Marine Corps’ Sea Dragon Effort Turning Focus to Information Operations

STAFFORD, Va. — After two years focusing on increasing the lethality of the small ground units and providing logistical support in the contested littorals, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) is moving into intensive trials on information operations and ways to more fully integrate the naval forces to fight the maritime campaign, which will include a search for Marine-operated anti-ship weapons.

The focus of the Sea Dragon force development effort in the current fiscal year will be on “a handful of select, high-value capabilities” that will enable Marine expeditionary forces to maintain their “battle networks in the most highly contested environments,” providing a “high degree of domain awareness” through experimental technologies for sensing the environment and feeding that “into networks we can fire and fight from,” Brig. Gen. Christian F. Wortman, the MCWL commander, said Nov. 27.

They also will be testing capabilities to disrupt an enemy’s ability to sense the environment and target Marine units, Wortman told reporters at an office near Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Then, the gains from the first three years of the re-energized Sea Dragon will culminate in fiscal 2020 experiments to address Marine “contributions to a maritime expeditionary campaign,” with close cooperation with the Navy, Wortman said.

Those efforts will be in direct support of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller’s commitment to an integrated naval force, he added.

“We know that fleet and Marine forces are far more lethal, survivable and effective when they fight as an integrated team. So we’re approaching naval and Marine Corps development as an integrated team, to the maximum extent possible.”

As a key part of Neller’s commitment to the integrated naval campaign and the Corps’ effort “to support the sea fight in contested maritime domains,” Marine elements will conduct, in partnership with the Navy staff, the research establishment and industry, a series of “fight the naval forces forward” advanced naval technology exercises (ANTX) in 2020, Wortman said.

The ANTX series will focus on “naval fires, technology to close the kill chain in highly contested environments and to deny the enemy the ability to target our forces.”

A key part of that will be a search for land-based, long-range, anti-ship missiles that Marines could employ from advanced expeditionary bases within an enemy’s defensive shield to support the Navy’s fight for sea control.

“The commandant is determined to provide a capability to strike a killing blow against advanced surface ships from our tac [tactical] air assets or land-based locations,” Wortman said.

Where the first year of the new Sea Dragon campaign resulted in major changes to enhance the lethality of the infantry squad and other small ground combat elements, 2018 focused on the logistical and sustainment challenges of distributed operations in contested areas. Those experiments identified unmanned and autonomous logistics distribution assets “as high value. We are working aggressively” on unmanned underwater, surface, air and ground vehicles “to support our logistics distribution requirements,” the general said.

The goal is to sustain the expeditionary forces in high-tempo operations “while dramatically reducing the risk to our Marines and frustrating the ability of potential adversaries to interrupt our sustainment operations.”

In response to a question on the possible role of underwater vehicles, Wortman said “anything that offers us the ability to move bulk liquids, ordnance or other consumables over extended range in a manner that is hard for an enemy to target is really attractive to us.”

They also see the potential of those systems in the sea-control fight by “employing unmanned underwater systems from expeditionary advanced bases with a wide range of payloads that will challenge or destroy adversary capabilities in some of these contested environments.”

Wortman said the 2018 experiments also introduced the new “experimental opposing force,” a cadre of eight to 10 civilian experts who will challenge the MCWL experimenting units and the technologies and concepts they are testing.