WASHINGTON — A few years ago, Marines had to patrol a remote side of Air Station Miramar in Southern California to watch for teens sneaking in to party in old buildings or for cyclists who wandered onto the property.
Today, that area still doesn’t have cell phone service, and unexploded ordinances remain from its time as a World War II mortar range, according Lt. Col. Gregory Rooker, provost marshal at MCAS Miramar in San Diego. That combination makes the property especially dangerous for outsiders.
But now, the base has installed an autonomous surveillance system to detect trespassers, a platform that may have a future in defending installations in wars. The technology uses artificial intelligence to crunch surveillance data to recognize possible threats, eliminating the time the Marines spent on regular in-person patrols — assignments that sometimes lasted for days.
“It was a heavy manpower intensive operation,” Rooker said in an interview with C4ISRNET. “But at the time we didn’t have anything better. So when we heard about this system … we thought it would be a great asset for us to put out there and use so that we could scale back and reallocate that manpower to some other things that needed to be looked at.”
The autonomous system from Anduril works like this: The company’s towers overlook remote areas of MCAS Miramar and feed information to the company’s Lattice AI system that identifies and classifies threats. The system notifies security personnel of suspicious activity, and the Marines can be sent to investigate. Some other bases that use the Anduril system deploy a drone to investigate.
“It’s an easy system to use. It’s on the computer, it can kind of run in the background, and when it alerts to something, it sends a ‘ding,’” said Gunnery Sgt. Melissa Polich, the administrative chief in the provost marshal’s office. “So then it’ll pop up, and the monitor will go to whatever it is.”
Of course, MCAS Miramar is not a forward operating base in a warzone. But Anduril CEO Brian Schimpf said some forward bases use the tool, though he declined to say where in an interview with C4ISRNET.
The company has done some initial pilots with the Air Force and had “early conversations” with the other services. To deploy the technology in combat areas, Schimpf said Anduril is developing more mobile systems.
“One of the biggest areas we’re working on is just how do I make this so that you can throw it on a trailer, drive it out, set it up, and then you instantly have a secure perimeter? You know, potentially combining that with a UAV doing patrol,” Schimpf said.
Declan Lynch, head of force protection and installation base defense at Anduril, said that the company is also focused on reducing the size, weight and power requirement to meet the Marines’ expeditionary needs. To prepare for near-peer fights of the future, the company is trying to reduce the electronic signature so adversaries can’t locate operational units in the field.
At the base, the security system frees up Marines to patrol busier areas and protects civilians who disregard federal property warning signs, sometimes disrupting training exercises. If a local entered the base and was hurt, the lack of cell coverage would make calling for help nearly impossible — a scenario that happened to a cyclist who crashed at Miramar.
And Marines still turn up mortar testing remnants, Rooker said.
“They could never clear it 100%. Every so often we do find something out there,” he said. “So that’s another hazard that’s out there that someone could run across.”
In the future, Schimpf said Anduril wants to move beyond solely counter-intrusion capabilities for its AI system as the military prepares for joint war fighting. The company is expanding Lattice’s capabilities for air and sea operations and is adding small motion sensor-like devices that can be deployed in blind spots in the field.
“It’s kind of like a microcosm for how the broader JADC2 space overall is going to operate, which is much more about how do I have kind of this comprehensive connected systems, not these massively disaggregated things,” Schimpf said.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.