Young engineering graduates from across the UK defence industry have been working with the Royal Marines to develop new solutions for the challenges of future commando and amphibious operations. Some of the concepts may appear to be science fiction fantasies but it is important for the Corps to explore every possibility as it seeks to develop and innovate.
The Royal Marines are undergoing a period of transformation and the ‘Future Commando Force’ is now formally designated as an MoD programme, with Major General Charles Strickland nominated as Senior Responsible Officer (SRO). Part of this project will involve the incorporation of new technology to ensure the Marines retain their cutting edge when fighting in increasingly complex and high threat environments. There is an understanding that they need to look for ideas beyond just the accumulated wisdom and experience within the Corps.
UKNEST is a not-for-profit association that promotes the Engineering, Science and Technology interests of UK Naval Defence. Its member organisations include Lloyds Register DE&S, DSTL, the Royal Navy and UK Industry. Young engineering graduates from the UKNEST forum assembled at CTC Lympstone and were asked to consider how new technology could be used to assist an assault by Royal Marines on a clifftop missile position. Unencumbered by preconceptions about how amphibious warfare should look, they came up with a variety of concepts including
- Exoskeleton suits covered by a chameleon-like skin allowing wearers to scaling cliffs effortlessly, and blend with the environment.
- Ground effect ‘flying wings’ replacing landing craft, silently skimming across the waves at hundreds of miles an hour.
- ‘Holographic Marines’ to decoy the enemy.
- Helmets with displays providing Marines with the latest intelligence, battlefield info and details of a squad’s health and fitness levels.
- Small intelligence drones which feed the latest information direct to commandos’ hi-tech helmets.
- Larger ‘grunt’ drones armed with laser guns providing firepower or dropping ammunition, supplies and even small vehicles.
- Boots which harvest energy as the commandos move to power radios and other equipment.
- Rucksacks attached using magnets and fitted with energy damping to reduce the burden when marching.
- Portable 3D printers that find natural resources to make food in the field.
- Sleeping mats which can double up as 80in tactical display screens or solar panels to power hi-tech kit.
Major General Matt Holmes, Commandant General Royal Marines said “We can’t say how much or how quickly the reality of these visions will come to fruition. But what we can say is that if only 20 per cent of these ideas come to reality then we will be at the cutting edge of tomorrow’s technology.”
Initiatives like UKNEST are important, without a new wave of young engineering talent both the Naval Service and the defence industries face a bleak future. The average age in many UK engineering and shipbuilding companies is as high as 40 and there is an uphill battle to encourage enough young people to study STEM subjects. Projects that involve engineers thinking very creatively about front-line problems are to be encouraged. Not only is this enjoyable for the participants but helps those on the frontline think differently.
New technologies are already being trialled by today’s Royal Marines. Commando Warrior held in April 2019 was the first of a series of exercises experimenting with the integration of technology for the Future Commando Force. This was a pilot for the ‘Autonomous Advanced Force’, delivered by 1AGRM and QinetiQ supported by 40 Commando. They also participated in a 2-week exercise on Salisbury Plain to work on stealthy tactics on urban and rural assaults with an emphasis on using new technology for improved situational awareness. The challenge for the Marines is to decide which concepts are viable and worthy of further development using limited resources.