New field of work in robotics may be coming to the Marine Corps

The Marine Corps will consider creating a new job field dedicated to robotics as it doubles down on that technology as part of a renewal of the force.

Intelligent robotics and autonomous systems could allow Marines to operate faster, cheaper and with lower risk than before, says a document released Monday with updates to Force Design 2030, the Corps’ ambitious restructuring plan.

Marine leaders say recent conflicts – particularly those between Ukraine and Russia, and Armenia and Azerbaijan – confirmed the need for the Corps to improve its use of autonomous systems.

“We clearly recognize and recognize the importance of intelligent robotics and autonomous systems,” Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, deputy commander for combat deployment and integration, said at a media roundtable Friday. “I feel like we’re ahead of it right now. And we have to stay there.”

But Marine leaders aren’t yet sure how to find or train people with the knowledge to operate these systems.

“Finding the structure, finding the right people and then getting the right training is a whole series of challenges,” Heckl said.

One thing Heckl said he knows: Working in robotics won’t be relegated to a side task or a minor military occupational specialty.

At the roundtable Friday, Marine generals emphasized that technology will not replace human beings.

In the case of unmanned aerial vehicles collecting massive amounts of data, “you have to be able to do with that data what needs to be done so that the people who are the ultimate decision makers are able to make the right decision.” said Brig. General Stephen Lightfoot, director of the Corps’ Capability Development Directorate.

By September, the Corps will integrate robotics concepts and applications into training and education centers, according to the Force Design update.

Over the next year, leadership “will develop a strategy to recruit and retain personnel with IRAS knowledge” and “to integrate robotics specialties across the force,” the briefing said.

This could mean the creation of a professional field dedicated to the technology, according to the update.

But it has proven difficult for the Marine Corps, like the other services, to recruit and retain troops with the valuable technical knowledge that could translate into higher salaries in the civilian sector.

The Corps is testing a variety of strategies to fill its technology gap. is offering bonuses, leveraging the expertise developed in their civilian jobs and leaving some people with skills needed to join or rejoin at a higher level than they would otherwise – a program called side entrance.

Side entry is an option the Marine Corps is considering as a way to attract people with expertise in robotics, according to Monday’s Force Design update.

The update also raises the possibility of holding robotics competitions as a recruiting tactic.

“A lot of these conversations are undefined,” Heckl said. “What we realize is the importance of this. There are a lot of people… who say this is the 21st century equivalent of the machine gun. So this is a big deal.”

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for the Marine Corps Times. She joined the Military Times as an editorial associate in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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