Royal Marines have been supported by drone swarms for the first time ever during combat exercises.
Trials conducted this month saw an array of autonomous drones assist Royal Marines Commandos as they carried out training raids in Cumbria and Dorset.
Dubbed ‘Autonomous Advance Force 4.0’, the trials form part of a series of experimental exercises aimed at exploring how Britain’s commando forces will operate in the future.
The exercises have placed a strong focus on how humans and machines will interact in combat situations, as well as how to gain a competitive advantage through the use of technology.
Ultimately, military planners hope to fully embed autonomous systems on the front line to support commando forces on the battlefield.
Colonel Chris Haw, the officer in charge of the experiments, said: “This has been yet another enormously important step forward in Royal Navy autonomy and particularly Commando Force transformation; I have seen phenomenal progress through this series of trials over the past two years.”
Colonel Haw insisted that emerging technologies should always be used to enhance human expertise on the battlefield, not replace it.
The Royal Marines trials saw uncrewed systems tested at the Electronic Warfare Tactics facility at RAF Spadeadam, Defence BattleLab and at training areas around Lulworth Cove.
In total, six medium-heavy lift drones were operated in one autonomously controlled swarm, marking a first for the British military.
Each drone can lift up to 68kg in all weather conditions to deliver ammunition, blood and other supplies.
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Coordinating with the drones, commandos were equipped with a tablet device which gave them the ability to tap a map location and time for the delivery of their supplies.
According to the Ministry of Defence, the drone swarms demonstrated “significant flexibility” during the trials and were capable of switching roles to conduct reconnaissance missions.
The autonomous systems also worked together, being tasked to find and identify enemy targets, accurately using their range of sensors and target acquisition algorithms.
First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said: “Only by continued experimentation with the latest technology and innovation can we properly prepare our people for the challenges of the future.
“Autonomous Advance Force 4.0 is testing just how hybrid forces can operate on the battlefield, with elite Royal Marine Commandos enhancing their capabilities with the use of drone swarms.”
These latest trials follow previous experiments completed in the Mediterranean and in the Arctic last year.
The experiments have rapidly increased in complexity, according to the MoD, and will continue to develop further during operations in the United States later this year.