The assistant commandant of the Marine Corps stressed the paramount importance of continued military technological development, including cyber innovation, through cooperation between the Defense Department and industry during a Feb. 5 panel discussion in downtown Washington.
Cyber capabilities are areas of focused effort, said Gen. John Paxton and two other prominent panel members at this year's Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo, hosted by the Office of Naval Research.
Paxton, who is one of three leaders on the Naval Research Development Test and Evaluation Corporate Board, said that on the eve of World War II, the U.S. military was "undermanned, ill equipped and unready." Six years later the U.S. was unrivaled in military might.
Cyber operations are today an important piece of maintaining military dominance.
The nation cannot afford to backslide into a state of unpreparedness again even with tight budgets, said Paxton and the two other members of the board: Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for Research Development and Acquisition and Adm. Michelle Howard, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. The board is charged with shepherding the development of future naval capabilities.
Remarks by Paxton, Stackley and Howard reflect an ever increasing emphasis by the Marine Corps to bolster existing cyber capabilities and adapt them for tactical operations.
"There is a lot of experimentation in the cyber arena looking at how we can use offensive and defense cyber on the battlefield," Paxton said.
The Corps' cyber field is expanding as leaders look for ways to integrate Cyber Marines into operations.
Photo Credit: Colin Kelly, Gannett Government Media Co.
While the Marine Corps has contributed to cyber capabilities at the strategic national security level, the service is working hard to use cyber in tactical operations to the advantage of even small units maneuvering on the battlefield.
During Bold Alligator 14, an inter-service exercise across North Carolina and Virginia that involved 11,000 U.S. Marines, sailors and international forces conducting amphibious operations, officials tested new capabilities to collect cyber and electronic intelligence. The push was to distill that information in a timely manner and deliver it to tactical units. Shortcomings were discovered, however, in the time it took to process information and relay it to "door-kickers." But the results were promising as developers continue to refine procedures.
Howard chimed in, saying the U.S. must also work to protect its own networks and safeguard important information.
"What keeps me up at night is how our… edge can be taken from us and exploited via the Internet before we even have the opportunity to produce a single object," she said, alluding to the theft of classified blue prints and technology.
Similarly, Stackley said the mission isn't solely to build advanced future cyber capabilities, but to safeguard what the military already has.
"Most equipment at sea is legacy equipment by cyber standards," he said. "Beyond developing for the future, we must understand our vulnerabilities."
The first step is revising techniques and training so individual service members can help safeguard information and identify where fixes need to be made. The long-term solution is the development of advanced hardware and software.
That next generation hardware and software must be plug and play, Paxton emphasized, particularly in an environment of austere defense budgets. He explained plug-and-play using the M16 as an analogy. That rifle's modular rail system allows the service to swap out old optics and accessories for new ones without throwing away the whole rifle, he said. Similarly, the service must be able to continually upgrade its cyber capabilities without starting from scratch each time.