Ways Ahead for C-2 Enabled Marines in Distributed Operations for the Peer Fight


By Robbin Laird

During my July 2021 visit to 2nd Marine Air Wing (2d MAW), I had a chance to visit again with Marine Air Control Group 28, the Marines who provide command and control (C2) and air defense for the distributed force.  I met with the Commanding Officer Col. McCarthy, the Operations Officer Lt. Col. Mui, the Operations Chief Master Gunnery Sgt. Braxton, and with the Assistant Operations Officer Capt. Megliorino. MACG-28 deploys personnel around the world as part of II MEF.

MACG-28 consists of around 2,000 Marines who collectively enable 2d MAW to fight as a cohesive and highly lethal force via the establishment and employment of the Marine Air Command and Control System (MACCS).  The MACCS, a collection of C2 agencies supporting the six functions of Marine Aviation, is often referred to as the Commanding General’s weapon system because it provides him with the sensors, communications, and situational awareness necessary to employ aviation in support of II MEF in a decisive manner.

Col. McCarthy elaborated on this by stating “this is an incredibly exciting time to be a C2 professional, more than any other time in my career I’m seeing an appreciation across the Service for the capabilities MACCS Marines provide to the Marine Corps.  When you look at the kill webs we are trying to establish, how we need to integrate long range fires, and how we are going to C2 in a degraded environment; these are the challenges we are currently getting after with a group of incredibly talented and innovative Marines.”

Marine Corps C2 has historically been focused on the concept of centralized command and decentralized control; this philosophy nests perfectly with how the Marine Corps plans to fight in the future via distributed operations integrated around mission command.

They have a core template which they are building from as the Marines shift from the Middle East land wars to shaping a crisis management force which can fight as a globally deployable Naval Expeditionary Force in readiness against potential adversaries.  With regard to naval integration, connecting Navy and Marine Corps C2 systems has historically been a challenge but that is being worked.

As one participant put it: “One of the key things that’s happening right now is that all the L-class ships are being outfitted with the same C2 system that we use to do air command and control ashore. Our primary system for C2 is a system called CAC2S, the Common Aviation Command & Control System.”  Integrated operating concepts, capabilities, and training will ensure the naval team cannot be excluded from any region in a contested environment.

“Now the Navy is putting it on their L-class ships, and the program is called CAC2S Afloat. It’s our program, but it’s integrated with the ship. It’s the blue side of the comm architecture and it’s going into all the L-class ships. That’s a big win for us in terms of Naval integration. We’re excited to see that thing come online, and it’s going to help us in the future.”

And the Marines are working innovative new ways to work with the U.S. Navy. One example is an upcoming exercise off of the Atlantic Coast. The Marines are working a number of vignettes with the Navy to explore ways to integrate more effectively to deliver meaningful combat effects.

A key example is taking the core USMC sensors, and deploying it to an expeditionary base within contested maritime terrain in support of fleet operations to disrupt, deny, and deter aggressor actions. As one participant underscored: “We’re going establish a sensor expeditionary advanced base. And we’re going to control intercepts. We’ll provide an air defense function in support of the fleet during this exercise. It’s a good chance for us to work with the Navy in an integrated air missile defense role.”

One of the participants I had met during a visit to MAWTS-1 in 2018. And during that visit, what was being addressed is how to deal with the challenge of working C2 in a degraded and disrupted environment.

As I wrote in that piece: The shift from counter-insurgency habits, equipment and operations is a significant one and is clearly a work in progress. It is about shedding some past learned behavior as well in terms of shaping more appropriate ways to operate as a force in a contested electronic warfare environment. The cracking of the Enigma code in World War II by the allies involved in part German soldiers and sailors using techniques which exposed the enigma system to intrusive learning from the British and the other allies working to break the Enigma Code.

“In today’s situation, the Marines are facing a similar situation in which a combination of technology and appropriate combat techniques in handling data in a combat environment is a key element of the combat learning cycle as well. And disruptive technologies, which the adversary might use against the Marines, were being fielded to test the USMC approach.”

Since that time, the Marines are working TTPs to deal with the reality of operating in the contested communications space. As one participant put it: “I was at WTI when we started to focus on contested communications. Since then, we have been working our TTPs and our understanding to deal with jamming and radio interference. And the Marine Information Groups are clearly helping in our learning process.”

A final issue we discussed is how technology is shaping new capabilities to operate at the tactical edge and for C2 to shape force capabilities. The miniaturization of C2 technologies allows small groups of Marines to deploy in support of a distributed force and bring C2 capability that historically required large operational basing to deliver.

With an increasingly small footprint, how best to leverage this capability to support an integrated distributed force? And as the Navy and Marine Corps finds ways to integrate more effectively how can force distribution enable dynamic strike and targeting?

The question then remains: how best to operate the force to work organically or integrated with joint or coalition forces to deliver the desired crisis management or combat effect?

Answering this question will define the evolution of the USMC over the decades ahead.

Credit Photo: Maj. Gen. Michael Cederholm, commanding general, 2d Marine Aircraft Wing, speaks with Col. Michael McCarthy, commanding officer Marine Air Control Group 28, and Lt. Col. Howard Mui, commanding officer, Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron, during a command visit at Cherry Point, North Carolina, July 23rd, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)