Marine CIO: Sometimes the data just won't be there

In a contested spectrum, U.S. troops won’t always be able to count on information being available, and may have to revert to some "tried and true" tactics, Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall says.

As adversarial capabilities grow, one phrase that keeps cropping up is anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD, a reference to a contested spectrum environment, which can challenge access to information as well as that information’s integrity.

“I talked about the idea of working in an A2/AD environment – information will absolutely be contested in any confine that we find ourselves,” Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall, Director of C4 and CIO of the Marine Corps, said at an AFCEA-hosted event on May 12. 

Crall said forces will have to adjust to and accommodate the fact that data and information will be taken away from them. “We have far too much reliance on [satellite communications]. While it’s a great medium in most places, we expect, and absolutely expect, to fight for information,” he said during an address at Naval IT Day. “Information will be a contested space and it will be taken away from us and we have to learn how to work through it and without it at times. So our anti-access/area denial kind of focus is a real focus for us. So we’ve got to go back to some tried and true ways.”

Some of those tried and true ways harken back to a time of limited technological development and even prior to modern communications. One example: Crall noted that the Navy has begun to teach sailors how to navigate with a sextant. At an event in October, Capt. Paul Tortora, director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies, noted that the Naval academy has begun teaching navigation through these non-electronic devices again, given the threat of cyber attacks pose to navigation systems such as GPS. Sailors must be capable of continuing to navigate even if these systems are taken offline. 

Marines need to think of how, in the tactical edge, to handle information exchange requirements in an A2/Ad environment, in austere environments with degraded communications, environments with no infrastructure and difficulty with satcom, Crall said. 

“So we’ve got to get back as a Marine Corps to tried and true methods. So for all the great things that are coming in the satcom world…we’ve got to focus on things like [high frequency] to have single channel radio available to us on that pointy edge [of the spear] because that might be all we have.  The application design for us to push data forward through [radio frequency] has to be conformed in a way that matches the [Expeditionary Force 21] requirement,” he added, referencing a 2014 Naval document that focuses on “reconfigure[ing] and refit[ing] to meet coming challenges. “Whatever system we design, however, we look at moving the application logic and all the associated data has to be able to be moved in a way that is flexible for our service.”

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