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U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ram Francis, a data systems administrator with Headquarters Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, from San Francisco, monitors network traffic and activity on Fort Pickett, Virginia, Feb. 6, 2022. Working as a data systems administrator provides Francis, a computer science student, with hands-on experience working with gear that he wouldn't have access to outside of the Marine Corps.

Photo by Cpl. James Stanfield

Preparing for future battlefields: MARCORSYSCOM drives Marine Corps Enterprise Network modernization efforts

4 Nov 2022 | Johannes Schmidt The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Marine Corps Systems Command recently launched the Technical Management and Analysis Directorate – or TMAD – in a drive to modernize the Marine Corps Enterprise Network, or MCEN. The MCEN is an interconnected “network-of-networks” that links service personnel, architecture, processes, physical and logical topology, and cyber operations. In line with the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger’s Planning Guidance – which underscores the need for enterprise IT engineering and the fundamental importance of meeting peer competitors on a complex future battlefield – the move further supports the commandant’s Force Design 2030 goals.

“I would say network modernization is key to achieving a deterrent. That’s our piece in the bigger ‘whole-of-government’ effort, ensuring our ability to project power in future battlefields is unmatched,” said Keegan Mills, MARCORSYSCOM Highly Qualified Expert and the IT and cyber technology lead for TMAD.

“The MCEN allows the warfighter working in a tactical environment to remain connected to garrison. We’re providing them an authoritative data source that they can access in future battles. This increases their capability and their lethality as they fight the future fight,” explained Luis Velazquez, chief technology officer at MARCORSYSCOM’s Systems Engineering & Acquisition Logistics directorate.

Currently, TMAD – previously known as Task Force Aquila – is tasked with undertaking a process-driven approach to track significant, enterprise-level changes to the MCEN, ultimately providing technical, performance and threat evaluations of proposed changes to the network and ensuring that network modernization decisions are satisfactorily informed. More than 50 Department of the Navy organizations and supporting agencies regularly contribute to the MCEN, often implementing changes without having a sound understanding of enterprise network. The oversight that TMAD provides to those contributions or changes is invaluable.

“I'd say we knocked the question of configuration management and architectural understanding of the MCEN out of the park,” said Mills. “The process that our team has developed to maintain the architecture of the network in data is phenomenal.”

Still, with the prospect of a program-specific lab where experiments can be run on the MCEN’s Digital Twin on the horizon, the engineering lead believes his team’s impact will be even greater in the future.

“When thinking about the digital twin, it’s helpful to think of the car you drive,” explained Velazquez. “Imagine that you have a model in a computer that shows all of the parts of your vehicle – including the tires, the battery, the engine, etc.”

"We’re not just modernizing in order to fix what ails us today, we’re making sure we’re prepared to face tomorrow’s challenges." Luis Velazquez, chief technology officer at MARCORSYSCOM’s Systems Engineering & Acquisition Logistics directorate

“If you wanted to make any changes to your car’s engine, you’d first go to the digital twin and see how the changes would affect your system. After running a simulation, you could find that changing the weight of your engine could change how your brakes respond. In a word, that’s what the digital twin does; it helps make interdependencies apparent and thus provides for a better decision-making process.”

Yet while the team is focused on modernizing the network, it never loses focus on future threats, working to understand the technical risks present in our ever-changing cyber world.

“Although it’s our job to figure out what the future battlespace is going to look like, historically we don’t always get that right. So, what we’re doing is establishing a capability that’s able to adapt to whatever the situation throws at us. It’s about building a deterrence to make sure that we can manage that,” said Mills.

“We’re not just modernizing in order to fix what ails us today, we’re making sure we’re prepared to face tomorrow’s challenges,” said Velazquez. “We’re working towards future interoperability, future extensibility and future expandability. That gives us capacity and capability.”

After all, in an age when battles are won and lost on the strength of a military’s ability to communicate on the battlefield, the ability to maintain robust, seamless and secure end‐to‐end communications – from the supporting establishment to our forward deployed forces – is an invaluable capability.

“We’d like to be able to get to a place where connectivity can be built in real-time for a specific purpose and then torn down once it’s no longer needed,” Mills explained. “The MCEN should ensure that critical messages sent across the network are accurate, haven’t been tampered with, and haven’t been intercepted.”

As the United States continues to face threats – both at home and abroad – network modernization will ultimately help ensure the U.S. Marine Corps remains the world’s preeminent fighting force.

To listen to the latest episode of “Equipping the Corps” featuring Mills, click here: