Image of speaker for Autonomous Robotic Ground Training program

The Institute for Defense & Government Advancement (IDGA) Land Forces Summit began Tuesday, February 27th, and featured a wide range of presenters and exhibitors. According to IDGA, “our summit aims to shed light on the efforts made by nations around the world in conducting live exercises to align their armed forces and strengthen the bonds between allied nations. Additionally, we will explore how simulated training could potentially offer a viable alternative and examine other strategies to synchronize training methods among our allies.”


There was a constant dialogue, and attendees were encouraged to ask questions and seize the opportunity to make connections throughout the week.


Dialogue continued throughout the day, both during presentations and around the exhibit hall. One presenter that stood out during the first day was Retired Marine Gunner Josh Smith, Senior Training Architect for Marathon Targets. Marathon Targets has developed AI-driven, robot targets for live combat training scenarios. Their robots drive autonomously across a range, are always aware of their surroundings, and communicate with each other to synthesize a convincing and challenging tactical environment.


According to Smith, current training has resulted in training scars, the repetition of errors that have been cultivated within the training environment. “What I believe we’ve been focused on is a ‘marksmanship mentality,’” explains Smith. “It emphasizes breath control and trigger control; it focuses on the technique rather than being a proficient shooter.” Through a series of videos, he shows how even seasoned snipers miss moving targets during their first iteration of the exercise. Even in close range, experienced shooters miss the moving targets, freezing and fumbling their weapons, and sometimes unable to down a single robot within an exercise.


In life-and-death scenarios, marksmanship doesn’t matter, lethality is what counts. “Right now, the only time gunfighters get to practice this type of training is in combat, and in my opinion, that is the wrong time to be learning life lessons about moving targets. You have failed your entire training curriculum because that’s one of the philosophies of training: to prepare the warfighter for what’s going to happen when it’s real,” adds Smith.


However, these training scars can be corrected. Snipers who had been unable to hit moving targets during their first iteration of training were able to not only hit, but eliminate all targets by their fourth repetition, despite the fact that the movement of the targets varied on each iteration. “We create an exercise that is more focused on lethality than marksmanship. Most shooters will engage with a static target with a single round, say ‘I hit it,’ and move to the next target,” Smith explains. “That is a training scar you have to fix because what should be happening is a shooter engages a target with as many rounds as it takes to get that target down. With autonomous robots, we’ve been able to correct that instinct in just a few repetitions.”


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