US Marine Corps Conducting Market Research into Small Drone Boats to Boost Reconnaissance Capabilities, Prepare for Conflict Near Shore

Foreign Affairs

Washington: The US Marine Corps is conducting market research into small drone boats as part of a push to boost the service’s reconnaissance capabilities and prepare for conflict near shore. Marine Corps Systems Command posted a request for information asking for the industry’s capabilities to provide unmanned surface vessels that can sense at sea. The request for information says the Corps “is seeking” the vessels, but notes the request doesn’t mean the service is obligated to buy anything.

As part of the Force Design 2030 modernisation initiative, the Marine Corps plans to use uncrewed technology for purposes as wide-ranging as communications, logistics and delivering fires. While Marines have yet to test a combo of USV, UUV and attack drones, such a trial is possible in the near future, according to Lt Gen Karsten Heckl.

Another key part of Force Design is revamping Marines’ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in preparation for a potential fight with a high-tech adversary, particularly the Chinese military. That’s where these unmanned vessels could come in. The Corps would like the vessels to have sensors for detecting and recognising other objects on the water, according to the request for information.

Marines would control the vessels from shore or from elsewhere on the sea, according to the request for information. The vessels would be geared toward a “littoral operating environment,” meaning waters close to land.

The request leaves many of the details, including the boats’ size and architecture, up to the vendors. The Corps also wants information about systems that could enable the vessels, including automated threat detection, mine detection, and autonomous launch and recovery. Sea service leaders have said they see unmanned vessels playing an important role in future conflict at sea, and the Navy already makes use of them.