ONR, Marine Warfighting Lab Chart Parallel Paths to Advance Expeditionary Capabilities
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Confronted by rapidly changing technology and potential adversaries who are racing to overcome the U.S. military’s traditional advantage, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) are working on separate but parallel paths to give the naval expeditionary forces the capabilities they will need to fight and win in any future conflicts, officials from the two institutions said July 20.
The scientists and engineers at ONR are researching and developing futuristic technologies and concepts to address the complex challenges that peer competitors with advanced technologies will present, while the MCWL is conducting hands-on tests of promising equipment with operational Marine units.
In separate presentations at the Naval Future Forces Science and Technology Expo at the Washington Convention Center, representatives from ONR’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare Department and the MCWL focused on many of the same areas of concerns. Those included the threat that longer-range precision weapons present to naval expeditionary forces’ ability to project power, adversary’s ability to use electronic warfare and cyber to disrupt communications and command and control, and the complex challenges of operating in congested urban areas.
They also described similar approaches for responding, including greater use of unmanned and autonomous systems, artificial intelligence to aid human processing and application of information, and ways to enable expeditionary forces to maintain essential communications in electronically contested environments.
Director John Pazik said the mission of his maneuver warfare department is to “plan, execute and manage an integrated portfolio of scientific research and technology development in expeditionary warfare to provide advanced warfighting capabilities” for the future Navy and Marine Corps.
Paul Zablocky, a member of his department, cited efforts to enable Marine forces to penetrate mine barriers in the surf and ashore without putting humans at risk, to provide units entering urban areas with better sensing and communications capabilities, more precise fires, systems to enhance data collection and distribution to ensure the right information gets to the right Marine, and training and education methods to enhance the performance of individual Marines.
Lt. Col. Rob Lingler, a former AV-8B Harrier pilot who is one of the uniformed Marines providing real-life experience to the ONR scientists, said the drive is for ONR to do the scientific research, to test the systems in laboratories and then “put it in the hands of Marines for feedback.”
That is one of the key missions of the MCWL, which is facing the fact that while the Marines were spending 15 years in basically low-intensity counter-insurgency conflict, “everybody else in world has been working to catch up with us [technologically], and they have caught up with us,” said Col. Don Wright.
To address that, the Marine Corps developed its new Marine Operating Concept (MOC), which acknowledges that “we’re not organized, manned and equipped for the future operating environment,” and launched an extended campaign of experimentation called Sea Dragon 2025, Wright said.
To facilitate the first phase of Sea Dragon, the Marines designated the 3rd Battalion, 5th (3/5) Marines, as its ground combat element experimental unit, gave it some new equipment and training and deployed it to Okinawa with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The unit is wrapping up its major testing as part of the U.S.-Australian Talisman Sabre exercise, he said.
When 3/5 returns from its deployment, its experiences will be evaluated, and Sea Dragon phase two will start with an air combat element, Wright said.
One of the major initiatives MCWL is running is called the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept. It is conceived as a way to counter the anti-access, area-denial (A2AD) threat to the naval expeditionary forces’ power projection capabilities by helping the Navy regain sea control, said Art Corbett, a civilian expert at MCWL.
In the past, that concept envisioned Marines seizing locations near the hostile territory to attack enemy A2AD weapons. But now, the concept is focusing on using facilities in friendly countries to substitute for existing U.S. advanced bases that could be devastated by long-range missile attacks, Corbett said.
Any future conflict involving U.S. naval expeditionary forces in an A2AD environment will likely occur near a friendly nation.
“We would be remiss” in not taking advantage of that, he said.