Each year, Marine Corps Systems Command acquires a range of ground-based innovations designed to meet the needs of warfighters. This includes infantry weapons, fire support technologies, communications equipment, intelligence systems and much more.
Most of these capabilities share a common thread: information technology.
“You’d be hard-pressed to name any device or component, whether commercial or in the defense market, that doesn’t involve computing,” said Brig. Gen. AJ Pasagian, commander of MCSC. “Computing is involved in every aspect of our lives today.”
Since the dawn of the 21st century, the Marine Corps has gradually placed more emphasis on exploiting computer components. It has since become integrated into the Corps supply chain and is integral to achieving current and future goals.
IT is much more than e-mails and virtual meeting rooms. Marines rely on computers when using interactive data collection capabilities, participating in modeling and simulation activities, connecting to broadband networks, and for recruitment and retention purposes.
“Computing is an integral part of our lives today,” said Col. Robert Bailey, military deputy to the Corps’ Program Executive Officer Digital. “We are engaged with adversaries through our computing resources and our networks, and we must maneuver and win in this area as we do at sea, on land and in the air.”
MCSC acquires ground-based weapons and other innovative systems that include data packages, cybersecurity products and information security elements. In many cases, computing within these capabilities allows the Marine Corps to replace subcomponents rather than entire systems.
The Marine Corps continues to acquire systems designed to support expeditionary operations worldwide, meeting the goals of Force Design 2030. Computing serves as a mainstay in future operations and provides tactical benefits, such as improved knowledge of the situation, to the naval forces.
These capabilities include tactical tablets such as the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Common Handheld, intelligence systems that include the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System-Marine Corps, and satellite communications technologies like Networking On-the-Move, among others.
“I believe that IT is a huge enabler in the direction the Corps is taking with respect to the Commander’s Force Design 2030 vision,” Bailey said. “The Marine Corps intends to leverage the benefits of modern computing, storage, and learning to build and sustain an optimal force. It will be a journey, but we are committed to it and we will get there.
“We embrace change in areas that will ultimately make us better.” Brig. General AJ Pasagian, Commander of MCSC
IT Provisioning Changes:
Bailey said achieving the Force Design 2030 goals requires a greater focus on cybersecurity.
Cyberspace has created another realm for national competition and military conflict. History has shown criminals and foreign entities infiltrating cyberspace in an attempt to steal technological information, disrupt the US economy and government processes, and threaten critical infrastructure, according to a 2018 DOD report.
Malware attacks can be particularly damaging to national security. Notably, in 2008, foreign actors carried out a cyberattack on the Department of Defense, hacking into US military computers and compromising critical data. The event triggered the creation of the United States Cyber Command.
“IT threats are real,” said Michael Cirillo, senior IT advisor at MCSC. “You can’t read the news without seeing a headline about how IT failed, was compromised, or was used to cause trouble.”
The Marine Corps is dedicated to positioning itself to counter such threats while supporting the warfighter. MCSC does this in several ways. The first is to train its workforce. The command has instilled its culture with awareness, training and knowledge of the risks and threats that IT can pose.
To adapt to evolving threats, MCSC has also improved its IT acquisition process. Pasagian said the command understands that cyberspace manifests threats through the Internet as well as the Marine Corps’ use of computers in certain missions and functions.
In 2015, the Marine Corps analyzed its cyber acquisition model and ultimately came up with 26 recommendations to improve Marine Corps cyber acquisition, which the commander approved. MCSC has gone to great lengths to implement these in its acquisition process.
This action plan involved the development and implementation of an emergency and urgent cybernetic acquisition process. An emergency cyber acquisition process meets capability needs in less than 30 days. Rush process delivers in less than 180 days.
It didn’t take long for MCSC to take advantage of this new process.
In 2015, the fleet urgently needed IT equipment. MCSC implemented the emergency cyber procurement process, bringing together experts in procurement, finance, engineering, logistics and more. The order ultimately delivered the software in less than seven days and the hardware in less than 21 days.
This was the DoD’s first rapid cyber supply, Cirillo said. MCSC has shared its IT acquisition process with other departments, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the National Security Agency. The MCSC also helped the USCC set up its congressionally mandated Cyber Acquisition Authority.
Photo taken by Staff Sgt. Jacob Osborne
“Fieling this ability activated [Marine Forces Cyber Command] to achieve Initial Operating Capability,” Cirillo said. “Although this does not apply to all IT purchases, when something is needed quickly, MCSC can provide it.”
Not only can MCSC deliver IT systems quickly, but these teams of skilled professionals ensure capabilities are effective through a thorough development and evaluation process. This will be especially important in the years to come as adversaries attempt to advance their own technologies.
Capt. Frank A. Wleklinski, cyberspace warfare officer and team leader at Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command, said controlling the cyber domain is a priority for the Marine Corps. The service strives to achieve offensive or defensive effects in the most important terrain to give commanders and leaders options for seizing and maintaining the initiative.
“Competition and conflict will increasingly take place simultaneously in the virtual and physical realms,” Wleklinski said. “As we begin to network more and more assets, the overlap between physical and virtual will be heavily challenged.”
One such virtual asset is the cloud, an invisible network that provides remote data storage and processing services without the need for direct, active user management. Efforts are underway by MCSC to provide cloud capabilities, as the Marine Corps continues to work with the Navy to acquire collaborative cloud services.
Bailey said migrating to the cloud allows the Marine Corps to consolidate applications, security and infrastructure in a smart, secure and scalable way. Cloud computing offers both cost, security and operational advantages.
“The Marine Corps is smartly moving to the cloud,” Bailey said. “The goal is to leverage the company’s infrastructure, security, services and platforms where possible, and continue to deliver critical combat capabilities when operating in a poor communication environment.
Cloud computing will be particularly important in achieving Force Design’s goals.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, espoused the need for the Corps to become a more naval force. He believes becoming a more amphibious expeditionary force can support both the Marine Corps and the Navy.
The concept of expeditionary forward base operations will require a more mobile force that can operate in denied, degraded, intermittent, or low-bandwidth environments. The cloud allows Marines to access the network through the Marine Corps Enterprise Network in such austere environments.
“We want to understand how our Marines operate at echelon and provide them with the services, applications, security and infrastructure they need to succeed while considering employment,” Bailey said.
Working with the Navy:
Bailey said the Marine Corps continues to establish and leverage existing development and delivery pipelines that can increase the frequency of delivering and improving software capabilities. He believes it will also make the Marine Corps more agile and responsive to cyber threats.
The MCSC found ways to create tactical network engineering environments similar to those employed by the Navy. The Marine Corps has replicated its command and control architecture with Naval Information Warfare Center partners that perform similar missions for shipboard environments.
“We are actively becoming a more naval force, and part of that is partnering with the Navy and growing the naval network,” Bailey said. “We are looking for opportunities to share resources and follow the same technical paths where it makes sense, with an eye toward interoperability.”
The Marine Corps uses this environment not only with the Navy, but also with the Army and the Joint Force. The MCSC contributes to the Army’s “Project Convergence” efforts, which is their contribution to joint command and control of all domains military-wide. JAD2C is a concept where data will link land, air, sea, cyber and space capabilities.
The network serves as an effective risk identification and mitigation tool, Bailey said.
“It’s going to save us money, speed up capability delivery, and make us smart quickly by modeling these architectures with both hardware and virtualized capabilities in the loop,” he said.
Continuing to develop IT capabilities can help build partnerships with critical private sector entities to help support military operations. The Marine Corps may also share information with other federal agencies, foreign partners and allies who have advanced cyber capabilities, increase communication and efficiency.
“We use tools and processes and leverage relationships and partnerships effectively,” Pasagian said. “We embrace change in areas that will ultimately make us better.”