Happy birthday, United States Marine Corps, you’ve been kicking ass at home and abroad for 240 years today.
We won’t presume to predict what tech the Marines will be using when it hits the 480th anniversary, but we can make a few safe bets on how its members will be fighting in 2020.
Nonlethal Weapons: Distraction Grenades and 12-Gauge Beanbag Guns
In the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. armed forces are as likely to act as a humanitarian and peacekeeping force as to win a war. Nonlethal options like rubber bullets and pepper spray can provide a way for Marines to defend themselves without potentially killing someone when the difference between civilian and insurgent is unclear. The Defense Department’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate has already developed 12-gauge beanbag guns, and distraction grenades that go off in disorienting flashes are already being issued. A Marine Corps. unit in North Carolina has already transitioned from infantry to “anti-terrorism battalion” and trained to use nonlethal tactics and devices to get control over riots.
Greener Vehicles: Solar Arrays and Portable Generators
The Marine Corps burns through about 200,000 gallons of fuel a day in Afghanistan as of 2012. That’s just not efficient, especially if your vehicle is cut off from a fossil fuel source. So the Marines have announced an intention to make its bases net-zero energy users by 2020, and cut battlefield energy needs 50 percent by 2025. Expect to see a lot more solar arrays, and small, portable generators, as well as light-weight cooling systems for shelters, vests, and vehicles.
Smart Uniforms: Cooling Systems and Biometric Trackers
You think the Apple Watch is a nice wearable? Whatever young blood. See what good Siri is in a firefight. Even military underwear is getting smarter, able to analyze a soldier’s sweat and monitor health with biometric trackers. But that’s nothing compared to the Future Combat System Program, shown off to Congress way back in 2004 as the standard gear of 2020. Besides a head-to-toe protective suit, the gear features and onboard computer network, and soldier-worn power sources. Basic designs incorporate a cooling-system and physiological status monitoring system. Even before they’re sent into battle, wearable tech will help us train soldiers to be better fighters, tracking their movements and response time.
Autonomous Drones: Set It and Forget It
Few are pushing for artificial intelligence as hard as the military. Robots that can think for themselves will be especially valuable during the constantly-shifting surrounding of an active battleground, as they make their own decisions and predict movement without a marine having to tell it what to do. Eventually, marines will simply be able to set their robot allies and forget about them, freeing flesh-and-blood fighters to focus on other tasks. Whether everyone is comfortable with the implications of that is another matter.