Hawaii-based Marines for the first time yesterday began using robotic support vehicles designed to trail behind squads in unfriendly terrain to carry supplies and wounded Marines with no one at the wheel.
Capt. Tim Bove sat in the passenger seat of one of four Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate vehicles yesterday and pointed to a computer screen designed to help each GUSS pick its way through the woods at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows.
"This thing drives itself," Bove said.
Four days of exercises that began at Bellows yesterday will put GUSS technology into the field for the first time to see whether the unmanned vehicles perform as planned.
The platforms are nothing special, just military versions of open-air, work vehicles that can be seen on farms and golf courses around the country. But the technology uses GPS software to allow each GUSS to decide how best to find its way around obstacles and keep up with Marines in battle — and even find its way around thickets of trees.
"We can’t have these vehicles getting stuck behind every tree," Bove said. "So every 0.4 seconds the GUSS is making its own decisions, such as whether to back up and how best to go around."
But the technology is also so simple that 18- and 19-year-old lance corporals and privates first class in each Marine squad can instantly take control, Bove said.
At least that’s the plan.
Four days of exercises will give the Marines plenty of data to see how GUSS technology actually works alongside real-life Marines trudging up ravines and sprinting through rugged terrain.
The Marines showed off their GUSS technology as they began joint U.S. military training at Bellows that is part of the biennial Rim of the Pacific war games involving 14 nations and 20,000 personnel.
Yesterday’s exercise began with Army AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Huey attack helicopters providing air support along the beach as two CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters dropped off members from Golf Company of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.
Three Navy air-cushion hovercraft then roared ashore in subsequent blasts of sea spray and sand and unloaded 155 mm M777A2 howitzers and support trucks.
Marines on foot then headed off into the woods at Bellows where they began hunting fellow Marines portraying unfriendly insurgents.
As the exercise began, Navy, Marine and civilian technicians began readying each of four GUSS vehicles to keep up with separate squads of Marines.
Two of the GUSS vehicles also had the gruesome task of carrying mannequins lying in stretchers, to give engineers an idea of how they would retrieve wounded Marines from the battlefield.