Brig. Gen. George J. Allen, USMC

April 2006
By Brig. Gen. George J. Allen, 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?

Col. Steven Spano’s response to this question, on behalf of U.S. Air Forces in Europe (SIGNAL Magazine, January 2006), eloquently articulates much of the critical thinking that is taking place in the U.S. Marine Corps today. His assertion that “it is not about the technology, but how it is applied, that matters,” speaks volumes about our service’s approach toward emerging technologies.

The Marine Corps has been and will continue to be an adaptive force. The United States’ future holds great likelihood of irregular wars, fought in urban environments, against thinking enemies using asymmetric tactics. Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) have evolved as cohesive, integrated and scalable organizations focused on strategic agility, operational reach and tactical flexibility. By our definition, a MAGTF is expeditionary in nature and incorporates all types of combat power—ground forces, air forces and seaborne forces. They are adept at task organizing, or said another way, they can build a force in a number of combinations with a lot of different capabilities so as to accomplish many types of missions. To that end, the Marine Corps will be most ready when the nation is least ready. The service’s deployments and employments are designed to shape the international environment, to respond to the complex spectrum of crises and conflicts, to gain access to areas previously denied and to prosecute forcible entry operations.

The Marine Corps has developed two warfighting concepts to achieve the objectives of the service’s vision, or future operational capabilities. The first is distributed operations, where it will coordinate actions of dispersed units that are ordered and connected within an operational design and focused on a common aim. In essence, small, highly capable units will be spread across large areas of operations and will gain the spatial advantage sought in maneuver warfare. This concept will demand decentralized authority. Marine commanders, mostly junior leaders, will need compressed decision cycles, will constantly seek the tactical initiative and will position themselves to exploit fleeting opportunities against their adversaries. Those of us who support distributed operations will have to leverage advanced sensor and communications systems and precision ordnance as well as will have to extend the reach of our weapons while pre-positioning joint capabilities where they are immediately employable and most decisive.

This leads us to the second important warfighting concept: Sea Basing. This concept requires the Marine Corps to place at sea—to a greater extent than ever before—combat capabilities critical to operational success. Those critical capabilities will include offensive and defensive firepower, maneuver forces, command and control, and logistics. The Marine Corps expects and is currently experiencing an operational shift from its old warfighting construct of mass to the new one of precision and information.

From the Marine Corps command, control, communications and computers perspective, to transition from concepts to reality, MAGTFs will have to command and control their operationally distributed units and remote sea bases as well as to push and pull data over long distances. Depending on the scenarios and circumstances, Marines may not always have guaranteed access to satellite technologies. Knowing that, we are studying platforms and communications equipment we believe might replicate some of the capability that heavily tasked national space assets have provided so well for many years. “Surrogate satellites” such as aerostats and long-loiter unmanned aerial vehicles, if properly configured, hardened for combat duty and proven reliable to operate for extended employment, may indeed be the cost-efficient and effective solution the Marine Corps needs for this long war and the next one.

This is an important example of where the service leverages technology to complement its warfighting concepts. Much like the “cart before the horse” metaphor, when analyzing conflict, the Marine Corps will apply rigor throughout its spectrum of capabilities, requirements and vulnerabilities. Only then, as Col. Spano so aptly stated, will Marines “adapt and integrate emerging technologies into existing processes.”

Two other key factors drive us to our approach toward technology: affordability and time to field. The Marine Corps has embraced the digital age and appropriately has adapted many of its occupational specialties to excel in a digital environment. The centerpiece of the Marine Corps warfighting ethos is the individual Marine. Our basic tenet of “every Marine a rifleman” reflects this firm belief. Regardless of the relentless pace of technology, people, not machines, decide the course of battles. Emerging technology is only one means that might help the Marine Corps achieve its warfighting ends. If we cannot afford it, field it in reasonable time, train quickly with it, maintain it in a harsh environment and rapidly replace it when it breaks, we will always default to what we know will work and will adapt.