C4iSR: Joint & Common Equipment

USMC eyes improved Arctic communications systems, procedures

12 November 2018

USMC personnel practice deploying GATR Technologies’ inflatable portable satellite antennas ahead of Exercise ‘Trident Juncture’ in Norway. Source: DVIDS

The US Marine Corps (USMC) is exploring alternative concepts of operation (CONOPs) to overcome communications constraints in the Arctic, according to Captain Dez Hill, the USMC's G6 projects officer for Europe and Africa.

Coming directly from NATO's Exercise 'Trident Juncture', which included a 10,000-person USMC presence, Capt Hill said at the Global Milsatcom conference in London on 7 November that the corps excels at network-enabled warfare, but noted that such a capability could be viewed as a 'vulnerability' by enemy forces now capable of hampering communications by "severing undersea cables, [executing] cyber [attacks] against commercial infrastructure, and space kinetic attacks".

He noted that adversaries such as the Russian Armed Forces are now "task organised" to destroy critical infrastructure, which could negatively impact coalition connectivity in the Arctic.

Capt Hill warned that satellite communications (satcom) no longer remained a viable solution to ensure connectivity in the Arctic Circle. Instead, he said the USMC must consider a series of alternative or new CONOPS.

"Satcom is not the communications of choice up there and we need to look to terrestrial communications and leveraging commercial terrestrial infrastructure," he said, and suggested the USMC should "suppress bandwidth appetite behaviour".

Capt Hill called for a "culture change" in CONOPS designed to support increased connectivity demands. "Partner nation forces have wisely avoided bandwidth inflation by avoiding [command and control] by smartphone applications. Norwegian forces have better [tactics, techniques, and procedures] but equipment is not necessarily better. VHF is their primary communications for combat, not satcom," he said.

He noted that Norwegian troops deploy reconnaissance patrols to mountaintops to establish tactical rebroadcasting stations, but Capt Hill conceded that "the USMC is not necessarily trained to replicate those TTPs".

Moreover, Capt Hill warned that US Air Force Space Command's Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satcom constellation can be ineffective above the 65th Parallel North, and said the USMC was interested in "building terminals to support this [capability]".

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