No doubt one of the Marine Corps’ top priori- ties is the continued push for digital interop- erability across the Marine Air-Ground Task
Force (MAGTF), from airborne platforms to ground
forces and shipboard commanders.
MajGen Lawrence D. Nicholson is hot about getting digital interoperability for the warfighter now. He
wants Marines — not just aircrews, but young squad
leaders — to finally have real-time data and information on the go that they need to make decisions and
complete the mission.
But the Marine Corps just is not there yet. Nicholson,
the 1st Marine Division commander at Camp Pendleton,
Calif., tells of the early 1980s when he was a lieutenant
riding in helicopters with his infantrymen, their minds
etched with carefully planned missions. They were flying in the dark, literally.
“As soon as that [helicopter]
ramp came up, it was lights out,” the
seasoned combat veteran recounted
during a San Diego panel discussion
on networks and warfighters during
the WEST 2015 defense and com-
munications industry conference in
February. “It was lights out on any-
thing we knew about where we were
headed. It was lights out on any in-
formation we knew about any
change in the disposition of the ene-
my or any situation that changed.
You were just hopeful that the pilot
would put you in the right LZ [land-
ing zone]. That was always a benny.
If you got out at the right LZ, then
maybe you had a shot at accom-
plishing your mission.”
Even as a company commander
several years later, “that didn’t
change,” Nicholson said. And as
commander of 2nd Battalion, 2nd
Marines, preparing to go into Kosovo, he was lucky if “a
crew chief would hand you something scribbled” perhaps
noting a new LZ before realizing, “Now, what do I do?”
The ability to collaborate with Marines on other hel-
icopters, share information or change the mission
plans en route “just didn’t exist,” he said. “It’s now
2015. Guess what? Not a whole lot has changed since.”
Despite his frustrations, just in the last year, he and
his division are full-bore on giving them digital inter-
operability — he calls it “command and control on the
move” — with a closed Secret Internet Protocol Router
system for collaboration and discussion on the fly. The
division experiment uses equipment Marines already
have, notably the AN/PRC-117G Harris wideband tac-
tical radio, to provide a limited interim capability. The
ultimate goal? A truly joint digital interoperability that
can link every warfighter.
Marines aim to close the gap in digital interoperability
to provide ‘on-the-move’ command and control
By GIDGET FUENTES, Special Correspondent
The Warfighter in the Loop
The pace is picking up for Marine Corps digital interoperability
systems and concepts that provide command and control for the
Marine Air-Ground Task Force across the battlespace, down to
the small-unit level on the move.
; In April, 1st Marine Division trained with network-equipped light
armored vehicle and MV-22B platforms to see how the tactical
network system can support mobile company-level missions with
real-time data and information.
; The Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course in April drew top
officials to Yuma, Ariz., for digital interoperability tactical demonstrations, including an airborne secure Wi-Fi network and unmanned
systems such as aerostats that extend the digital network.
; Also in April, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit is the first to
deploy with a secure Wi-Fi-like system and a box-like hub that
accommodates voice and data communications and links different tactical radios, including satellite communications.