WASHINGTON — Marines on the future battlefield will need connections with the service’s enterprise network to make fires decisions and bolster command and control, a top Marine Corps general said Wednesday.
As the military services move forward on their plans to share data and connect relevant sensors to relevant shooters for the future war-fighting concept known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control, an important factor will be the ability to connect back to the enterprise network that has more data storage and processing power than devices available to users at the tactical edge.
“What’s different for the Marine Corps as we build our networks is we have to be able to have the power of the enterprise at the edge because as you’re inside the weapons engagement zone, we need the compute, the store, the analytics to be just like your iPhone,” said Brig. Gen. Lorna Mahlock, CIO of the Marines Corps and director of information, command, control, communications and computers. “As our Marines are maneuvering — really, really small maneuver elements — they have the power of the enterprise to be able to enable C2 and fires at the edge.”
Speaking at a Defense News Pathfinders event on Wednesday, Mahlock said that there is an “inextricable link” between the enterprise network and the tactical edge. To ensure that Marines — and the joint force — have a command and control advantage over adversaries, intelligence networks, business networks and war-fighting networks must be fused to make all necessary data available to war fighters who need it across the globe.
The Marine Corps is in the midst of a network modernization effort focused on IT consolidation to better integrate systems across the service. Mahlock stressed that the challenge in powering joint war-fighting and connecting enterprise networks to the tactical edge isn’t technological, rather cultural. For example, the Marines had to stop thinking about tactical, intelligence and business networks as separate entities.
“It’s about ensuring the data can pass seamlessly across all these systems,” Mahlock said, adding that “folks used to think that there is no interdependency between the enterprise and the tactical edge. That kind of thinking is passé.”
Mahlock emphasized the inherent joint nature of the Marine force: It is primarily naval but has a ground piece that needs to work with the Army and a Marine Air-Ground Task Force that needs to connect with the Air Force. That level of collaboration between the services is another cultural change underway while the services try to enable JADC2. The services are making efforts to include other services in their JADC2 experimentation, and top level officials at the Pentagon have stressed the importance of building systems capable of integrating into other platforms.
The advanced capabilities of militaries including Russia and China are driving new technological investments by the Marines. Like many branches, the Marines are exploring the benefits of commercial satellite constellations that offer higher throughput and lower latency. That move toward “SATCOM as a service,” in which the military would pay only for the transport it uses, is a “paradigm shift” to the way the Marines historically operate, she said.
“That is antithetical to how we have historically employed and deployed networks and C2 systems,” Mahlock said. “We’re used to building a tech stack and deploying that stack. And now we’re saying, hey, look, you just need to be able to tap into services wherever they are and consume their services, and obfuscate depending on the network that you’re pulling those services through.”
The Marine Corps also exploring 5G, as well as new encryption techniques and zero-trust cybersecurity architectures that inherently distrust users. With a web of interconnected networks accessed by the U.S. and allies, cybersecurity becomes a massive challenge.
“Wherever you are globally, you have to securely be able to consume all these services at all these different layers — at the unclassified, classified .... secret and top secret levels of the network,” Mahlock said.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.