As the Marine Corps considers a possible
future conflict against a near-peer adver-
sary, it is confronting two conflicting
To reduce its forces’ profile and complicate an
adversary’s targeting challenge, the Corps will need
to conduct distributed operations, with small units
deployed at considerable distance from each other,
and from their senior command and support elements,
while executing a coordinated campaign plan. Ideally,
that would require access to the global communications network providing a constant flow of command
and control, current intelligence, and precision navigation and targeting data, which primarily come through
But intelligence analysts warn that in a conflict
against an adversary with 21st-century technology,
they likely would be forced to operate in a “
satellite-denied” environment, with degraded or no incoming
long-distance information, and the knowledge that any
electronic emissions could enable the enemy to locate
and target their units.
To prepare for that future conflict, the Marines are
working on multiple levels to shed the comfortable
habits they have fallen into during a decade-plus of
counter-insurgency operations against a predominantly low-tech enemy and prepare to fight without
the assured connectivity the global information network provides.
To do that, service leaders are driving a combina-
tion of “back to the future” training in field craft that
was second nature to Marines half a century ago, and
rediscovery of the post-Vietnam “maneuver warfare”
They also are working to produce a cadre of Marines
with the skills to prevail in a conflict in which a burst
of ones and zeros could be as effective as kinetic fires.
That is one aim of the Marine Force 2025 study.
The major force behind these efforts is Commandant
Gen. Robert B. Neller, who remembers the tactical lessons he learned from the Vietnam veterans who trained
and mentored him as a young officer, and who has little patience with the generation of Marines who cannot
remember a world without the Internet and cell phones.
“These guys have been operating in an environment
where if they didn’t have access to the network, it was
‘how can that be? What do you mean my iPhone doesn’t
work,’” Neller told the Surface Navy Association Annual
Symposium in January. His blunt warning to those
Marines: “You’re not going to be able to do that.”
His Marines will have to learn how to protect the
network, how to function without it and how to mask
their electronic signature.
“If your signature can be detected, you can be
killed,” he said.
Much of the work to conceive, test and provide the
equipment, concepts and tactics needed to operate in
that network-degraded environment is being done
in the Combat Development and Integration (CDI)
Division and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory
(MCWL), which are parts of the Marine Corps Combat
Development Command (MCCDC).
Four officers from those organizations discussed
those efforts recently with Seapower at MCCDC’s
Quantico, Va., headquarters.
One important starting point for the evolution is
Neller’s orders to begin training to use paper maps
and compasses to navigate and to locate friendly and
MARINES RESEARCH CONCEPTS, TACTICS, TECHNOLOGIES
FOR SUCCESS IN A NETWORK-DEGRADED ENVIRONMENT
BY OTTO KREISHER, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
SPECIAL REPORT: NETWORK-CENTRIC WARFARE & COMMUNICATIONS
SEAPOWER FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017