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Brig. Gen. John R. Thomas, U.S. Marine Corps

October 2004
By Brig. Gen. John R. Thomas, USMC, Director for Command, Control, Communications and Computers and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Marine Corps

Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?

The global war on terrorism has clearly demonstrated both challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. Marine Corps as a new generation of technically savvy leaders emerge. The Marine Corps must capitalize on the lessons learned and develop information technology and communications capabilities to meet the operational demands of these new leaders who find themselves operating in an uncertain, highly fluid, expeditionary environment. Central in our lessons learned is recognition of the power of a netted force. Distributed operations with forces that can be massed at a time and place of our own choosing to create desired effects require a robust, adaptable network. I do not accept the notion that Marines might simply outdistance or outrun their command and control (C2) communications capabilities when it is most critically needed—during combat operations.

Commanders must be able to rely on a networked information infrastructure that provides for on-the-move, over-the-horizon access to vital warfighting resources. The information exchange paradigm is shifting from hierarchal to need-to-know. This means that forces distributed and maneuvering across the battlespace require immediate access to the right information at the right time. Circuit-based C2 architectures are being replaced by network-enabled C2 structures. Connecting the individual Marine rifleman to a global, seamless network on demand is the paradigm of the future. The path to future success lies in our ability to create a ubiquitous information-sharing environment that can provide unparalleled sensing, reporting and directing capabilities for combat forces as they operate in an increasingly hostile and lethal world. Emerging technologies that enable net-centric operations and warfare are the keys to ensuring that Marines continue to possess the operational and technical advantages necessary to fight and win the nation’s battles of the future.

Technologies that deliver our forces greater bandwidth and security while on the move are crucial to future success. Networks of the future must leverage both optical and radio frequency schemes to deliver increased bandwidth for C2 and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Programs like the Transformational Communications Satellite include new technologies such as optical cross-links, space-based routing and high-assurance Internet protocol encryption that will greatly enhance the net-centric joint force. Collectively, these technologies will dramatically increase the commander’s ability to move voice, video and data between forward-deployed forces and those forces remaining in rear areas.

Future technologies emerging in systems such as the Joint Tactical Radio System have the potential to make every Marine, platform and unit a wireless point of presence in the global network. Enabling technologies such as software-defined waveforms—which include wideband frequencies resident inside a single “box,” coupled with a self-healing, self-managing mobile ad hoc network—should be the standard demanded on the asymmetrical net-centric battlefield of the 21st century. These technologies must be designed to provide for minimal manual reconfiguration to reduce personnel, training and maintenance requirements in a highly mobile combat environment. Solutions that adopt Internet protocol version 6 also will facilitate the transition to this new architecture.

The Corps is working to capitalize on commercial technology investments that can be leveraged for military applications. For example, the 802.1l wireless standard is quickly becoming the norm for home and commercial networking. Targeted science and technology efforts have resulted in a Type I Secure 802.11b wireless local area network capability for secure local area data transfer and voice connectivity. This capability has multiple military applications such as secure local communications between maneuvering tactical vehicles or intra-command-post network connectivity. In larger operational areas, metropolitan area network connectivity can be installed using the emerging 802.16 wireless standard to provide an organic network communications infrastructure to supplement satellite and line-of-sight resources. The result is a plug-and-play communications networking capability that can be readily set up and dismantled as the battle dictates.

Finally, to assist commanders in the area of information management, the Marine Corps is pursuing technologies that enable them to pull mission-oriented data rapidly and fuse it to support timely decision making. We are looking at technologies in initiatives like the Marine Corps Enterprise Information Technology Service to help us store, categorize, sort and share the vast quantities of information that is becoming more accessible to the warfighter. Efficient data synchronization, metadata tagging capabilities, intelligent data fusion and smart information transfer algorithms are currently at the forefront of our research and experimentation efforts. Technological advancements in these areas are essential to our implementation of a global information infrastructure.

The Marines are positioned to meet the needs of our Marines and the joint force on the battlefield of the 21st century by exploiting information and integrating information technology into the global network.