In late September, a team of Marines, engineers and other subject matter experts converged upon Marine Corps Base Hawaii to execute Island Marauder 2019.
Island Marauder is an annual technology demonstration jointly executed by Marine Corps Systems Command, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Combat Development and Integration, Naval Information Warfare Center-Atlantic and III Marine Expeditionary Force.
The demonstration offered a rare opportunity for SMEs and Marine Corps stakeholders to observe Marines integrating current and future technology together to perform mission-critical capabilities in a realistic future fight environment: the littoral battlespace.
“This exercise is very different because people are able to learn, explore and ask questions,” said Maj. Austin Bonner, team lead for the Networking-On-the-Move program at MCSC. “We had [Ground Combat Element] advocates from [Plans, Policies and Operations], the requirements people from CD&I, engineers and developers from [Naval Information Warfare Center], the acquisition people from [MCSC], and the customer: the warfighter.”
“There’s nothing better than taking our engineers out of the office and putting them in the environment where Marines are going to fight in the future. If the commandant says LOCE and EABO are the future fights that we need to focus on, then we need to get the engineers out there with Marines in the environment they operate in every day.” Capt. Julian D’Orsaneo, exercise director and project officer for NOTM Airborne systems at MCSC
MCSC’s Networking-On-the-Move, Marine Air-Ground Task Force Common Handheld, Target Handoff System Version 2, Tactical Services Oriented Architecture, Joint Common Operational Picture Tactical Workstation and Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System—all enhanced with advanced capabilities—were among the communication technologies MCSC and CD&I aggregated and integrated to demonstrate and validate critical warfighting concepts and tactics.
The output of these efforts will prove vital to both deterring and dominating future conflicts in support of littoral operations in contested environments and expeditionary advanced basing operations—two priorities highlighted in the latest Commandant’s Planning Guidance.
The mission Marines faced during Island Marauder was modeled to directly support the complex issues in the CPG.
During the exercise, Marines from III MEF participated in a fictional scenario during which they used communication technologies to re-establish control of compromised islands in the Pacific to regain control of air and sea navigation for the U.S. and its allies. The main challenge Marines faced was executing disaggregated digital command and control, as the scenario required.
“We brought MCSC systems at different levels of maturity—whether they’re fully fielded as a program of record, are currently in development, or as part of an engineering change proposal—out here and put them in the hands of Marines,” said Bonner. “Being able to conduct this exercise with the Marine stakeholder and the customer enables us to perfect some of the concepts that haven’t been fully flushed out yet to drive how we develop some of these systems in the future.”
Engineers and SMEs on the ground were able to evaluate the systems’ performance first-hand and fix interoperability issues before the future deployment of the enhanced technologies, based on feedback from the Marines.
Immediately following the exercise, engineers and other SMEs from MCSC and Naval Information Warfare Center were able to receive feedback from Marines about the challenges and successes of using the emerging technologies in a realistic environment.
One of the key capabilities required to succeed in the future battlespace is highly-mobile, reliable and secure satellite communications. One significant NOTM team initiative is developing new ways to make the capability more scalable. The NOTM-Utility Task Vehicle prototype was one of the emerging capabilities evaluated during the exercise.
“There are certain operations we do at the battalion level or higher that require NOTM—currently fielded on a Humvee—which works because we have enough lift and time to bring that capability in,” said Bonner. “But, as you go smaller—think of a raid or any type of special ‘I need to get in and out fast’-type of operation—that’s where the UTV comes in to play.
“It’s all about making a scalable capability,” added Bonner. “We’re currently [available to provide NOTM] at a battalion level or higher, but now we’re saying we can get down to the company and squad level, really pushing our capability to be used up and down a range of operations.”
The next steps for MCSC entails processing all of the valuable information gathered during the exercise and using it to make the gear better for Marines. MCSC experts emphasized the importance of receiving direct feedback from Marines. With this exercise, both Bonner and D’Orsaneo hope that Marines in the fleet feel empowered to voice their opinions and concerns to senior leadership.
“Through Island Marauder, I think it’s key to show Marines at the lowest level that they have a voice,” said D’Orsaneo, whose background prior to joining MCSC was in tactical communications. “As we saw here, there are lance corporals who got the attention of the guys building, designing and writing the requirements to get them what they need.
“To Marines in the fleet: take advantage of these opportunities because there are passionate individuals here who are working every day to get Marines what they need,” D’Orsaneo added. “Sometimes they just need a rudder check.”