Marines are well known for a number of things: their strict adherence to uniform regulations, the sea bags worth of ego they carry around with them, and of course, their marksmanship. U.S. Marines train to develop competency with their weapons at greater distances than any other branch requires, as well as emphasizing closer range, higher paced marksmanship in the second table of the rifle qualification course.
But being a good shot on a range doesn’t necessarily translate to combat competency, and as anyone that’s ever thrown a football can attest, connecting with a moving target can be much more difficult than dialing in on a stationary one. While long distance shooting can help a Marine improve upon the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship, the only way to become a more capable war fighter when it comes to engaging moving targets is, of course, to train against targets that move.
Years ago, I recall Marines standing behind a berm, holding up long sticks with target silhouettes at the top. The Marines manning targets would pop their silhouettes up and move them along the berm in a manner that resembled a person walking along a ridge line, providing us with an opportunity to sight in and fire at a target that wasn’t simply nailed to a piece of wood. This method was better than nothing, but with our targets moving within our target lane, in the same direction every time and along a single axis, it really became an exercise in your ability to predict the mechanics of the range for the sake of a score, rather than a real challenge — but it was better than nothing.
Now, the Marines are experimenting with a simple target drone system that could allow them to practice their marksmanship against actively maneuvering targets, at varied distances, paces, and directions. These four-wheeled combat-bots were designed and built by the Georgia Based company, Marathon Targets, and they’ve been credited with some impressive statistics when it comes to improving the combat accuracy of Marine riflemen. Marathon claims the Marines of 2d Marine Division “developed a 104 percent increase in combat accuracy within a 24 hour period,” though the Corps itself has yet to confirm these numbers.
Because these robotic targets travel on four wheels, they’re able to cover a wide variety of terrain, including open fields on long distance ranges as well as in and around structures for live fire urban combat applications. Much like a video game, Marines can find themselves defending their positions against a closing enemy force, or the robots can be placed at random locations throughout the complex, offering shoot house opponents that do more than stand stationary in different rooms.
The Marines aren’t the only American fighting force that are interested in these robo-targets. Marathon was recently awarded a three-year contract to provide moving targets to the Naval Special Warfare Command, and Marathon claims the Army has already tested the idea of using their targets to the tune of a “3.7 times increase in range throughput compared to traditional training methods.”
While Marathon may make some steep claims regarding how effective their moving targets may really be when it comes to improving a rifleman’s proficiency, there’s no arguing that training against a moving opponent could result in more capable shooters.
You can watch a demo reel of Marathon’s targets below:
And here they are in action against U.S. Marines: