The Corps is looking for an autonomous drone that can chart sea depth and bottom conditions for landing forces.

In a request for information submitted on March 9, the Corps wants an autonomous hydrographic coastal survey drone that can integrate into an underwater drone.

Marines want the drone to be able to operate in three to 30 feet of seawater with obstacle avoidance technology.

Hydro surveys are usually done in advance of a Marine landing force preparing to invade a beachhead. Reconnaissance teams are trained to conduct these surveys prior to Marines hitting the beaches.

Recon Marines are equipped with hand-held electronic devices to aid in mapping ocean bottom. These devices employ sonar and GPS technology.

Marines navigate a diver propulsion device while conducting an amphibious insertion onto maritime infrastructure while training foreign Marines in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, Sept. 1, 2013. (Marine Corps)
Marines navigate a diver propulsion device while conducting an amphibious insertion onto maritime infrastructure while training foreign Marines in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, Sept. 1, 2013. (Marine Corps)

The new autonomous drones could free up recon Marines for other missions, affording the battlefield commander more flexibility to use the elite force.

The development comes as the Corps is once again pushing its sea expeditionary roots as it prepares for future conflict with near-peer competitors.

In the South China Sea, a potential hotpot for the Corps, China steadily has been building up and militarizing a series of man-made islands.

Top Marine Gen. Robert B. Neller has routinely said Marines will need to “fight to get to the fight.”

To prepare the force, Marines are in the planning stages of developing a new fighting concept known as Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations.

The new concept will see Marines distributed as small groups of fighting forces floating on small base-like barges or on small islands.

Underwater drones and autonomous hydrographic mapping systems would greatly aid in this fighting concept.

The Corps plans to purchase a minimum of 22 systems with a max contract of 100, according to the request for information.