Skip to main content

Video Above: Army Research Lab Advances AI to Land Drones on Tanks

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

The Marine Corps’ new Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle will support amphibious land attack, scout for enemy fortifications, travel from ship-to-shore on connectors, launch attack drones and possibly even fire lasers, should the program come fully to fruition.

The Corps is now preparing to analyze and further test new ARV prototypes from two substantial industry competitors. Textron and General Dynamics are both preparing to hand over vehicles to the core for continued analysis.

“From 2019 to 2021, we were competitively selected to build a technology demonstrator with Marines and ONR (Office of Naval Research),” Phil Skuta - director of strategy and business development US Marine Corps and Navy, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Warrior in an interview.

Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle - AVR 

When it comes to concept and design, the ARV is intended to be faster-lighter, more mobile and more deployable than the Corps’ now arriving larger Amphibious Combat Vehicle, to potentially operate in a forward-supportive role scouting enemy areas, conducting surveillance and operating as a “sensor” node within a larger multi-domain, joint and multi-national force across land, sea and air. 

The vehicle is built with a capacity to elevate its mast and raise cameras up to higher altitudes to lengthen its sensor viewing envelope. EO/IR cameras, for example, could potentially look over hills to detect threats and objects at different angles which might otherwise not be seen by the ARV. 

The exact weight of GDLS’ ARV is not available for security reasons, however the platform is built such that four of them can travel from ship to shore on a Landing Craft Air Cushion or future Ship-to-Shore Connector. This is quite significant, as the existing LCACs are not able to transport Abrams tanks, however the newly emerging Textron SSCs are, yet four ARVs may add up to roughly 70-or-80 tons, making it a transportable expeditionary vehicle. That is the Corps intent, it seems clear, as it aligns with the service’s recently published Force Design 2030 which called for the divestiture of tanks in favor of a faster, lighter, more expeditionary multi-domain amphibious fighting force.

landing2

GDLS says they will finish their prototype vehicle by September in preparation for delivery in December. Following additional testing, assessments, swim tests and live fire exercises, the Corps will move into full production and likely make a choice between Textron and GDLS regarding which ARV might best meet their needs.

General Dynamics Land Systems

General Dynamics Land Systems

There is a possibility, however, that the Corps could wind up choosing to merely upgrade the now-arriving BAE-built Amphibious Combat Vehicle with a new generation of sensors and technology such that it can perform the requisite surveillance operations. That decision has not been made, and the Corps has concurrently been pursuing its ARV program for many years, an effort soon to enter a more substantial production phase.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

Prior to delivering its prototype, GDLS plans to refine and test its design so that it is “production” ready should the Corps seek to move forward. In order to do this, Skuta said, GDLS is working with the Marines on three key areas of innovation to ensure the ARV can continue to upgrade and modernize in coming years. They are AI-enabled computing to gather, organize and analyze a wide range of otherwise disparate incoming sensor information, autonomy to further advance the ARV’s ability to launch and even recover drones and electronics and on-board mobile power to support future weapons applications such as lasers.

“We did swim testing about 60-total n nautical miles on our technology demonstrator, with different navigation courses in the water to get a good feel for its ability to swim. Was with a 30mm cannon on it,” Skuta said.

The lighter-weight, faster ARV is engineered to support multi-domain amphibious warfare in the Pacific, which is expected to involve “island hopping” and rapid transit from ship-to-shore and between islands, coastal areas and deep water ocean.

The thinking with the vehicle, which is slated to arrive by the end of this year for further Marine Corps evaluations, is to introduce a lighter weight, faster and technological advanced reconnaissance and surveillance “scout” vehicle to support amphibious attack by finding enemy locations, targeting high value areas and helping to assess and penetrate enemy fortifications and amphibious forces approach a beachhead.

Both Textron and General Dynamics Land Systems are offering prototypes to the Marine Corps in an effort to be chosen for production next year, should the service move forward with its plans for the vehicle. While there are many attributes for the vehicle being sought after by the Marines, most of them rely almost entirely on an ability to “sense” and “network” across the force in support of a multi-domain fight.

“We built a demonstrator based on a set of attributes for the ARV. When we delivered the first demonstrator it went through fairly rigorous testing.. Really the core of the capability was its ability to use its on board sensors as well as connect to other off board sensors such as a UAS system, ground vehicle, or sensor elsewhere on the battlefield,” Phil Skuta - director of strategy and business development US Marine Corps and Navy, General Dynamics Land Systems..

Multifunctional sensing, enabled by manned and unmanned sensors and “nodes” throughout a dispersed area supported by long-range sensors and weapons, is a focus for the ARV among Marine Corps and industry weapons developers. 

The GDLS offering, for instance, includes a raisable sensor “mast” able to elevate infrared and EO/IR cameras to a higher purview, and engineers with GDLS have sought to build a vehicle capable of connecting and sharing information across an entire force of on-board, off-board, manned and unmanned sensor nodes. This engineering focus is intended to align fully with the Marine Corps plans for future warfare as outlined in the services’s Force Design 2030 document.

“We need to transition from our current UAS platforms to capabilities that can operate from ship, from shore, and be able to employ both collection and lethal payloads. These future capabilities must be expeditionary and fully compatible with Navy platforms and command and control networks,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger writes in the Marine Corps Force Design 2030 Document.

Multi-domain sensing naturally extends beyond infrared and EO/IR systems and, GDLS developers say, includes acoustic sensors able to bounce signs off of an existing library and also use cyber and electronic warfare techniques.

“There are also a range of electronic capabilities connecting into a broader network. Information that will come across satellites can be brought on to the vehicle ,then you have more tactical level a range of capabilities, intended to be able to sense and make a determination as to what the enemy may be doing,” Skuta said. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization