The US Marine Corps is developing an unmanned system capable of clearing underwater threats that will replace the in-service Assault Breacher Vehicle, a modified version of the M1 Abrams tank.

The new unmanned system, known as the Crawling Remotely Operated Amphibious Breacher (CRAB), will be a submersible platform with a mine flail, tiller and rake designed to pave the way for amphibious forces.

Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) Captain Anthony Molnar said: “In theory, the CRAB system will breach through man-made obstacles in the surf zone.”

MCSC added that the vehicle will deploy from littoral utility craft and travel along the seafloor to de-mine and remove threats along the route from ship to shore.

The project will deliver an ‘expendable’ vehicle that keeps Marines out of harm’s way as they approach the shoreline. Molnar added the vehicle will “save lives and reduce costs for the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corps”.

The Marine Corps has submitted a proposal for the CRAB system to be designated as a ‘rapid innovation fund topic’; if successful a prototype unit will be produced over a two-year period.

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The Marine Corps said the project falls in line with wider push for enhanced mine countermeasures and exploration of unmanned systems outlined in the ‘Commandant’s Planning Guidance’ document by Marine Corps General David Berger.

Berger wrote: “I encourage experimentation with lethal long-range unmanned systems capable of travelling 200 nautical miles, penetrating into the adversary enemy threat ring, and crossing the shoreline – causing the adversary to allocate resources to eliminate the threat, create dilemmas, and further create opportunities for fleet manoeuvre.”

He added: “We cannot wait to identify solutions to our mine countermeasure needs, and must make this a priority for our future force development efforts.”

CRAB will achieve both of these goals by providing an unmanned mine countermeasure platform.

MCSC’s Mobility and Counter Mobility program lead Michael Poe said: “The CRAB will support combat engineers and explosive ordnance disposal Marines by providing a remote or autonomous explosive and nonexplosive obstacle reduction capability within the very shallow water, surf zone and the beach.

“It will enable the Marine Corps to provide assured littoral mobility to the Naval Force in support of EABO [Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations].”

Molnar added: “The CRAB system is important because currently, the Naval Force can only breach in the surf zone with significant risk to mission or personnel.”

Currently, the Marine Corps does not operate a vehicle specifically designed to clear the near-shore surf zone of threats. Using the Assault Breacher Vehicle is effective, but not without risk. Molnar added: “This [the CRAB system] would alleviate that by having an inexpensive and expendable piece of equipment going through there.”