As the U.S. Marine Corps reduces its size and its armor and artillery, the service will likely increase its number of unmanned systems significantly in the next decade, Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said on Sept. 1.

“Thus far, we’ve gotten rid of all heavy armor in the Marine Corps,” he said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) forum. “We’ve divested of, gotten rid of, some portion of our towed artillery, moving toward the direction of much more unmanned–both vehicles plus aerial, and I think surface, as well, because we’re going in the direction of a long-range, unmanned surface vessel as well.”

“Most of these will be platforms with unmanned platforms on them, in other words, unmanned autonomous vehicles that can launch unmanned aerial vehicles,” Berger said. “In the same way, with the long range surface vessel, can we get a vessel that can go out unmanned, then launch aerial vehicles, and they need to recover them or they’re disposable? The systems that we’re moving to are not completely unmanned. The magic of it is marrying up platforms that are not manned, but there are people in the background. The teaming part is where we’re going to generate the speed we’re going to need in the future.”

In terms of Marine Corps’ armor and artillery, “those are things that we’re shrinking down or completely getting rid of, moving into unmanned, paired with artificial intelligence and autonomy, married up with people who have the skill sets to really employ that capability, that’s where we’re headed,” Berger said.

Last month, the Marine Corps picked General Dynamics [GD] Land Systems and Textron [TXT] to build prototypes for the service’s Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV) effort by early fiscal year 2023 (Defense Daily, July 16).

After each company delivers one prototype vehicle, the Marine Corps will conduct a six-month evaluation that will inform a decision on whether to take the ARV program into production. The Marine Corps has said it may field 500 ARVs.

ARV is set to include a Command, Control, Communications and Computers/Unmanned Aerial Systems, or C4/UAS, payload that will allow operators to control both tethered and untethered UAS capabilities.

Also last month, Pentagon officials said that the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and the U.S. Navy are learning from the Ghost Fleet Overlord unmanned surface vessels (USVs) to help build larger unmanned ships in the future (Defense Daily, July 15).

In June, DoD said that the second Overlord USV, named Nomad, had sailed from its construction site on the Gulf Coast to the West Coast. Similar to the journey of the first vessel in October 2020, the RangerNomad sailed for 98 percent of the time in autonomous mode. The USVs passed through the Panama Canal in manual mode.