Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger sees Marines trusting robot partners as vital to how he expects them to fight in the near future.

“I believe in Man-Unmanned Teaming, it will enable Marines to be more lethal,” Berger said at the annual National Defense Industrial Association Expeditionary Warfare Conference on Tuesday.

The problem, he said, is that some unmanned options are available now, but Marines don’t trust them.

“The same way a squad leader trusts his or her Marine, they have to trust his or her machine,” Berger said.

Berger pointed to a research test by a Marine major, recently reported on by Marine Corps Times, in which two groups of Marines used a robot partner in a task. Those Marines who trained the machine themselves trusted it more than those who were simply given a robot they were told had been programmed for the task.

“If that’s the human element of this, how do we get technologies into Marines’ hands so that they can not just train with this but trust it?” Berger said.

That connection falls closely within the efforts of the past 18 months since Berger released his commandant’s planning guidance initiative and kicked off major force restructuring efforts to meet future threats.

Part of that initiative looks for sheer numbers of cheaper, expendable platforms especially air, ground, surface and subsurface drones to overwhelm enemy defenses rather than premium, costly platforms.

The commandant listed long-range precision fires, specifically the ground-based anti-ship missiles at the top of his needs for moving the Corps to a better position for countering China and other near-peer adversaries.

But, that program took a major hit seeing severe cuts to funding in the most recent defense spending bill.

The Corps wanted $64 million for ground-based anti-ship missiles and $75 million for long-range fires. But Congress cut ground-based anti-ship missiles by half and reduced long-range fire programs by a quarter.

Berger admitted the Corps has “lost time” on long-range precision fires due to those cuts.

“And that’s on me,” he said. “I have to do a better job with key members on the Hill of convincing them.”

On a separate presentation, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, noted the focus on long-range fires, but added the importance of communications and passing data when forward-deployed.

Smith said that the Navy-Marine Corps force has to have the ability to put together an alternative position, navigation and timing when forces are cut off from the larger grid.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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