Royal Marines have been involved in a “ground-breaking” exercise in which they were supported by unmanned vehicles during tactical action for the first time.
Alpha Company of 40 Commando took part in Exercise Commando Warrior alongside 1 Assault Group Royal Marines (1AGRM) at Tregantle Beach, in Cornwall.
While advancing towards the beach, the marines were being supported by an unmanned boat cruising the coastline looking for enemy forces both on land and at sea, using its on board cameras and sensors.
Meanwhile, a small Unmanned Air System, similar to a drone, was looking from the skies for any signs of danger and two Unmanned Ground Vehicles were providing overwatch and fire support if necessary.
This exercise was about linking all of these unmanned systems to provide commanders with information to help their tactical decision-making.
The information was also passed to a separate command and control facility at the 3 Commando Brigade headquarters.
With the autonomous vehicles looking on, the Royal Marines raided the beach, climbed the cliffs, took out ‘enemy’ forces patrolling and abseiled back to the sandy shore.
Commando Warrior was the first time Royal Marines have used the autonomous vehicles during tactical action.
The technology, designed and produced by QinetiQ, is part of the Autonomous Advance Force and is the first step on how autonomy can benefit Royal Marines and support the Future Commando Force.
Corporal Scott Shaw was one of the marines to take part in the exercise. He said: “This is very early steps in the capacity of the Future Commando Force and reinventing ourselves back to the original definition of what Commandos are. It is about reinventing the force with new technology that’s available.”
Corporal Ashley Hill agreed. He added: “Trialling this new kit, and new formations, is about pushing us away from just being an infantry force that gets off the boats and moving us back towards our Commando roots.
“There is a space to be filled in defence and we are trying to fill it thanks to this new technology.”
Teams behind the unmanned vehicles were at Tregantle Beach to watch how the equipment performed in a live action situation.
Images and information were fed back to them to be analysed while at the same time being routed to a hand-held tablet operated by the marines on the ground.
The tablet displays everything the equipment is seeing and can help the units make tactical decisions.
The latest technology can also see the same information wired to RM Stonehouse Joint Operations Centre in Plymouth where those in command can see what is happening.
Colonel Chris Haw, commanding officer of 1AGRM and Commando Warrior exercise director, said: “This is a really exciting start and although it is only the first step, it is a milestone in Future Commando Force and Littoral Strike development.
“This has been a ground-breaking exercise.”
The equipment used in the exercise was funded by Navy Tech Bets after a bid was approved by Navy Board for the 2018/19 financial year.
On the importance of innovation for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, Col Haw said: “Because we are a relatively small and agile force that has high-calibre individuals, we want to see how we can exploit the technology and integrate it into the way we operate to give ourselves tactical advantage.
“In future we will be able to do things with more precision and less risk.”