• A U.S. Marine with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, fast ropes from a MV-22B Osprey during drills in November at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Technologies fielded by the service’s Command Element Systems must be lightweight and effective for expeditionary forces.  U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Matthew Kirk, USMC
     A U.S. Marine with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, fast ropes from a MV-22B Osprey during drills in November at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Technologies fielded by the service’s Command Element Systems must be lightweight and effective for expeditionary forces. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Matthew Kirk, USMC

Marine Systems That Help Command

February 1, 2020
By Kimberly Underwood
E-mail About the Author

The U.S. Marine Corps pursues C3I solutions to support future success.


A Marine Corps of the future with a “reinvigorated Fleet Marine Force” and a strong Marine Expeditionary Force requires robust command and control and other advanced communications technologies, says the service’s top leader. As such, the Marine Corps Systems Command’s Command Element Systems is pursuing advanced satellite communications, electronic warfare, biometrics and other solutions.

Last summer, shortly after taking the helm as commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, USMC, issued his commandant’s planning guidance, spelling out his priorities for the next four years. The service must train and equip its Marines as a naval expeditionary force-in-readiness, he said, and they must be prepared to operate in actively contested maritime environments in support of Naval fleet operations. Any technologies or communications systems must sustain this emphasis, but especially command and control (C2) solutions, the general stressed.

“We must reach and execute effective military decisions faster than our adversaries in any conflict setting, on any scale,” the general stated in his report. “Our command and control processes and systems must reflect our maneuver warfare philosophy. Decision-making that focuses on speed and creating tempo; mission command that focuses on low-level initiative; simple planning processes and orders writing techniques that are measured by the quality of the intent, all require a command and control system that is flexible, adaptable and resilient.”

With the general’s five focus areas in mind—force design, warfighting, education and training, core values, and command and leadership—Col. Brock McDaniel, USMC, portfolio manager, Command Element Systems (CES), Marine Corps System Command (MCSC), is pursuing a barrage of advanced technologies to enhance modern Marine Corps operations. Col. McDaniel manages a CES portfolio that encompasses command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) solutions to assist the U.S. Marine Corps’ expeditionary fighting forces of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, known as the MAGTF.

“Going forward, our systems have to have four key characteristics,” the colonel specifies. “Number one, they’ve got to be expeditionary, which means that they can be easily transported via aircraft or ship, and used in distributed operation environments. Secondly, we want to streamline our systems, meaning we’re seeking to reduce our size, weight and power consumption while also reducing the signature. Third, we need our systems to be resilient, meaning that they’ll work in any climate and place, and be functionally reliable and effective in a contested environment. And then finally, interoperable—we want to make sure that we’re fully integrated with the Navy to ensure we can fight as one team against our adversaries.”

To accomplish this, the command will pull in innovation from the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Col. McDaniel says. “Some of the critical areas are free space optics, Li-Fi, artificial intelligence, machine learning, low probability of intercept/low probability of detection technology, nonproprietary waveforms, and quite frankly anything that reduces weight is going to help our Marines,” he notes.

“We’re also looking to use as much of the electromagnetic spectrum as we can and have a variety of different capabilities that allow us to give commanders [operational flexibility].”

Moreover, improvements in data science are necessary to speed warfighters’ decision-making on the battlefield. “We’re seeking to provide them the right data when they need it, and we will continuously use data science in order to attain that tactical advantage,” Col. McDaniel says.

Meanwhile, the industry can provide technologies or solutions that address: cybersecurity; signature control; converging capabilities; cost reductions; size, weight and power (SWAP) reductions; data science, architecture and strategy; artificial intelligence; development security operations (DevSecOps/agile software development; naval integration; and secure wireless), according to the colonel.

“In addition to some of the S&T efforts that we’re interested in, we basically welcome improvements in capabilities that are going to enhance our computing capability, our transport and our networking, all while trying to reduce signatures and increase our lethality,” the portfolio manager states. “Reducing size, weight and power is central to enhancing our mobility; cyber hardening is critical, and then at the same time we’re always seeking to reduce costs wherever we can.”

The pursuit of lower SWAP “is continuous,” the colonel stresses. “We’ll never stop trying to reduce size, weight and power.” The command has had a few recent key successes on that front, especially in regard to its comprehensive Networking-On-the-Move effort, which provides satellite communications (SATCOM)-based “on-the-move” command and control capabilities for the MAGTF, across ground combat vehicles and aircraft.

“Recently with our Networking-On-the-Move, we’ve actually reduced our ground vehicular components by 300 pounds and reduced our time needed to put the system together by several hours,” Col. McDaniel reports. “Additionally, on the intel [intelligence] side, our common intel servers are replacing a number of disparate servers. We’re converging capability as a result, and we’re literally reducing our footprint by thousands of pounds, so it’s pretty significant and we’re pleased with those achievements.”

Regarding human intelligence, the CES is pursuing solutions to support identity operations, including smaller sensing capabilities and biometric systems. These technologies must be easily deployed and usable in austere environments. “We significantly help our Marines when we provide systems that can fit in a cargo pocket and be put into operational use within seconds,” the portfolio manager says. “Also, if we have systems that are not complex and easily trained on, it helps our Marines significantly.”

For development of a biometric solution, CES stays “well-engaged” with the Warfighting Lab and the Naval Research Lab. “We also work very closely with the other services to stay abreast of technologies they’re exploring and using,” the colonel states.

In addition, SATCOM is one of the capability areas that the MCSC is modernizing, and here as well, next-generation solutions need to be lighter and easier to deploy. “They need to be resilient and most significantly, be able to provide both military and commercial capability,” Col. McDaniel offers.

With a continuously adversarial cyber front, the command, like all others, has had to improve the security of its digital systems. CES has worked to implement mandates directed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and to improve software patch cycle times. “We’ve also incorporated better red team analysis to understand our vulnerabilities and then mitigate and fix them before we field our systems, and we’ve increased the size of our cyber workforce to proliferate some of that skill set as well as increase our individual training,” the portfolio manager shares.

The CES must also sustain the technologies that it fields to the MAGTF, which can present a challenge, especially across any aging systems. With other leaders, the portfolio manager is in the process of identifying some of the older technologies to discontinue. “The Capabilities Development Directorate [CDD] is currently engaged in force design, and we’re working closely with CDD to ensure warfighting requirements are both prioritized and well-defined,” Col. McDaniel explains. “This collaboration will enable us to divest in antiquated systems in order to fund some of the higher priority capabilities.

“The bottom line is that we owe it to the Fleet Marine Force to ensure we have a solid and implementable sustainment plan for the life cycle of a system,” he stresses. “Additionally, we’re seeking to provide our Marines with proper training to both operate and maintain the fielded systems.”

Operational effectiveness also could come from the implementation of converging capabilities. CES is focusing on reducing the number of disparate systems and converting their functionality into applications. “In doing so, we’re seeking to create a common hosting environment that will utilize virtualization and optimize our computing capability,” Col. McDaniel notes. “As we do so, we greatly reduce our footprint and help improve our logistics.”

To test and evaluate future solutions to field to the Marines, the CES is looking to Island Marauder 2020, the annual technology demonstration hosted jointly by the MCSC, the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Combat Development and Integration, the Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic and the III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“We’re always going to be a participant in Island Marauder,” the colonel notes. “It’s a great opportunity to explore some of our concepts and new capabilities as well as integration with the Navy.”

At last year’s Island Marauder exercise, the CES focused on communications technologies to aid expeditionary advanced base (EAB) operations, electronic warfare and tactical C2, all of which will continue to be emphasized in the 2020 exercise, the colonel indicates. The Marines demonstrated and validated advanced capabilities for the MCSC’s Networking-On-the-Move, Marine Air-Ground Task Force Common Handheld, Target Handoff System Version 2, Tactical Service Oriented Architecture, Joint Tactical Common Operational Picture Workstation and Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, according to the MCSC.

The Marines’ efforts are vital to deterring and dominating future conflicts in support of littoral operations in contested environments, as well as expeditionary operations—two priorities highlighted in the latest commandant’s planning guidance.

Along with Marines from the 3rd Marine Regiment and other stakeholders, the MCSC conducted the 2019 exercise at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, in September.

“Island Marauder 19 really featured us utilizing EAB concepts,” the colonel reports. “We employed some long-range C2, distributed C2, as well as Naval and Joint Fires C2 integration. We were able to showcase our Networking-On-the-Move capability, as well as our MAGTF common handheld. We integrated some electronic warfare capabilities as well, and by utilizing some of our new and upcoming systems and our existing C2, we were better able to pinpoint the location of threats and then aggressively attack them.”

Going forward, the CES will continue to enhance its electronic warfare (EW) attack capabilities across mounted and dismounted applications, Col. McDaniel adds. “We’re seeking to reduce weight in both manned portable and vehicular EW systems while enhancing our electronic surveillance as well as our electronic attack capabilities so that they can be used in either large scale or distributed operations. Additionally, we’re networking these capabilities with some of our C2 systems to optimize our ability to really dominate the electromagnetic spectrum.”

Like all of the other services, receiving funding from Congress is crucial to pursuing these innovations. The command is waiting for Fiscal Year 2020 budget approval by legislators, after which the Marine Corps leader will field more key solutions to Marines, Col. McDaniel says.

“We’re very excited about the opportunities we have to take the commandant’s planning guidance and modernize our systems,” he states. “There are outstanding technology capabilities out there for us to deliver to our Marines, and we think in doing so it’s going to prepare us for the next fight and be ready to go anytime the nation calls.”

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