By Robbin Laird
From my first visit to MAWTS-1 with Ed Timperlake to MAWTS-1 to my most recent visit in November 2023, I have been impressed with how focused the team is upon force integration which can be created with real forces, not power points or by wargames or what my friend Ed Timperlake has referred to as “cubical commandos.”
In my discussions with MAWTS-1 in 2020 and then my visit that year, one of the most perceptive of the officers with whom I discussed the challenges facing force integration was LtCol Barron, ADT&E Department Head at MAWTS-1.
In a 2018 interview with the then head of ADT&E, the department head described their role. According to LtCol Schiller, a key function of ADT&E is to assist in the process of informing future requirements. “It is part of our mission to help requirement officers in Headquarters Marine Corps. We do this by taking items from DARPA, research labs, industry and the PMAs and integrate them into WTI courses. We then provide an after-action report with our assessment on their performance and utility to the force.”
In other words, ADT&E is focused on the core task of fighting today with the current force but also looking forward to how to enhance that force’s capabilities in the near to mid-term as well.
As Barron faces the end of his career with the USMC, I discussed with him what I see as a key challenge facing the U.S. forces, namely, not getting full value out of the systems which they already possess such as an F-35 global force.
I asked him how we could address this shortfall.
LtCol Barron: “I think you’re absolutely right. The problem we face is how do we leverage these unique and disruptive capabilities that America and our coalition partners have, because we’re not getting the full benefit of them.
“And I think the way to maximize the use of the fantastic systems that we have is by further integrating our people.
“I think intelligence, command and control, and fires are the elements that need further integration. And when we think about intelligence, it is, all of our collectors, whether it is a fifth Gen aircraft that does a great job of sensing the environment, all the way down to individual threat sensors we need to be sharing that information to make a combined intelligence picture for our intelligence community, need to feed it through our command-and-control elements.
“And I don’t mean a single command control element, just like everything’s sensing, everything is contributing to command and control architecture, and then enabling the decision makers human on the loop or in the loop, depending on the situation to enable both kinetic and non-kinetic fires.
“That’s very long answer.
“But at the end of it, the thing that I think will enable this is ownership within each community. Ownership that this is our fight, that it’s our responsibility. It’s really easy to say, I’m an attack helicopter pilot, that’s my job, I don’t need to worry about it. It’s hard to say, I’m going to support digital interoperability by passing what I see through a command-and-control architecture to someone who can make a decision. It’s also my job to win. And the way I do that is feed the common operating picture for the decision maker.”
We then addressed the question of building an operational common operational picture and what that really means for a combat force.
LtCol Barron: “We say we want a common operating picture. What is the reality of that? Are we going to all have a single COP? Or are we going to have multiple systems that talk together?
“There’s so many different communities. Within the Marine Corps, you’ve got aviation command and control, you’ve got the ground combat element that has its own systems, you have intelligence cops, and that is just within one service.
“So how do we get everybody on the same picture? Or how do we share that information? It’s, a struggle. That’s where in the near term, I think the rubber hits the road. What’s our common message format?”
He then highlighted a community within the USMC where he thinks such progress is being made.
LtCol Barron: “I think one of the ways ahead is for the communities to want that interoperability. I have found the V 22 community is really on board with their mesh network manager in the back of their aircraft. That community has embraced that airborne gateway.
“And it’s phenomenal. They are medium lift pilots and crews, but if you talk to any one of our students from that community you can have a great conversation about what’s going on in the back of their aircraft with respect to waveform message formats and which antenna is doing which type of transmission. It’s truly remarkable.
“Ownership and improved integration are cost effective force multipliers that dwarf the capability of standalone new systems.”
Featured Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Paul R. Barron, right, a UH-1Y Venom instructor assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1), inspects cargo to be lifted during Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) Course 2-15 near Yuma, Ariz., April 25, 2015.
WTI is a seven-week event hosted by MAWTS-1 cadre. MAWTS-1 provides standardized tactical training and certification of unit instructor qualifications to support Marine aviation Training and Readiness and assists in developing and employing aviation weapons and tactics.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jodson B. Graves, 2nd MAW Combat Camera/Released.