In late September, Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic engineers and scientists traveled to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, to support Marines using state-of-the-art communications systems during Island Marauder 2019.
Jointly sponsored by Marine Corps Systems Command and Marine Corps Combat Development Command/Combat Development and Integration, the annual technology demonstration and exercise aimed to prove the efficacy of cutting-edge command and control (C2) products.
A contingent of approximately 65 Department of Defense (DOD) decision-makers — including NIWC Atlantic Commanding Officer Capt. Wesley Sanders — closely observed the culminating event on Sept. 25 to better understand how a naval expeditionary force might use the technologies.
“Just because you give the warfighter tools doesn’t mean there’s one cookie-cutter way to use them,” said NIWC Atlantic’s Karl Eimers, chief engineer for Island Marauder 2019. “That’s just the history of modern warfare — outsmart your enemy by better using tools available to everyone.”
Island Marauder 2019 involved over 100 Marines coming ashore, linking up with host-nation forces, detecting an imminent threat and fighting the enemy in a disaggregated and deteriorating situation.
Technologies demonstrated during the training scenario included Networking on the Move (NOTM), Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Common Handheld (MCH), Tactical Service Oriented Architecture (TSOA), Target Handoff System version 2 (THSv2) and Joint Tactical Common Operational Picture (COP) Workstation (JTCW).
To fight while on the move required demonstrating fast and secure C2 capabilities through systems like NOTM, one of the overarching technologies showcased in Hawaii.
“When commanders want to push troops forward, NOTM lets them have eyes-on while still maintaining command and control to fight the fight,” Eimers said. “In Island Marauder, Marines moved quickly from shelters, jumped into separate vehicles and wirelessly demonstrated that effectiveness.
“Marines on the move present a much harder target to the bad guys,” said Eimers.
NIWC Atlantic technical experts helped integrate NOTM with everything from command posts and vehicles to MCH and THSv2 devices. In the hands of Marines, the tablets helped squad leaders communicate securely, scan the tactical picture using satellite imagery and even plot GPS coordinates to call for mortar, artillery and naval gunfire.
Through NOTM, advancing Marines and their commanders can access networks that traditionally sat in tents far from the fighting. It also helps Marines establish expeditionary advanced bases of operations (EABOs), an emerging component of naval warfare.
NOTM technology was also demonstrated aboard the military’s Utility Task Vehicle (UTV), a rugged, lightweight vehicle made for off-roading.
Outside of the tablets and UTV, most of Island Marauder was a demonstration of sophisticated software capabilities not visible to observers, said Alex Hahn, team lead for Marine Air Ground Task Force C2 Systems and Applications (MC2SA), which handles U.S. Marine Corps software programs such as TSOA and JTCW.
She said MC2SA team members worked past the normal hurdles of setting up a network and joining disparate systems, ultimately integrating each of the programs and applications to run seamlessly in the background.
“In terms of taking existing systems and bringing along more developmental technology, or a baseline that hasn’t been fielded yet, I think the scenario was executed quite well,” Hahn said.
Jonathan James, MC2SA’s TSOA technical lead at NIWC Atlantic, said emerging technologies like TSOA — which interfaces with software applications such as JTCW to support C2 operations — must work well with NOTM, MCH and other tactical communications systems.
“NOTM is the platform everyone will be focused on with the new EABO scenario,” he said. “There won’t be a tent with laptops. Marines will be dispersed with tablets. So ensuring the technologies are integrated is a top priority.”
While the demonstration utilized fielded and proven systems, Island Marauder 2019 was a good opportunity to evaluate those systems for their ability to incorporate emerging technologies, according to Ryan Longshore, NIWC Atlantic NOTM team technical lead.
He said studying and perfecting technology is a task that never ends.
“Sure you want every exchange of information across multiple systems to go seamlessly, but there is always room for improvement — and that means across all of our DOD systems,” said Longshore. “In the sand and filth and heat of battle, there is no such thing as a jam-proof rifle. That’s why those in the technology and engineering fields strive so hard to give our warfighters the edge down-range.”
Hahn said post-Island Marauder feedback and lessons learned will guide the direction of future development and capability prioritization.
After observing the exercise, NIWC Atlantic’s commanding officer said Marines operating in EABOs directly support the U.S. Navy’s ability to provide effective sea-controlled operations.
“At a national level, our Navy is called on to aggressively compete in shaping the security environment of the maritime domain by increasing our technological edge,” Sanders said. “The tools demonstrated during Island Marauder, particularly as they pertained to EABOs, helped fortify our capabilities in the littoral battlespace and support our Navy’s mission of maintaining maritime superiority.”
Eimers called Island Marauder 2019 an overall success in that it inspired serious debate and discussion among both Marine participants and observers.
“Technology has been a game-changer in modern warfare,” he said. “You need to effectively use it, defend your use of it and successfully counter your enemy’s use of it.
“Island Marauder gave Marines from lance corporal to seasoned field-grade officer a chance to give our engineers valuable feedback on these technologies,” said Eimers. “It sparked meaningful conversations about not just what these technologies can do, but how to use them, how to improve them and how to keep their capabilities relevant in the future.”