Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, test the capabilities of the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), aboard Fort Devens, Mass., Nov. 5, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michael Walters/Released)

The chiefs of the military’s unmanned systems departments see a near future in which robots operate side-by-side with ground-pounders downrange. And they already foresee their biggest challenge: establishing an emotional bond of trust between man and machine.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems Frank Kelley said Marines might someday bond with their unmanned systems the way today they bond with and trust their military working dogs.

"Someday we may be able to replace that image of the Marine and the dog with an unmanned system," he said at the Sea Air Space expo near Washington, D.C. "We need to be prepared with these relationships, with these warfighting relationships, relationships with Marines and sailors and machines alongside."

At the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Virginia, officials are testing out a system that might inspire those kind of close man-machine relationships.

The lab tested out Unmanned Tactical Autonomous Control and Collaboration, in late April by employing a team of air and ground robots with data sharing and artificial intelligence capabilities to provide intelligence and reconnaissance to squad-level units.

With decision-making power…

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