A unique mix of training technologies sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is preparing front-line warfighters to conduct cyber and combat operations simultaneously, as Marines demonstrated during a recent amphibious exercise off the coast of Virginia.
During last month’s Bold Alligator exercise, Marines used ONR’s Tactical Cyber Range to emulate adversary communications hidden in a noisy, dense electromagnetic spectrum—as much a battleground in today’s digital world as any piece of land.
“Our goal for the Tactical Cyber Range is to extend cyberspace training to the radio frequency (RF) physical environment to better integrate information related capabilities with traditional fires to support mission objectives at the tactical edge,” said Maj. Christian Fitzpatrick, ONR tactical cyber special projects officer.
Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) employed ONR’s combination of networking, communications, sensors, unmanned systems and augmented reality technology during an urban combat scenario, allowing them to coordinate cyber and electronic warfare actions in support of larger military operations.
Navy and Marine Corps leaders have stressed the need for improved cyber capabilities in the pursuit of information dominance. The Marine Corps Information Enterprise Strategy specifically calls for the development technologies to train cyber personnel in realistic operational environments.
Officials plan to use ONR’s Tactical Cyber Range to increase the capability of the Joint Information Operations Range currently used by combatant commanders throughout the services to test, plan and assess information operations.
“The vision is to have all urban training ranges aboard all Marine Corps bases outfitted with the capability to support dynamic, full-spectrum training for Marines involved in signals intelligence and cyber operations,” Fitzpatrick said.
Marines working in signals intelligence, or SIGINT, monitor, intercept and interpret radio and radar signals. One of the technologies demonstrated for test on the Tactical Cyber Range during Bold Alligator is a pair of SIGINT/Cyber augmented reality glasses—the result of collaboration between ONR’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combatting Terrorism Department and TechSolutions Program—that allows them to conduct these operations without experiencing information overload.
The glasses stream relevant data in front of Marines so they can conduct cyber operations and still maintain awareness of their surroundings on the battlefield and operate their assigned weapon systems.
“The Augmented Reality glasses allowed me to perform and prioritize multiple tasks while conducting our missions,” said Sgt. Erik Matson, a cyberspace operator. “I can envision every Marine wearing this technology on the battlefield of the future.”
Bold Alligator is a joint, bi-annual exercise to demonstrate new technologies and capabilities for use in contested environments. Marines were struck with the cyber range’s ability to authentically replicate the complexity of enemy communications.
“The Tactical Cyber Range really helped me coordinate realistic SIGINT and cyber training for my analysts and operators,” said Staff Sgt. Johnathon Krahnke, a SIGINT team lead. “The environment was realistic and noisy, and my Marines had to work together to solve the tactical problem. This would be a valuable capability for the Marine Corps to define cyberspace tactics, techniques and procedures.”