But tucked into that was a steady stream of insidious message traffic. An organized criminal element was set on attacking allied forces, which included about 11,000 Marines and U.S. and international sailors floating off the North Carolina and Virginia coasts.
For the first time, the Tactical Cyber Range allowed cyber Marines to coordinate with ground forces in a way that closely mimics the challenges they find downrange during distributed operations.
Until now, cyber Marines trained by sorting through communications emitted by a single source. It wasn't realistic.
Those challenges help identify gaps in the Marine Corps' cyber and electronic warfare capabilities.
Speed is essential to be effective, Fitzpatrick said. It's no different than a call for close-air support or artillery.
The experience will help develop cyberspace training and readiness manuals, and eventually doctrine, to ensure the speedy collection and delivery of tactically relevant information intercepted by cyber Marines.
Many cyber operators have told Fitzpatrick that they go through intense initial training and then predeployment training. They use their skills downrange, but when they return home they begin to atrophy since they are not always part of daily duties or incorporated well into training.
"We don't want them going 3,00 miles away on deployment and seeing software for the first time. We want them using it every week," he said.
Heads-up cyber glasses
During Bold Alligator, ONR also tested a new heads-up display for ground troops akin to military Google Glass.
The glasses are capable of displaying a wide array of information, including data from cameras and signals intelligence gear; facial recognition devices; and even health monitoring sensors already carried by Marines.
"As Marines conduct limited cyberspace operations at the tactical edge in support of the MAGTF, the amount of data available to them can be overwhelming and may detract from their battlespace situational awareness," reads an ONR factsheet. "Fusing real-time tactical data into a 'heads-up' display will be a critical enabler."
So as not to interfere with aiming weapons, the glasses can switch from left- to right- or dual-eye display.
The glasses could eventually alleviate concerns over Marines' ability to view and process information without compromising situational awareness. It's been a common talking point during the development of smartphone and tablet devices for the battlefield.
Those devices could allow Marine to communicate by text, call for close air support or casualty evacuations with pinpoint accuracy, or note important features and events on a map to prevent future patrols from walking unexpectedly into harm's way. But developers worry Marines will have their eyes on their electronic devices — a potentially deadly misstep.
ONR's new glasses could be the solution.
The next step in the project is the development of a weapon-mounted mouse so Marines can control the glasses display and handle data without taking their hands off their weapon.
New Cyber Concepts
But for commanders to exploit cyber capabilities on the battlefield, they must first comprehend them.
Like the average person, most commanders are laymen when it comes to cyber capabilities. An officer from the infantry community, for example, who has never flown an aircraft still has a solid comprehension of how air supports an assault. When it comes to cyber, CD&I officials want to boost Marines' understanding to something like that of close-air support.
"It is changing the culture, so that [cyber] is part of the equation going in — not an afterthought," Breazile said.
Hot Cyber Careers
Efforts to elevate the cyber and electronic warfare mission during tactical operations illustrate one facet of why cyber is among the fastest growing career fields offering healthy career prospects and generous financial incentives.
The five MOSs are challenging to keep adequately staffed for reasons including rigors of the job, high wash out rates at MOS-producing schools, or the draw of lucrative civilian employment with the latter particularly relevant to the cyber field. That translated into big perks for Marines.