Each squad in the Marine Corps will soon have a new member — a quadcopter drone that will be used in everything from training to surveillance to battlefield assaults. The Marines purchased more than 800 drones at the end of 2017 and now they’re rolling out quickly to every squad in the service, according to National Defense magazine
“We never had anything like that even at the company level. It was much higher at the battalion level,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh at an industry conference in Washington D.C. “We’re getting one for every single squad in the entire Marine Corps.”
“They’re going fast. We’re talking about two hundred a month,” he added.
Other branches of the service are experimenting with their own drone programs, as are military forces in other countries. But the full-scale integration of drones down to the squad level is a major development.
Each Marine squad is a 13-man unit, with three separate four-man fire teams headed up by a corporal. The 13th man is the sergeant squad leader. According to DefenseOne, however, some commanders have found themselves short on manpower, needing extra soldiers to help with the new technology.
Walsh is reportedly considering giving each squad a “tech assistant” to handle training and maintenance for the drones. It’s not clear if this will necessitate increasing the size of the squad or merely reassigning duties within existing units.
The drones will be used during field exercises, such as storming a beach, as surveillance tools to scout the terrain and map enemy positions in advance. They will also play an important role in training during downtime as well, with each squad utilizing a “Tactical Decision Kit” to game out various scenarios.
It’s all part of a new philosophy called “How an Expeditionary Force Operates in the 21st Century,” devised in 2016. It’s a high-tech way of preparing soldiers for battle that was devised at the Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms.
The virtual simulations began last year with the Marines’ 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “We put the games into the barracks and they really just started gaming,” said Walsh. “Then we took it the field, we said, ‘Use it with these quadcopters, with the Hololens in order to map the terrain.’”
For a generation of Marines who grew up playing Xbox and PlayStation, the new program may have some side benefits as well by keeping them engaged and out of trouble. “It was bringing down disciplinary problems in the unit,” Walsh said. “Instead of doing other things they’re using this to think tactically.”