Digital Interoperability: Proof of Concept


02/23/2016: Capt. Michael Marron explains digital interoperability and the impact this communications technology will have on the battlefield, Dec. 15, 2015.

Featured in this video is Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 and Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2.

Credit: Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point:12/15/15

 C2 for Hybrid War: The Marines Rework the Challenge

In a recent article by Francis Tusa, the age of COIN has been decisively replaced by the demands of what he refers to as hybrid warfare, or his version of what the Marines used to call the Three Block War.

How much more hybrid can you get than the current situation over Syria?

The “traditional” view of hybrid warfare is an enemy who exhibits elements of different parts of the conflict spectrum – some cyber, some conventional, some guerrilla, perhaps.

But look at what US/French (and soon British …?) forces face over Syria today: a low level insurgent threat, which can exhibit some higher level capabilities, and then a very high intensity threat from Russian SAMs and combat aircraft.

Not a hybrid threat from one foe, but one made up of different enemies. That really is hybrid!

Under Marine Corps Commandant Amos, the need to shift from the COIN template as the dominant definer of military engagement was clearly recognized and the shift was started. The first clear statement of this shift was the “return to the sea,” or ramping up combat Marines experience operating from the ampbhious fleet.

As noted in a 2012 article about the shift:

“The Marine Corps is not designed to be a second land army,” he testified, despite its participation in land campaigns from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he said, the Corps “is designed to project power ashore from the sea.”

“Amphibious capabilities provide the means to conduct littoral maneuver – the ability to maneuver combat-ready forces from the sea to the shore and inland in order to achieve a positional advantage over the enemy.”

The Navy-Marine Corps team “provides the essential elements of access and forcible entry capabilities that are necessary components of a joint campaign,” Amos said.

Fortunately for the Marines, Amos’ passion to restore the naval services’ amphibious capabilities is shared by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert.

The launch of the Bold Alligator series of exercises in 2011 has highlighted the return to the sea, and focusing on enhanced capabilities to operate from the sea base. The maturing of the Osprey and the F-35B arriving on the sea base are powerful enablers for the Navy-Marine Corps team to shape an expeditionary force able to insert force, achieve objectives and withdraw.

Indeed, the Marines are working hard on shape modern and 21st century insertion forces, which can operate across the range of military operations or ROMO. A key part of insuring mission success is appropriate C2 to lead a flexible insertion force into an operation and out of that operation.

In an interview last year, the then  Commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigadehighlighted how important C2 transformation was to the evolving Marine Corps mission set.

In that interview, Major General Simcock highlighted that 2d MEB is shaping – namely a scalable, modular, and CJTF/JTF-capable Command Element, which can provide the leadership and direction for military insertion into fluid and dynamic crisis or contingency situations.

Recently, the Second Marine Air Wing (2nd MAW) held Wing Exercise 15 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, to train for the kind of C2 flexibility which could support an insertion force in a situation where a near peer competitor was projected to be involved, just the sort of situation which Tusa envisaged. A key part of that exercise was working flexible C2 of the kind necessary for expeditionary forces as opposed the decade behind of relatively static COIN C2.

According to Col. Kenneth Woodward, the exercise director and 2nd MAW operations officer, the exercise drew upon earlier work, as well as scenarios developed in other exercises, notably at 29 Palms, to provide the projected operational context to the exercise.

Continuity with regard to scenarios and linkage back to earlier exercises and preparing the ground for the next ones allows for the kind of dynamic learning process, which is crucial to shaping effective 21st century combat forces.

“What we’re trying to do here at the wing is to ensure that we’re able to provide the MAGTF with support tomorrow, today, as well as we did in the past operations, and build on lessons learned. And continue to focus and train our battle staff to be able to set forth ways to use evolving capabilities as well.”

Col. Woodward emphasized that having an exercise Wing Exercise 15 was very time consuming and challenging so they would do only a couple of such exercises in a year.

“It’s hard at wing level to train ourselves. It’s very difficult because we don’t have higher headquarters right here that could play that role. To do that we have to simulate the different players in the command process to ensure that Wing level C2 is able to meet the evolving challenges in a fluid battlespace.”

What was simulated in the Wing Exercise was the ability to operate in a land environment when a near peer competitor was part of the combat situation. This meant that they had to exercise defensive and offensive actions to support the force, and to ensure operational success.

“We had a near peer competitor, and we had a robust aviation elements and, and surface-to-air defenses to counter their offensive capabilities and in our scenario, we were reacting to some of their attacks.”

Expeditionary logistics are crucial to a dynamic operation which can not rely on pre-existing K-Marts to provide supplies for the operation.

According to Col. Woodward, during the exercise they established a FOB to provide support for the advancing forces. But the question then is how to empower the FOB as part of the dynamic force?

“How do you supply it? Can you do it via truck? Do you get up there via a KC-130? Where’s gas can be stored once you get up there? How are the aircraft are going to get in and out of the FOB?

How do you establish communications at the FOB with our NIPRNet or our SIPRNet?

There are a lot of variables to deal with and to consider.

Our logisticians and our aviation ground support division, were key players in coming up with a plan during the exercise to answer those sorts of questions.”

And the fog of war such as pilots getting sick on mess food and other such intrusions were included in the exercise as well.

Lessons learned in the exercises and real world combat are folded into dynamic learning process so that the Marines can prepare for Hybrid War of the type which Francis Tusa envisages.