grundy added.The Marines with 1st Battalion understand the importance of testing the Gladiator."When we were in An Nasiriyah in March, we had to scout roads in vehicles. When we took fire, Marines' lives were at stake," said Sgt. Brian D. Beyer, an assault section leader with B Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. The Charleston, S.C., native continued, "If we had these unmanned vehicles with us there, we might have saved some lives. If one of these gets hit, we've lost a vehicle, not a person."Beyer and other Marines from his unit have been working with the Gladiators since October. Putting the vehicles through the gauntlets of infantry missions, the Marines inform MCCDC about the vehicle's strengths and weaknesses."The vehicle has its ups and downs. For one, it can't keep up with an infantry unit in the woods. When we're under fire, we move, and move fast," said Lance Cpl. John P. Marstrell, a team leader with the company and one of the testers of the Gladiator. The Newcomerstown, Ohio native, added, "Another downfall is it has to be manually reloaded. Once someone ran up to the vehicle and just disconnected the links from the bullets feeding into the machine gun mounted on it. It was useless after that."That is the reasons Marines are testing it, Marstrell said. Integrating the vehicle into missions informs officials on how to improve the new weapon. He added even though there is a lot of work to be done to improve the vehicle, the fact it could be in a Marine's place when bullets start flying makes it worth improving and using."Although we're still in the development phase, we expect to have four of these vehicles at every infantry battalion by 2008," said Grundy.The testing done at the MOUT facility involved incorporating the vehicles with the anti-riot unit to suppress an unruly mob. Special Operations Training Group instructors supervised the riot control unit, and Marines from B Company played the rioters."We're using different crowd-placement scenarios so we can develop (tactics) for the Gladiator," said Grundy. "By incorporating the vehicle as an aid for the riot control unit, we can see in which ways the vehicle functions well, and in which ways it needs to be improved."Marines in B Company have enjoyed working with the Gladiator, and look forward to seeing it in the Fleet Marine Force."Although no machine will ever replace a thinking Marine, it can do jobs that place us in a lot of danger. Hopefully in the future it'll save some lives," said Marstrell.Four Gladiator vehicles are scheduled to deploy with a Marine expeditionary unit for the first time in 2007.