Marines’ tech chief unveils latest network, command-and-control effort

Marines’ tech chief unveils latest network, command-and-control effort

The U.S. Marine Corps’ technology lead has provided an update on how the service will contribute to the Pentagon’s plan to connect all weapons and sensors across the military.

The Corps’ work on networks and command-and-control systems comes as it prepares for operations involving small units deployed as observers and shooters for a larger coalition force.

“It’s all about data,” Kevin Murray said April 30 during a panel discussion at the Modern Day Marine conference in Washington, D.C. After all, Marines can’t conduct small-unit operations if they lack additional surveillance data from other sources or are unable to pass along targeting data they collect.

To that end, Murray said, the Corps is working on both Project Dynamis — the service’s contribution to the Pentagon’s Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control initiative, or CJADC2 — and a network unification plan.

During a recent reorganization of its acquisition offices at Marine Corps Systems Command and Program Executive Office Land Systems, the service created a Marine Air-Ground Task Force Command and Control program office. Previously, ground-based command-and-control systems fell under MCSC, while aviation-related C2 systems fell under PEO LS.

Despite the new program office, Murray said the Corps still lacked the ingredients to build and coordinate its contribution to CJADC2.

“We’re not going to solve CJADC2 for the joint force, but we are going to figure out how we contribute and fit into that,” he said of Project Dynamis. Work is ongoing to align with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Joint Fires Network, a battle management system; the Navy’s secretive Project Overmatch initiative; the Army’s experimental series Project Convergence; and the Air and Space forces’ DAF Battle Network and Advanced Battle Management System.

Brig. Gen. David Walsh, the head of Marine Corps Systems Command, said “the ability to communicate across the Marine Corps, across the joint force, across our coalition of partners — it is the No.1 capability I think we need to accelerate.”

For his part, Brig. Gen. Stephen Lightfoot, the director of the Capabilities Development Directorate that oversees Marine Corps requirements, said that as much as the service enjoys its self-sufficient Marine Air-Ground Task Force, “we are probably never going to go into any battle in the future as the Marine Corps; we’re going to go into it as the United States with our allies and partners.”

“And that’s how we’re going to have to fight, which just shows the criticality of CJADC2,” he added. “If our systems don’t work together, then we’ll have to be partitioned. They have to work together so that we can work together.”

Even as the Corps considers how data will flow between joint and combined C2 systems, it’s also worried about how data flows inside its own web of networks.

Murray said all the services have various network modernization plans underway, noting Marines are focused on ensuring the Marine Corps Enterprise Network can extend all the way to the tactical edge.

Cloud computing and processing power has evolved such that Marines in the field can posses significant data processing power in a very small form factor. But they could have even more processing power for even greater data-informed operations if they were connected to the Corps’ larger network.

However, the fleets worry that setup will diminish their effectiveness if they lose connectivity.

Murray said the goal for network unification is to allow for any Marine on the ground in Luzon, Philippines, for example, to “connect all the way back into the big-data clouds, but if he gets cut off he can still operate tactically with his [Ultra Light Tactical Vehicle] and the amount of storage and capability he’s got right there, continue to work off the data he has locally available to him. And then when they reconnect back into [the cloud], when it becomes more permissive, then the opportunity to re-synchronize with the greater architecture is all about what we’re trying to do for the network unification.”

Murray said the plan also comes with cybersecurity benefits.

“Our legacy network architecture was not really defensible. It was all over the place; some of it was tactical networks that didn’t have a cyber defense plan,” he noted. “This unification really helps us to streamline the network, visualize it and then defend it.”

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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