In was early April, and Marines with Kilo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment had just boarded an Air Force MC-130 aircraft at Fort Campbell Kentucky bound for the Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah.
As the aircraft prepared to touchdown, the Marines quickly prepared target coordinates for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, system they had chained down in the belly of the plane.
Once on the tarmac, the Marines rolled the rocket artillery system out the back and positioned it 1,300 meters away from the plane, fired two missiles at one target, and then readjusted to strike another.
After nailing the targets with precision fire, the Marines withdrew and reboarded the plane with the HIMARS, back to Fort Campbell.
The rapid air mobile HIMARS strike was all part of an experimentation to prep a force for a different kind of war. In the expanse of the Pacific, Marines would be decentralized and distributed across various ships, islands and sea bases.
“We think that we are going to have to operate small, fast and lethal,” Brig. Gen. Christian F. Wortman, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, said in a July roundtable.
“And that we are going to need to be able to transition seamlessly from land-based locations back to sea base and from sea base locations to different locations ashore.”
The Corps is, in effect, prepping for a replay of the hellish island-hopping campaign it endured against the Japanese in World War II.
But to survive in this future fight, the Corps has new technology at its fingertips: artificial intelligence, robots, and unmanned ground and aerial vehicles, and sophisticated drones that can cue networked weapon systems.
The Corps in 2016 rolled out a wargaming tool kit for it’s new war fighting concept — it’s a fighting concept that is sitting on the commandant’s desk awaiting a signature. It includes new tactics and robotic technology that aims to maintain survivability in the next fight.
Everything from robotic storage containers that can float on water and deliver supplies, to underwater drones, to floating bases that can house MV-22s and F-35s are being considered. Last fall, the Corps successfully fired HIMARS rockets from the deck of a U.S. Navy ship, underscoring the capability to operate the land-based artillery system at sea or aboard a floating barge base.
And the Marines are putting a slew of automated robotic technologies through testing with Combat Logistics Battalion 8 to test the feasibility of supplying Marines in far environments or remote island bases.
Tech like an automated UH-1H Huey, drones that can ferry medical supplies and chow and driverless Oshkosh LVSR trucks, have already undergone some testing with the Corps.
Automated supply lines can keep Marines out of lengthy and dangerous logistics convoys that could be interdicted by a growing Chinese naval capability, but also can ensure Marines dispersed across the Pacific will continue to receive chow and ammo.
The Corps is also heavily relying on a new massive sea drone known as the MUX that will pack an early airborne warning system, allowing the Marines to operate independent of aircraft carriers. The MUX will boast electronic warfare capabilities but will also be networked to other ships and aircraft in its vicinity.
As the future battle lies ahead, the Corps is readying its force through a serious of experimentation phases known as Sea Dragon to help the force restructure and select appropriate technologies to aid in the next battle.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.