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

The Marine Corps new Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle will likely fire lasers and hunt enemies from ship-to-shore in support of amphibious attacks by incorporating new levels of mobile power launching loitering attack drones to surveil and possibly destroy enemy targets both inland and at sea.

Marine Corps Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle 

The service is now evaluating two industry ARV prototypes from Textron and General Dynamics Land Systems with a mind to discerning which one is best suited to meet Marine Corps warfare requirements moving into the future. 

The GDLS offering is an attempt to align with future Marine Corps needs by launching reconnaissance and attack drones from its vehicle to prepare the platform for manned-unmanned teaming, an ability to extend its surveillance reach even deeper into highly dangerous enemy territory. 

GDLS has launched drones from an ARV demonstrator and is now refining its prototype vehicle for delivery to the Marine Corps. The idea is to multiply sensor and attack nodes on a dispersed battlefield and potentially connect drones to other drones, manned vehicles and even aircraft and surface ships, GDLS developers said.

This manned-unmanned teaming concept of operation, now largely being pursued, tested and implemented across the military services, is fundamental to the Marine Corps’ future warfare vision outlined in the services Force Design 2030 document. 

Force Design 2030

The document calls for the elimination of tanks and other heavy platforms in favor of faster, lighter weight, more deployable and amphibious weapons able to exact a measure of lethality without needing the time-consuming, cumbersome and difficult task of deploying heavy armor. Part of the rationale, as explained in the document, is based to some extent upon the fighting in Ukraine where a dispersed, fast-moving group of fighters armed with anti-armor weapons were able to prevail in ambushes and hit-and-run attacks against heavy armor. Part of this is massively enabled by small vehicle or hand-launched surveillance drones in position to identify approaching heavy enemy forces.

“As a “stand-in” force of the future, the Marine Corps requires a family of UAS capabilities. 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.

While the Marine Corps has not specified that the new ARV will fire lasers as one of its requirements, it is certainly within the realm of the possible if not likely, and weapons developers at GDLS are building in on-board, exportable power to support various kinds of directed energy technologies. 

"We are anticipating in the future that the power demands for things like directed energy will be part of the Marine Corps future," Phil Skuta - director of strategy and business development US Marine Corps and Navy, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Warrior in an interview.

The Marine Corps Force Design 2030 intends to prepare Marine Corps platforms for future weapons, advanced tactics and warfare scenarios anticipated in the future, so it makes sense that GDLS and Corps’ developers would likely be thinking of lasers. The text of the Corps document does stress the importance of operating effectively within what it refers to as a “Weapons Engagement Zone.”

“Forces that can continue to operate inside an adversary’s long-range precision fire weapons engagement zone (WEZ) are more operationally relevant than forces which must rapidly maneuver to positions outside the WEZ in order to remain survivable,” Berger writes.

Operating from a highly-dangerous, yet strategically advantageous position, these so-called WEZ “stand-in” forces can “attrite adversary forces, enable joint force access requirements, complicate targeting and consume adversary ISR resources, and prevent fait accompli scenarios.”

Many small drones are known for an ability to both loiter as a surveillance node or itself become an explosive to destroy enemy targets while manned platforms operate at a standoff distance. GDLS developers say their intent with their ARV offering is to ensure both the vehicle and its forward-launched drones can connect with manned and unmanned combat nodes through a multi-domain sphere.

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“UAS being launched from the ARV can go out to a distance to target or collect enemy information. We use sensors both on and off the vehicle, as we underwent testing for some of the networking and cyber functions. The vehicle performed well,” Skuta said. 

Concepts of operation for the ARV align with a well-known concerned eye now placed upon the highly dangerous Pacific theater, as the new armored platforms will be capable of swimming miles through the ocean from ship-to-shore before conducting high-risk forward scouting and surveillance missions ashore.

The new vehicle is clearly intended to support or even possibly lead an amphibious attack by sharing information in near real-time with nearby unmanned systems to surveillance an enemy coastline, identify enemy fortifications and possible points of attack, and then operate ashore as needed to support land incursion. An ability to support land incursion would be of great significance, as the Corps’ new Amphibious Combat Vehicle is engineered for a deeper, more lethal penetrating land attack when compared to the now-retiring AAV, Amphibious Assault Vehicle.

“The design of the ARV we’ve followed the Marine Corps requirements. We think we are highly compliant to meeting all of their key requirements. The lightweight aspect of our vehicle is something we think that is suited for a future reconnaissance mission. That is where the customer is,” Phil Skuta - director of strategy and business development US Marine Corps and Navy, General Dynamics Land Systems..

General Dynamics Land Systems

General Dynamics Land Systems

Although the Corps is now studying the possibility of merely adapting its larger, now-arriving Amphibious Combat Vehicle for Reconnaissance missions, the arrival of an ARV is entirely consistent with the Marine Corps’ tactical and strategic look into the future articulated in its recently published Force Design 2030 document. 

The paper not only calls for the complete removal of “difficult to deploy” heavy armor such as Abrams tanks and a reduction in some heavy weapons platforms but also specifically seeks to prepare the Marines for a heavily maritime, amphibious warfare future environment in the Pacific. This kind of fight would of course require an ability to rapidly transit from ship-to-shore and back to a ship again as part of a fast-evolving multi-domain air, surface and land fight. Simply put, the geography of the region is such that, in order to prevail, a force would need to be distributed, fast and armed with lethal, long-range weapons.

“The Marine Corps must be able to fight at sea, from the sea, and from the land to the sea; operate and persist within range of adversary long-range fires; maneuver across the seaward and landward portions of complex littorals; and sense, shoot, and sustain while combining the physical and information domains to achieve desired outcomes,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger writes in the Force Design 2030 document.

General Dynamics Land Systems and Textron are both now building prototype ARVs for the Marine Corps to evaluate and assess, in anticipation of a possible move into fully production next year. While the ultimate path of the Corps may have yet to be determined when it comes to whether the service will build the ARV or reconfigure its ACV with sensors and reconnaissance technology, builders of the ARV believe the new amphibious vehicle could uniquely perform certain critical Corps missions a larger vehicle could not. For instance, the vehicle is much lighter than an ACV, meaning as many as four of them can fit onto transport platforms such as a Landing Craft Air Cushion or new Ship-to-Shore-Connector. More forward surveillance nodes can further enable a force designed to be dispersed, supported by unmanned systems and connected by secure, yet long-range networks.

“The ARV can be a small mobile platform as part of several platforms for multi domain reconnaissance capability. It can function as a node within part of a larger reconnaissance network. We are designing the ARV to connect with surface vessels, ships, loitering munitions and a national and joint force to bring information in and disseminate it to make tactical decisions,” Skuta said.

The ARV closely aligns with several additional aspects of the evolving Marine Corps which is also building a Light Amphibious Warship for rapid “island hopping” kinds of land-sea maritime warfare to transport Marines, weapons and other critical systems such as drones, missiles or even helicopters. The concept, as articulated in Force Design, is to increase the use of drones, build a lighter-faster, yet highly lethal force without having to arm and move heavy mechanized forces, something difficult if not impossible or quite slow in an amphibious environment.

“The infrastructure that is ashore in the Pacific demands a lightweight small-profile vehicle,” Skuta explained. 

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