Marines to divest legacy weapons for tech-oriented future

The Marine Corps is willing to swap out tanks and cannons for a better, more agile, cloud based network available in the most remote environments.

Kenneth Bible, C4 deputy director/deputy chief information officer at Marine Corps Headquarters, MCSC Cloud Technology Summit aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico Feb. 11, 2016. DOD photo by Mathuel Browne

Ken Bible talks cloud at Marine Corps HQ in 2016. (DOD photo by Mathuel Browne)

The Marine Corps wants its future force to be more network and cloud oriented, and plans to divest of some legacy weapons and communications systems to get there.

"We're trading artillery and cannons and tanks in order to get after command and control modernization, electronic warfare, alternatives for positioning, navigation and timing, long range fires," said Ken Bible, the Marine Corps' deputy CIO during a virtual AFCEA NOVA event April 17.

All of this, he said, has to be done on the assumption that defense budgets will be flat in the coming decade — an impetus for getting rid of storied programs and accepting more risk for developing technologies.

"You'll see some traditional systems probably will not get funded. There will be things that we will give up…things like the amphibious assault vehicle, even some of the vertical lift pieces," Bible said.

That pivot means absorbing more "near-term risk" to get future-proof information technologies that can survive and perform tasks like data analytics uninterrupted in remote, contested environments.

The Marine Corps released its 2030 force design in March. The report called for smaller units of deployment widely dispersed in large areas, more unmanned systems, and highlighted the need for better electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.

The report also named the network as fundamental to the future force design, specifically creating a "federated system of networks to ensure all elements can fight in a degraded command and control environment."

With an increased load on the network, Bible said the service has to determine what weapons and subsequent communications systems are needed to bring that vision to fruition. The CIO is currently working on a network modernization plan slated to be released in May.

But can the network handle it? Right now the simple answer is: there are gaps, especially when it comes to cloud, which is needed to support information and data environments interconnected across the services.

"I need to be able to have communications paths that can't be disrupted," he said. "I need to be able to have different models of how I do intensely computational capabilities with organic sensors at the edge rather than necessarily always being connected robustly on the larger enterprise."

Bible said the Marine Corps Enterprise Network is already deployed tactically, such as marines being able to access the service's main website from the battlefield, but resiliency is a consistent challenge.

Workforce presents another set of problems, especially if resources become constrained.

Bible said mass teleworking is the future, and may be what the force needs with practically all Marine Corps C4 staff working remotely amid the coronavirus crisis.

But there have been cyber challenges as operators have had to work quickly to contend with new threats.

"Our cyber defenders [are having] to rapidly pivot to understand what those tools are and to train against those tools, to defend against that environment," he said. "I think there's a significant workforce piece both to recruit the right workforce, pay it correctly, to continue to train it, and give it the educational opportunities."