Lockheed Martin Wins U.S. Army’s Squad X Experimentation Project

DARPA’s Squad X program has recently taken a major step forward with the U.S. Army awarding the preliminary team contract to Lockheed Martin to develop the technological projects within the program, at a value of $12.9 million. The program is an experiment by DARPA to bring a number of technologies that have been well used by vehicles and larger entities but have always been too cumbersome or inefficient to be utilized by an Army or Marine Corps infantry squad. Specifically, the topics that DARPA is looking for are Precision Engagement up to 1000 meters, Non-Kinetic Engagement out to 300 meters (dealing with enemy UAVs, jammers, etc…), Squad Sensing (Friendly UAV/UGV use), and  Squad Autonomy which would allow a squad to be able to locate individual members or collective teams, without the use of GPS devices.

The full DARPA presentation on exactly the sorts of development that DARPA wants is available here with 66 slides. From the DARPA slide-

Some of the ideas DARPA has when it comes to what technologies will be paired with at the squad and fire team level-

These slides break down how the communications nodes will be divided up, between both an Army and Marine Corps squad-

We are already seeing some of this move towards an enhanced squad of the future with the Marine Corps idea of experimenting with “Uber” squads, and the actual recent implementation of some of the concepts iin Australia with 3/5 on exercise there. Although very futuristic and certainly worthy of a chance to succeed, I have certain reservations about the program. The first one is that similar to what killed the Land Warrior program of the 1990s (that was an abysmal failure), due to the Government spending, the technology could easily overtake such a large project. The fruits of Land Warrior and later Nett Warrior didn’t even see active service or come into full issue until 2007, by which time they were completely outdated by newer technology. If history tells us anything, any digital system today is going to be obsolete in a year. It would perhaps be better to focus on one particular technological breakthrough, develop it quickly, get it into the field, and then work from there. Instead of spending years getting a whole suite of systems just right, only to buy them for millions of dollars, and issue them to troops that were in elementary school when they were being developed. David Axe from Reuters has a well-written opinion piece on Squad X, comparing it to its predecessor Land Warrior from the 1990s.



Miles

Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at miles@tfb.tv


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  • The most useful thing they could do would be to focus on a robotic mule or similar conveyance for hauling gear over rough, remote terrain.

    • Orion Quach

      And make it quieter than what the BD demo bots are

      • Cyborg Fred

        Quiet as a chainsaw

        • noob

          the tactical doctrine becomes: four marines carry a robot mule to the battle powered down, mount a .50 on top of it, connect the battery, flick off the safeties, start the main engine and let it clean house.

        • Samuel Millwright

          I wish my chainsaw was anywhere close to as quiet…

    • Samuel Millwright

      If you say wheeliebob i just might smack you… Or laugh my ass off…

      What the hell, give it a shot lets see where this goes!

  • Kyle

    Lockheed Martin….. The same guys who have been dropping that F-35 shaped football how long now?

    • Scott Willbanks

      It’s kind of hard to deliver, when the specifications are changed every 30 minutes by each member of the program

  • NMhunter1371

    1. Make all of the tech “crayon friendly”
    2. Don’t worry about durability testing, just issue it to Marines and record the carnage that ensues.
    3. Make it cheap, so when Marines lose it, the missing gear chit doesn’t eat into their beer money

  • gunsandrockets

    Advanced technology, increased firepower, is all well and good. But sometimes more is less.

    Reading through some of background material to the USMC squad experiment, I was struck by how much more gear the squad was expected to carry and the hints that such a squad would take on a greater combat burden, as if the super squad could take on a mission that would be given to an old school platoon.

    Not a good idea.

    I think the Marines took a right step when they issued the automatic riflemen of the fire-teams the M27 IAR in place of the M249 SAW. In my opinion they should continue that lightening trend by taking away the 40mm GL from the fire-team leaders, and recreate the old squad grenadier position. Add one additional man to each rifle squad, the squad grenadier, like the Marines did during the Vietnam War. And if the Marines fear that change would reduce firepower too much, give that squad grenadier the M32 40mm repeating grenade launcher.

    • b0x3r0ck

      They can always give the 40MM GL to the mule

      • iksnilol

        Or just make multiple mules with MGs and automate the suckers? Because that can’t go wrong.

        • :ying Bastard

          I was told the ED209 would work as a armored self controlled mule

          • gunsandrockets

            who cares if it works or not?

        • Samuel Millwright

          That’s basically my concept only optionally piloted and way more capable of traversing heavy/closed terrains.

          Similar numbers of wheels per system EXTRAORDINARILY DIFFERENT implementation.

        • b0x3r0ck

          Hey common sense is a tactical handicap

    • Samuel Millwright

      Yeah i wouldn’t be opposed to all the beltfeds going to a platoon weapons squad USMC style.

      Beyond that big dog has morphed into a big joke, and truthfully something between big dog and mule / krusher is where it’s at IMO!

      I’ve got a concept of my own ive been working for multiple years which really does seem to show a sweetspot right inbetween the two concepts and their respective weight classes.

      • gunsandrockets

        I believe it is the U.S. Army practice to have one heavy weapons squad and three rifle squads in the rifle platoon.

        USMC practice is no heavy weapons squad and three identical 13 man rifle squads in the rifle platoon.

        But both services employ the “fire team” concept, three FT in a USMC rifle squad, and two FT in an Army rifle squad.

        The “fire team” might have made sense back in the Korean War days when the rifle squad was equipped with M1 rifles and Browning Automatic Rifles, but not anymore. In my opinion plugging gear like the M249 SAW and M203 GL into the fire team organization leads directly to overburdening the infantry.

        • Samuel Millwright

          Gah, screwed that up didn’t i? LOL

          Regardless though we seem to understand each other, by augmenting the speed, carrying capacity, and etc of the one squad whose going to be heavily burdened anyway they can become the pivot point the squads move around

          • gunsandrockets

            One thing I’ve made a hobby of, is comparing various nations and eras of infantry organization. With a focus on Company and lower level organization. The variety is quite bewildering, and reflects important doctrinal differences as well as different missions and logistic ability, everything from insanely heavy to very lightly equipped.

            Because the U.S. is a wealthy nation, the trend is to over-equip our infantry. At least since WWII.

            But if you really want heavy, not much beats the frontline rifle squad of the late 1960’s Japanese Self Defense Force. 11 men equipped with: eight bipod equipped grenade launching full auto 7.62mm rifles, two bipod equipped belt-fed 7.62mm GPMG, and one tripod equipped belt-fed 7.62mm GPMG.

            In my opinion the most important equipment an infantry unit can carry is a secure radio, a laser rangefinder, and GPS navigation! Artillery, tanks and airpower are what wins battles, not infantry.

            I’m leaning more and more towards favoring organizing our infantry with a greater diversity than current. That is, instead of two or three basic cookie cutter types of organization, adding some more types of organization which are more specialized for different infantry missions/environments.

          • Samuel Millwright

            I’m very much in agreement with everything you said but the LRF. We really need to ditch those asap and a half!

            There are… Things, we could swing replacing them with which would make us much less vulnerable when everyone wires their LWR’s into their hunter killer gun sights and starts having slew to cue ability right onto the laser track, which it has ranged as well as got it’s elevation etc!

            The technology to do all this is SHOCKINGLY OLD and currently not super common even though it’d be multiple orders of magnitude easier and cheaper now. Point is, don’t expect that lack of LWR slew to cue to hold much longer. And btw, if I’m right about some speculations here the size range of vics this will mount to is dropping daily, at this point i wouldn’t be surprised to see a polaris RAZR with a micro RWS with a secondary rotating and elevating DAS ring capable of pretty instantly thwacking out a 200+ meter per second AGL cartridge sized CM on auto without any crew interactions in the next 2 years.

          • gunsandrockets

            I think you are badly overestimating how rapidly technological advances filter down to use by infantry. And you underestimate the logistic burdens of running a large military establishment with huge amounts of manpower.

            For example, the U.S. Army is struggling to replace half century old legacy armored vehicles which comprise a huge fraction of the front line armored units.

            It’s pretty amazing that the U.S. military managed to equip current infantry so lavishly with rifle resistant body armor, optical sighted rifles, and night vision gear. That probably would not have happened if it wasn’t for the war opening up spending.

            Even if some new technological advance is available and useful, it doesn’t mean it is affordable. And even if it is affordable, it doesn’t mean it will be bought to replace legacy systems even if it is a great advance.

            And I can’t blame Armies for acting that way. Even though infantry suffer the most casualties in war, Infantry are an afterthought because infantry don’t win wars.

          • Samuel Millwright

            A lot of the problem with some of these solutions boils down to stuff lurking in various mil specs which makes something you or i could pretty easily build and make acceptably durable at a reasonable price completely unaffordable if militarized to spec!

            I don’t underestimate any of these things at all, keep in mind i keep saying CAN be done…

            Why?

            Because just like the last push and the lavish equipping of dismounted forces it created, it’s gonna take another oh jesus we need to fix this yesterday moment to actually achieve.

            I’m aware of these things, however this doesn’t mean creative diy types should choose to be bound by these restrictions. If anything we should push harder to make the right people want the cool whizbangs more!

          • Samuel Millwright

            To put it a slightly different way,

            What i do use a very little vroom to move the big BOOM into positions you at best expect to get rat a tat tat from and we both know it’s all fun and games until someone takes a 123mm main with tantalum liner directly behind a nonferrous precursor to rip through your flyer plates and then it’s just

            Omgwtfbbq

          • Samuel Millwright

            And p.s. my concept optionally manned armed half step between mule and big dog is in large part my gaming out what a distributed ops formation would have to look like to survive.

            I quickly looked at a squad situation and saud, they’re just dead nothing short of Heinlein will help them.

            At platoon though i found that IF i was allowed to cheat my ass off, run most of the unit ultralight, and have a weapons squad with light vics fast enough thst they could damn near be everywhere simultaneously, carry a massive portion of the platoon loads, and effectively get up into rocky fighting positions and inside buildings / on rooftops of heavy duty construction…

            You could actually hope to get back a platoon or part of it sometimes!

            I then set about figuring out how to do the impossible, and it turns out there’s at least a couple ways you can. I will say, big dog is too slow and mule was too everything. There’s a happy medium there in the middle though, but it depends almost as much on your heavies being able to emplace and displace insanely fast as well as put seriously accurate fire down within seconds of each stop out to at least 800 meters day or night. As well as being able to go fast enough to almost lose your license if pulled over in a school zone.

  • Brett baker

    It’s gonna be really great, or really bad, or both simultaneously.

    • .45

      You mean it will be awesome in the next Call of Duty game, but horrible in real life where weight, recoil, wear and tear, enemy behavior, etc etc will render it next to useless.

  • LazyReader

    Essentially smart phones for the Army, watch it sail from 12.9 million to 12.9 Billion. Then watch them adopt the next gen of hardware a few years from now….They’ve truly adopted Apples business model. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1dc1a09ecbef285c1da1a73856e04f41e1d6dc7449d2b9f9913d57c00f15a549.png

  • Jeremy

    -Gets the tech vital to fighting in megacities
    -loses to North Korean human waves

    • Samuel Millwright

      Surprisingly, there’s pretty heavy crossover in the two situations.

  • noob

    I’m confused, why is your jammer and electronic warfare range smaller than your gun engagement range? Wouldn’t you want the enemy to lose their coms and sensors **before** the shooting starts? If your EW range is longer than your gun range (say 3000m around the humvee) then the enemy can’t call for help, and help is the thing that gets you.

  • Ben Rogers

    Can we turn the big dog into a suicide bomber???