The Right Force in the Right Place at the Right Time: Getting C2 Right


Shaping Expeditionary Command and Control: From Javelin Thrust to Bold Alligator 2012

In an interview with Col. Kevin Iiams, currently the standardization officer for 2nd MAW, the Colonel discussed the evolving approach of the USMC to shaping expeditionary command and control capability.  He discussed his previous experience in Javelin Thrust-11 (JT-11), his recent experience in the simulation center at Camp Lejeune for Bold Alligator-12 (BA-12), and his experience flying in the F-35 systems test bed, the BAC1-11.

SLD: Could you give our readers a snapshot of your career and experience?

MV-22 Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 261 prepare to land on the flight deck of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) during exercises for Bold Alligator 2012. Credit: USN, 2/2/12

Col. Iiams: I am now at Second Marine Aircraft Wing working for the Commanding General, Major General Davis.  I’m an FA-18 pilot, former MAWTS instructor, Squadron Commander, have worked as the Director of exercises in training for USCENTCOM and most recently gave up Command of a Marine Air Group (MAG) in Fort Worth, Texas.  While in that position at Fort Worth, we ran the Marine Corps’ largest exercise for 2011, JT-11. This was a MEB level exercise that included deployment of an entire MAG ACE HQ and associated command and control architecture.

SLD: Where did you do this exercise?

Col. Iiams: We conducted the majority of the ACE evolutions in Yuma, AZ.  We took the entire MAG-41 headquarters, along with the majority of my MAG squadrons, squadrons from our sister MAG, elements of Army rotary wing units and we deployed to Yuma, Arizona, and to airfields in Northern California (Bridgeport, CA and Hawthorne, Nevada), in order to support the Regimental GCE operations that were going on up at Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC).

In other words, it was a distributed operation conducted over several hundred miles with a deployable expeditionary ACE.

We set up a complete expeditionary communications network.  We operated via satellite and terrestrial links to communicate between my forward headquarters in Hawthorne, Nevada, and my Tactical Air Command Center in Yuma, Arizona, trading real time secure and unsecure data back and forth.

SLD: In effect, this distributed operation was expeditionary in character in an austere operating environment.

Col. Iiams: That is a good way to characterize the effort.  The challenge was to maintain sustained long-distance expeditionary communications.  We focused on trying to maintain the secure connection all the way up to Hawthorne, Nevada so that we could conduct command and control of our rotary wing platforms that were supporting the Ground Combat Element (GCE) portion of the exercise in MWTC.

SLD: What was the size of the operational area?

Col. Iiams: We conducted operations over several hundred square miles in both the northern (CA) and southern (AZ) AOs with a 600 mile shot between them. Our TACC and MAG headquarters were located down in Yuma at the traditional MAWTS-1 WTI setup sites.  We utilized USMC organic expeditionary C3 capability throughout the evolutions, including the TPS-59 radar, MUX data links and 4th MAW’s CAP Set for the TACC.  We remained expeditionary for the entire exercise and didn’t plug into “house power” or “house Internet.”  We maintained all of our power generation via the tactical assets that we had deployed.SLD: The last tactical mile kind of thing in an austere environment.

Col. Iiams: Yes we did this in the Arizona desert in the middle of the summer. It was a challenge because we were trying to see if we could provide the power requirements to run, and also maintain, all of the required electronic assets.  Did we understand the power generation requirements not only for all of the primary systems, but the ancillary systems (cooling) as well?  As well we were determined to see if the equipment would stand up to the tests that we expected?

We deployed the new SWAN mobile system, and a key question was whether it could stand up to the heat of a Southwest desert summer. The sun just beats down on top of the SWAN and overheats it to the point where it’s just not able to function.  The circuit cards tend to shut down in that kind heat.

However, some of the most challenging problems are solved by ingenious Marines, who figure out that “I can cut MRE boxes and lay those over the top of exposed critical components, so now they are shaded, but still have ventilation.”  Low and behold an hour later, that’s just enough for the system to now come back into operation.

The SWAN also needed some additional cooling to the main system.  Again, a “thinking” Marine set up an external air conditioner, constructed a cardboard vent system and pumped cool air directly into the back of the SWAN. The next thing that we know, the system is cooled down enough that it can operate continuously.

The inventiveness and determination of the average young Marine saved the day and put us back on the map.

SLD: So moving forward to Bold Alligator 2012, what did you do on the C2 side in the exercise?

Col. Iiams: I was in the simulation center at Camp Lejeune, supporting the ACE battle staff with the MAGTF Tactical Warfare Simulation (MTWS) system.

It’s a high-resolution exercise simulation system where, via a console operator, we can launch airplanes with specific ordinance loads; drive them to certain areas of the battlefield; loiter those aircraft as directed, and then, as per commands from the training audience Command and Control authority, strike targets and/or execute tasking.

The system continually “tells” the operator what it sees on the battlefield, and the sim staff confer back and forth with the exercise command and control system to relay that information.

The live command and control (training audience) can then make decisions on what they want to do with the simulated aviation assets based on that information.  So, via synthetic means, we’re actually sensing the exercise battlefield, and relaying the information that would normally come from the airborne aircrew back to command and control.  The operators then execute the actual command and control decisions of the training audience in the simulated system.  Once pushed to the target or objective, the computer system rolls the dice, per se, and generates a synthetic result, which is passed back to the ACE Commander or controller.

This allows the Commanders to make real time assessments of their actions and effects in the battlespace, and make follow-on decisions.

Via the Sim Center staff, the ACE Commander was able to “move” all of his synthetic assets, just as if they were live assets.  Thus we were in a unique position to watch the decision cycle of the live command and control: how they were sensing their battle space, at least through our eyes, and then, how they were utilizing the synthetic assets on the battlefield to carry out their missions.

SLD: And how did you find that whole process?  It sounds interesting, actually.

Col. Iiams: It was extremely interesting.  At first, we clearly overwhelmed our ACE with simulation.  We had an extremely robust set of synthetic assets and brought them into play too quickly.  At the outset of the evolution it was essential that the “live fly” assets receive priority for tasking, coordination, and deconfliction from the real time ACE command and control who were tied in with Navy command and control.

However, as part of the exercise plan was to conduct C3 across the live-to-synthetic seams, the exercise had merged the synthetic and real time data field tracks.  The result was that all of the synthetic tracks were also showing up as live player tracks in the system.  As the heavy initial flow of live assets were moving through the battlespace, it became untenable to differentiate the synthetic and live tracks.

To safely manage all of this, the battle space was subsequently sectored. We took all of the synthetic assets and rerouted them, so that on the “scopes” of the common air picture of the MEB/ACE and the Navy controllers, the synthetic assets were in a separate piece of the battle space, and easily distinguishable from the live assets.

The ACE and controllers then had much greater certainty that when they were making real time decisions that they were focused on the priority live assets and could neglect the synthetic assets if required.  As the exercise advanced, the ACE became very adept and grew increasingly confident in their situational awareness and capability.  They stepped up their tempo and began exerting far more command and control over the synthetic piece of the exercise.  By the time we were finishing the exercise, we were being fully utilized down in the simulation center.  All of the synthetic assets were being incorporated into the play of the problem, and we were getting continual “info-pull” and direction from the live command and control.

SLD: Based on your experiences, how do you see the command and control challenge for an ESG-MEB level of operation being quite different than ARG-MEU?

Col. Iiams: I’d say that the ACE element has to have command and control while they’re afloat.  If we expect to do operational maneuver from the sea (OMFTS) and keep the core logistics assets out at sea, we must strive to keep command and control as much as possible out at sea so that we don’t put those assets ashore that aren’t required to be there.

We have to find some way for the Marines to conduct Command and Control from afloat, if we are to truly embrace our amphibious concepts and the new capabilities of our emergent tactical platforms.

We have historically divided the Command authorities between the Navy, having command and control at the outsetof the amphibious operation  (afloat) and the Marines having command and control once established and ready to assume Command ashore.  The age old lessons from AWS and EWS are that the Commander of the Landing Force (CLF) picked up command from the Commander of the Amphibious Task Force (CATF) once the preponderance of assets were ashore and the CLF was ready and able to Command.

However, under OMFTS and STOM there’s a conceptual hurdle, that if we’re keeping as much at sea as possible, when and how do we transition these authorities.  For example, does the USMC TACC have to actually be ashore to Command and Control? Does command and control of aviation remaining “at sea” mean that it must stay with the Navy?

I believe Command and Control of amphibious aviation operations can stay “at sea,” and can still transition to the Marine Corps, but to enable this concept, the Navy-Marine Corps Team must find and adopt new methodology.

We should be able to network a new architecture, combined with assets, in with the Ground Combat Element (GCE), to provide them the aviation support that they need, but provide a means to keep all of those assets afloat if tactically/operationally prudent.  We should not have to rely solely on the Navy if we want do that.  Once we are conceptually ashore we want that traditional CLF/ Marine mindset to be preeminent, but how do we do that?

I think we can still do all of that from afloat, by either one of two approaches.

The first would be to have the Marine Command and Control, the TACC) embarked on a vessel and man the TACRON spaces, such as possibly the Kearsarge during BA-12.  As the Navy is conducting command and control from the Wasp, the TACC staff on the Kearsarge would be in essentially in an observe mode.  The Marine TACC would monitor the fight and have all networks up and operational.  When the transition of command and control is warranted, the Marine TACC Afloat (aboard the Kearsarge in the TACRON spaces, in this case) would then take command of air operations inside the amphibious battle space as the Wasp stood down and reverted to a monitor status.

A second method would be to have a single staff that would run air operations for an entire amphibious op of this nature.  The intent here would be to have a trained-homogenous “blue and green” staff in the TACRON spaces and two Commanders.  The complexities of battle handover would be much simpler with one staff.  One commander, a blue suitor, would run the initial portion of the assault, and when operational requirements are met, he would hand off the battle to the second Commander, a green suitor, who would step in to run the next phase in the battle space.  This would allow the utilization of the same communication means, the same command and control, and the same controllers, ensuring far less confusion.

This would still achieve that same traditional mindset shift from a maritime perspective on managing the battle to an amphibious land focused commander of the landing force perspective on the battle.

SLD: You flew on the BAC1-11.  What is your perspective on how the F-35B plays in the evolution of the ESG-MEB approach?

With the new capabilities represented by the Osprey, and the F-35B, the USMC will elevate its game and be able to more effectively put the “right force in the right place at the right time against the right enemy.” Credit Image: Bigstock

Col. Iiams: I think the capability of the platform to generate information, and then transmit that information in this environment is going to be crucial to those commanders that are afloat.

To be able to sense the battlefield that is downrange, over the amphibious horizon, and be able to provide that back to a commander who is far afloat, out of range of enemy assets in the maritime dominated area is essential to our concept.

This asset will have the necessary reach, to be able to control assets such as the tilt rotor MV22 and will be able to provide time sensitive information to enable long-distance operations from these types of platforms.

This is where operational maneuver from the sea is going.  This is ship to objective maneuver.  The F-35 asset is a key piece in essentially generating the intelligence, and the information needed for decision making for the Marine Corps to able to achieve its objectives.

The platform is a key asset to the way we want to fight with regard to operational maneuver from the sea, and ship to objective maneuver.

In these concepts we’re going to require a great deal of flexibility, as we reach farther and farther inland. We’re right-sizing our assault so that we put the right force in the right place, at the right time against the right enemy and objective, while minimizing overall footprint/exposure ashore.

We need to ensure that in real time, we know exactly what is happening in that piece of the battle space, or at least we know as much as possible about what’s happening in that piece in the battle space, so we can ensure we get it “right.”

If the Commander senses that something has changed on the battlefield with this asset’s real time information capability, he can reshape the battlefield, or change his own plans in real time.  This is the asset that gives the Marine Commander the ability to outpace and out-tempo the enemy in OMFTS/ STOM.

For a look at Javelin thrust see,

The ESG-MEB Approach in Bold Alligator 2012: Shaping an Approach to “Right Sizing, the Right Force in the Right Place at the R from on Vimeo.