They’re world-renowned for their brawn, but Royal Marines have spent the past fortnight demonstrating the brainpower needed to win future wars.
The Royal Marines embraced the digital age during the largest foray into data-driven warfare the Royal Navy has ever made, Exercise Information Warrior.
Using miniature helicopters, satellite and streaming technology, low-energy-use computers, live camera feeds and wireless headquarters, the men of 3 Commando Brigade tested their ability to direct a real-time raid on an old fort in Plymouth by landing craft.
Like last autumn’s Unmanned Warrior used to showcase robot/drone technology and how it might be used by the Royal Navy of tomorrow, Information Warrior has been run side-by-side with the twice yearly international war games the UK Armed Forces, Joint Warrior, staged in and off western Scotland.
The exercise covers the gamut of information warfare – artificial intelligence, cyber attacks, exploiting intelligence, surveillance of the enemy, command and control – pooling the expertise of military personnel, academics, and industry.
It’s the task of Plymouth-based 30 Commando IX Group – a 21st Century successor to a specialist unit established by James Bond creator Ian Fleming in World War 2 to obtain intelligence behind enemy lines – to keep the main assault groups of 3 Commando Brigade at least one step ahead of their foes.
To demonstrate what they can bring to the present-day battlefield, they set up a unique operations centre at their home in Stonehouse Barracks.
Built in three weeks and requiring 2½ kilometres of cabling, the digital headquarters featured more than 30 screens operated by personnel from all three Services, plus industry and educational experts. The whole set-up drained as much power as just seven kettles.
Nearly 450 miles away in Arbroath, an entirely wireless HQ was set up by the men of RM Condor to feed real-time information directly into the hi-tech operations cell.
It wasn’t the only feed coming in. Another outstation on Dartmoor at Okehampton Camp, and some cutting-edge cameras and minute drones, ensured 42 Commando storming of Victorian fortifications in Plymouth after coming ashore on landing craft was streamed live.
While 30 Cdo IX Gp were dealing with data, 45 Commando went FISHing on Salisbury Plain.
The Arbroath marines were invited to join the Mercians and the RAF Regiment in testing new kit for the battlefield – everything from cutting-edge IT down to self-sterilising water bottles and a 56ft ‘Easibridge’.
Some 72 items were tested at Army Warfighting Experiment 17 (AWE17), centred on t the replica village of Copehill Down, designed to teach the art of urban warfare (aka FIghting in Someone’s House, or FISHing).
45 Commando got their hands on new assault ladders, the DMM Urban Vertical Access system (a sort of climbing pole combined with abseil for entering – and quickly leaving) multi-storey buildings – the Deployable Situational Awareness system (think battlefield Satnav/communications system) and the Black Hornet miniature helicopter.
Just ten centimetres long and weighing only 16 grammes, the tiny remote-controlled helicopter feeds live imagery back to its controller. It can fly up to two kilometres and, once airborne, is virtually silent and invisible to the human eye, and allows its operators to look behind walls, hedges, buildings giving them unprecedented knowledge of the enemy’s location.
Combined, this technology means that the Royal Marines are “constantly pushing the boundaries of innovation” on the battlefield in the words of Lt Col Nik Cavill, in charge of 30 Cdo IX Gp.
He continued: “The lessons learned here will give the brigade options to better operate in future areas of conflict.
“Information Warrior has displayed what a digitalised operations centre can look like and the command and control it can generate.
“It’s also demonstrated that 3 Commando Brigade is well-placed to plan and deliver these innovative technologies when supported by industry and academia.”