Story by Cpl. Ali Azimi
TWENTYNINE PALMS, California – Over the years, science fiction movies have depicted robotic sentinels as enforcers of the law. These feats of technology were equipped with machine guns, could see a wide spectrum of light through their bionic eyes and could report their findings to their handlers instantly.
The Marine Corps has embarked upon the brink of this once fictitious and futuristic technology as they research a new and more efficient way to provide security without putting Marines’ lives in danger.
Combat Center Marines took a first-hand look at the Mobile Detection Assessment Response System at Camp Wilson’s ACE Compound Jan. 30, 2014. The console-controlled Polaris Military Diesel Crew provides unmanned, external security and surveillance on defensive perimeters.
The MDARS was developed by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, which delivers and sustains capabilities for warfighters. Although it was originally developed for the United States Army, the Marine Corps is currently looking into its potential as an asset of force protection.
Marines with the Air Combat Element, currently supporting the Integrated Training Exercise, plan to use the new system as part of their enhanced, 24-hour Air Base Ground Defense.
“We are trying to use it to its full capabilities and (further improve) our defense,” said Sgt. Timothy Hanla, platoon sergeant, air base guard force. “It will help reinforce certain areas and catch things our eyes can’t catch.”
The system features multiple laser systems for navigation and a radar system to detect enemy presence on a perimeter. Color and infrared cameras allow its controller to differentiate between enemy or friendly forces.
“Essentially, this thing can operate day and night,” said Pat Cullington, MDARS project manager, SPAWAR System Center Pacific. “It will go out there and find whatever it is you want to find.”
All the functions of the MDARS are remote-controlled from a computer or pre-set by the controller to run automatically.
Operators can navigate the vehicle and cameras with a console controller or joystick much like a video game. A button acts as the dead-man switch, which brings the vehicle to a stop if the joystick is dropped or disconnected.
“We have front lasers for driving and obstacle detection,” Cullington said. “That allows us to move the vehicle at a safe speed.”
The system uses a dual-monitor display, a ruggedized keyboard, mouse, speakers, microphone, uninterruptible power supply, networking infrastructure and power provisions for the radio and GPS base station.
Pre-set functions allow the MDARS to follow set paths, travel to way-points, or conduct random patrols without anyone sitting behind the computer screen.
“The operator doesn’t have to be sitting at the control station for the robot to run,” Cullington said. “When the robot detects something, it will notify the operator. Then, the operator can come back to the control station and decide what action to take.”
In addition to controlled and automatic functions, the MDARS can be commanded to go into stealth detection mode, which will shut off the engine and allow the unit to continuously scan the area.
The batteries in the vehicle can maintain this function for approximately two hours, after which the engine must run in order to recharge the batteries.
According to Cullington, the system can be adjusted to mission-specific requirements for the Corps and they are continuing to make adjustments. The MDARS is not currently in use as a regular part of defensive operations but continues to be looked into as a future possibility.
“What we’re here for now is to learn more about the Marine mission,” Cullington said. “How this could be used and how we could develop it to fit the mission.”
The Marine Corps will continue to observe the capabilities of the MDARS, evaluating its ability to meet the evolving tactics and strategies for tomorrow’s operations.