“2019 could be a transformative year for autonomous robotic targets”
Marathon Targets is presenting an expanded target product portfolio at this year’s AUSA Global Force. In addition to the new T10 autonomous indoor target, delegates will also see the brand new T50 outdoor autonomous target. The T50 combines the best features of the current T30 and T40 robots into the company’s new flagship robot – the T50.
Ralph Petroff, President – US, for Marathon Targets, explained: “The T50 will go almost twice as far as the current robots, and has upgraded armour, swappable batteries, and a host of under-the-hood improvements. Coincidently, T50s for the US market will be produced at our new facility in Huntsville – the host city for AUSA Global,” and added, “Despite the significantly improved performance – like twice the range on a single charge – the T50 cost the same as the T40 robot it replaces. So, it’s much higher performance, but at the same price.”
Marathon Targets is again reaching out to the US Army audience by exhibiting at this AUSA Global – and with good reasons according to Mr Petroff. Both the army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) and the Army Research Institute (ARI) have produced reports and tests since 2013. The corporate leader recalled :“ARI, like its US Marine Corps counterparts at Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL), have independently concluded that robots significantly increase marksmanship lethality. ARI also noted a 340% improvement in training throughput.”
Further, the market drivers for the Army are similar to those of the USMC: increased warfighter lethality, higher range throughput, and billions of range construction saved by “same day range modernisation” by using robots. Reflecting further on the state-of-the-art in military marksmanship training, Mr. Petroff noted, autonomous robotic targets also address a fundamental training gap: “currently 95(+)% of all US live training rounds are shot ‘Valley Forge Style’ – at stationary targets. In a world where adversaries are constantly on the move, proficiency at hitting stationary targets is becoming less and less relevant every day. The ‘time to win’ is when the enemy is moving, it may be your only ‘time to win.’ But without robots, there is no way to replicate a realistic moving enemy threat.”
Marathon Targets is expecting its sales to surge in 2019. Army units on about two dozen different army bases have shot at the robots, and the company expects this number to grow. “Between the USMC, Army, Special Operations Command, and federal and state law enforcement, we expect that our US robot rental fleet may triple in size this year. Almost all of our customers use the Training-as-a-Service (TaaS) model. This gives them the flexibility to rent robots for a week, a month, or a year, without having to commit to capital purchase from Day 1,” the sector subject matter expert added.
Highlighting one instance of the art-of-the possible in this market, Mr Petroff said the most intriguing use of the robots is to use robots as a live fire Robotic OPFOR – a thinking, adaptive and unpredictable enemy force. Instead of you hunting robots, the robots hunt you. “The robots are a ‘peer force’ in many senses of the word: they can outrun almost any soldier or marine in a marathon; they see just as well at night as they do in the day; and they have superior command and control: every robot knows where every other robot us to within a few feet, even when line-of-sight is blocked. The robots make an ideal OPFOR for live fire training,” he noted.
Indeed, to make the training ever more realistic, Marathon Targets is seeing an increased trend to use 16 robots at a time – in order to simulate a Chinese or Russian reinforced rifle squadron. To that end, “We hope by the end of the year to have full platoons of robots about 45-50 robots, attacking outnumbered US rifle squadrons. This kind of training against a much superior numerical force will be of great value to any unit sent to fight against a near-peer. The level of lethality improvement we have witnessed is visible to the naked eye.”
Beyond the US, Marathon Targets continues to expand globally, with additional NATO partners, Middle Eastern customers, and the first adopters like Australian and Canadian specialised units. For its part, Marathon Targets expects to have another record year in 2019, “with perhaps our highest-ever growth rate,” Mr. Petroff predicted, and concluded, “As the robots transition from being considered ‘exotic’ to becoming ‘mainstream,’ we expect customers to push the robots to their limits of their capability – a robotic OPFOR. This is an important trend to watch – the training benefits are truly game-changing. The response from the global training community has been truly gratifying. 2019 could be a transformative year for autonomous robotic targets.”