CyberWarfare / ExoWarfare

The sparring partner who roughs up US Marines with Snapchat at the USMC Warfighting Lab

The arm of the U.S. Marine Corps charged with tackling emerging threats has inked a deal that it says will allow it to do more realistic testing.

“You want a sparring partner who reflects your adversary’s capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Dan Schmidt, head of the field testing branch at the USMC Warfighting Lab.

Enter MD5, the National Security Technology Accelerator. The Marine lab will identify challenges, develop warfighting concepts and design wargames and experiments. MD5 also will provide a platform upon which to accelerate these evolving concepts.

Together the partners will support an Adaptive Threat Force Cadre, specially trained individuals who can share with their cohorts new and evolving response methodologies in the face of a wide range of threats.

While the Marine lab will bring a military sensibility to the table, MD5 offers a private-sector approach. It is represented in this collaboration by Quantico, Va. based training-solutions contractor Guard Unit.

“MD5 is designed to bring a commercial mindset to help solve problems in DoD,” said Zenovy Wowczuk, chairman of Guard Unit. “We bring technologists and other folks who haven’t been standardized with DoD doctrine. They are private sector free thinkers, so they reflect the future adversary who also hasn’t been indoctrinated into that mindset.”

Schmidt laid out a number of specific warfighting challenges the partners seek to address.

The partnership aims to tackle pervasive challenges in the information environment, issues around electronic warfare, cyber security, and command and control. The Marines want to look at technological fixes as well as organizational changes that could make the force more responsive to these threats.

“How do we dominate and operate effectively with decentralized execution in a contested information environment?” Schmidt said. “Maybe if we just change a little bit of how we train and organize, we can dramatically impact the way we execute. We have a whole year of experiments lined up to flesh that out.”

They also plan to look at hybrid logistics in support of future fighters. “We may have to spread out to greater distances with smaller units. Then you have to move blood plasma to the point of injury in a contested environment with contested networks. Now you are facing a whole new set of problems,” he said.

Hybrid logistics could resolve some of these issues by combining the planning skills of human experts with artificial intelligence, robotics and rich data tracking.

Another area of interest involves dense urban operations, an emerging combat scenario that brings my it myriad new concerns and challenges.

“We know that the Marine Corps will fight expeditionary wars in mega-cities and we are in the process of discovering the implications of that,” Schmidt said.

This exploration will likely dig deep into issues of networking, spectra and cyber strategy.

“You have tunnels and skyscrapers and all this electromagnetic density,” Schmidt said. “We are in the early stages of developing an urban campaign plan, which has to include a range of emerging technologies. Our ground combat element, our logistics, our electronic environment ― all will play into how we fight in this environment.”

MD5’s close ties to industry could prove beneficial here. “We could pull in subject matter experts who have done city planning, who understand where the weak points are, and we could mount that data against the Marine Corps force to see how they react,” Wowczuk said. “We could pull from [off-the-shelf] technology to make it very difficult for the Marine Corps to do their job.”

Early collaborations between the Marine and MD5 already have proven out the powerful potential of a bringing commercial-side view to the fight. In one experiment, a mock adversary was able to cull social media to gather critical intelligence on Marine activities.

“We weren’t used to that paradigm, where there is this rich environment of people on Snapchat taking pictures of us. They showed us just how easy it is to gather information, and from there we can devise new ways to protect some of our intelligence interests,” Schmidt said. “We would not have seen that without MD5. This is all about having an alternative perspective.”