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Tomorrow’s military will make as much use of artificial intelligence as it will guns and bombs.
The Royal Marines have already taken one step into the AI combat future with “throwbots,” hand-sized drones that can be chucked into a building or behind an obstacle to make sure trips don’t get any unpleasant surprises.
The sturdy devices can survive a 30-foot fall, and their computer-stabilised cameras can be sending back data within seconds of landing.
43 Commando Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines are the elite warriors who protect the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent, based in Faslane, Scotland.
Troops of 43 Commando specialise in fighting in difficult urban, maritime, and industrial environments.
They’ve been using the “throwbots” during recent exercises in Gibraltar to extend the eyes and ears of their fire teams – allowing marines to recce a combat environment before they step out from cover.
They’ve also been experimenting with Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS) drones to scout out targets such as lifts and tall buildings where the throwbots can’t reach.
Major Tom Baybutt, the Officer Commanding P-Squadron of 43 Commando, said: “We’ve sought to integrate new Future Commando Force concepts, so that in addition to the traditional commando skills of amphibious operations and vertical assault, we’ve included some new technology available to us.
“The RPAS were put to good use, with the marines flying them at night and then scaling cliffs to assault the objective. Using the drones allowed us to work out the best method of entry to the target and the number of adversaries on the ground.
“The ‘Throwbot’ is another system that we can put into confined spaces. We can steer it remotely to understand the shape and size of confined spaces and identify any threats.”
The various systems are brought together using the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK), a ruggedised tablet that gives commanders a uniquely organised view of complex, close-quarters battles.
“We’ve been using the ATAK to give the commanders on the ground enhanced situational awareness. It’s a system that allows us to track everyone and manage the battlespace more effectively,” said Maj Baybutt.
“We’ve also got ballistic shields which offer the marines a lot more protection going through confined spaces," he added, "moving forward as they engage the adversary; that’s worked particularly well in the tunnels.”
The commandos staged mock battles in Gibraltar’s tunnel network, which provided an opportunity to test out the AI kit in tight, dimly-lit spaces where every scrap of information gives combat troops an edge that can make the difference between life and death.
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