Marines can expect the Corps to move toward robots doing more of the heavy lifting – and thinking – over 2017.

Weapons-toting robots, driverless vehicles, self-unloading resupply aircraft and automated moving targets will soon sharpen the way Marines take on future battlefields by air, land and sea.

Marines have been using automated systems for some time. Remote-control robots, such as the Foster-Miller TALON, revolutionized the fight against improvised explosive ordnance at the height of the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Autonomous machines, in contrast, don't require a constant human operator, Col. James Jenkins, director of science and technology at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, told a panel discussing the issue in May at the Sea-Air-Space expo outside Washington, D.C.

"When bullets start flying, the Marine either becomes so absorbed in operating the robot that he loses sight of what's happening around him, or he drops the controller and becomes a rifleman," he said.

"[Autonomous systems] will interface with a human just like a subordinate fire team leader who goes back to their squad leader when they have something to report or need new orders."

3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, designated by Commandant Gen. Robert Neller as the Corps' experimental force in August, has been working on wargaming some of these new technologies in the field ahead of their 2017 deployment as the ground combat element for the Okinawa-based 31st MEU.

Among these is General Dynamics' Multipurpose Unmanned Tactical Transport – or MUTT – a four-wheel or tracked all-terrain vehicle that can move up to a 600-pound payload across the battlespace in every clime and place at a breakneck dash speed of eight miles per hour.

The kicker, though: The MUTT can also be mounted with a M240 machine gun and 500 rounds, with a 360 degree firing arc.

For lighter, swifter movement, Malloy Aeronautics is teaming with the Defense Department to develop a robotic version of its Hoverbike, a turbo-fan powered quadcopter not unlike the speeder bikes of the Star Wars universe.

Inexpensive to produce and field, the Hoverbike – termed the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle by the military – can automatically zip over 250 pounds at speeds of over 60 miles per hour to swiftly deliver humanitarian aid, resupply or medevac a casualty.

The Marine Corps joined the Army program in June to develop a version with a payload capacity of 800 pounds and a range of 125 miles.