Gladiator robot looks to join Marine Corps
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
CAMP SMITH It looks like something out of Robocop, a mini tank-treaded terror bristling with so many cannon and guns that only a Hollywood screenwriter could have dreamed it up.
It's designed to be RoboMarine technically the Gladiator Tactical Unmanned Ground Vehicle and proponents say it would have come in handy in trouble spots ranging from Somalia, Kosovo and Bosnia to Afghanistan and Iraq.
As unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator continue to chalk up successes, with more than 10 UAVs utilized in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Marine Corps expects to be the first service to field a robot for crowd control.
The 4-foot-tall, 1,600-pound concept vehicle recently was demonstrated at Camp Smith, launching dozens of smoke rounds downrange that could have been tear gas, or stingball and flashbang grenades.
Cued by an operator walking behind a rifle squad of Marine police, the Gladiator also fired paintball rounds with pinpoint accuracy, and blank rounds rattled from a swiveling M240G medium machine gun.
With a variety of cameras on board, the Gladiator can see in the dark, and through smoke.
The little armored vehicle also is being designed to perform surveillance, obstacle breaching, and nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance.
Ray Grundy, who is with the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Virginia, told those assembled that there is a gap in U.S. military crowd-control capabilities. To demonstrate, he showed a picture of an M60 tank with a 105-mm main gun facing off against a boy with a rock.
"When you take a look at that picture, it's worth a thousand words," he said. "Today, in situations where U.S. forces are presented with restricted rules of engagement, we're at a significant loss to be effective with non-lethal weapons."
Riot control equipment largely consists of a face mask, baton, shields and shotguns with non-lethal munitions.
"We need to get beyond that and provide the war fighter a capability that allows him to go from a defensive posture to an offensive posture and dominate the battle space," Grundy said.
Serving in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 2001, Grundy experienced firsthand the limitations of crowd-control capabilities in Somalia in 1993 during operations Restore Hope and Continue Hope.
"We have no standoff range," he said, "and as a result, we have to stand toe to toe with a rioting crowd."
The Office of Naval Research in April picked Lockheed Martin and Carnegie Mellon University for the next phase of development for the Gladiator.
Grundy said $1.8 million to $2.5 million is being sought in fiscal 2004 to build prototypes.
The vehicle, with a more than one-mile operating distance, may be redesigned with wheels instead of tank treads.
The Marines hope to field the Gladiators by 2007. Each infantry battalion would have three, and one would be dedicated to a combat engineer platoon.
Already, unmanned vehicles are becoming commonplace in the U.S. arsenal.
In Iraq, Predator drones fired Hellfire missiles. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said the Air Force also deployed its high-altitude Global Hawk, the Army employed its Shadow UAV, and the Marines Corps deployed its Pioneer and Dragon Eye, the latter of which fits in a backpack.
The Camp Smith demonstration of the Gladiator was based on a scenario in which an angry mob of 600 activists in a desert city refuses to disperse.
Some individuals are armed with AK-47 machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, and the mob as a whole is between the Marines and friendlies needing aid.
A rifle squad of about 10 Marines with shotguns and riot shields lined up about 30 feet behind the Gladiator. After an unheeded final warning to disperse, dozens of smoke rounds looped out of the Gladiator, obscuring Camp Smith's helicopter pad. Paintballs splattered silhouette targets, non-lethal weapons fired, and more smoke rounds finished off the job as the Gladiator drove to the drop-off point and unhooked a trailer with supplies.
Sgt. Arnold Den Beste, a military policeman at Kane'ohe Bay, said it took him about five minutes to learn how to drive the vehicle.
"It's a very easy machine to operate," he said. "It's like a video game. You have a joystick and you drive it forward, backward, right or left."
The target cost for the Gladiator is $150,000, which Larry Hennebeck of the Unmanned Ground Vehicles Joint Project Office said is a big departure from million-dollar Army prototype attack systems.
Reach William Cole at email@example.com or 525-5459.