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Col. Robert Bailey, commanding officer of Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity, gives a briefing in MCTSSA's Landing Force Operations Center lab Aug. 16, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. The MCTSSA LFOC lab is modeled after an amphibious warfare ship LFOC and is used to emulate the technical network, communications constraints and challenges that exist aboard a ship. MCTSSA engineers demonstrated a virtualized tactical afloat network capability Sept. 27, which can sync with the LFOC lab and mirror the shipboard IT experience for Marines. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez)

Photo by U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez

MCTSSA engineers build virtual afloat network

17 Oct 2017 | Sky Laron, Public Affairs Officer Marine Corps Systems Command

Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity engineers demonstrated a virtualized tactical afloat network capability Sept. 27, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

“In order for us to test [Marine Air-Ground Task Force] systems we need to test in a relevant environment,” said David Yergensen, MCTSSA senior principal engineer.

The specific shipboard environment that the MCTSSA team created mirrored a minimized Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services, or CANES, which is the Navy's next-generation tactical afloat network.

“A virtual CANES representation allows MCTSSA to emulate and test this shipboard network without the high costs of procuring and maintaining a physical one,” said Maj. Paxton Miller, MCTSSA Naval Systems Integration officer.

A full physical reproduction of the CANES network would have been costly and unnecessary, since most of the infrastructure is intended for the Navy, said Miller.

“Our CANES minimal architecture maintains CANES hardware and software requirements as well as configurations and services, but only uses a limited number of hardware and software components for supporting our Landing Force Operations Center, or LFOC, lab and Marine Corps C2 systems and subsystems testing,” said Paul Pham, MCTSSA computer engineer.

The Wasp-class LHD, the largest of all amphibious warfare ships, resembles a small aircraft carrier and provide the Marine Corps with a means of ship-to-shore movement by helicopter in addition to movement by landing craft.

The MCTSSA LFOC lab is modeled after a LHD LFOC in respect to form, fit and functions unique to shipboard configurations. These attributes emulate the complex technical network, communications constraints and challenges that exist when embarked on a ship.

“Having this environment not only develops MCTSSA's resident capability in supporting afloat networks, but testing them as well,” said Miller. “MCTSSA will be able to conduct formal tests within CANES architecture, hold afloat and risk-reducing efforts in support of operating forces, and assess Naval integration engineering test efforts for the Marine Corps.”

To better enable Marines to conduct this mission, the C4 systems in place need to run smoothly.

“When Marines embark on a ship, there have been a number of connectivity and interoperability issues that needed to be resolved,” said Yergensen. “Having an LFOC and a representative CANES shipboard network means we can test and resolve these issues or provide guidance so that when the Marines embark they can get their systems up and running quickly.”

In the past, MCTSSA engineers would not know what to expect until they actually walked into a ship's LFOC and started working through network connections and configurations, said Jim Baker, MCTSSA senior principal engineer.

“This provides us the ability to dry run our planned test procedures and to identify potential issues before we travel for onsite testing at the ship,” said Baker. “Every ship's network is different, but our virtualized CANES environment will allow us to more accurately represent the specific ships to support MEU deployments.”

Baker added that he was involved in early efforts by MCTSSA in the establishment of a virtualized lab for testing USMC C4 systems.

“The CANES virtualization effort wasn't possible until after we had built a virtualized systems integration environment and developed personnel expertise in virtualization, including hardware, software, management, and other network systems,” said Baker.

That expertise was on full display as the engineers and computer scientists who fill the ranks at MCTSSA demonstrated their newly created capability, which directly supports operating forces and the fleet.

“What I took from the CANES demo yesterday was a deep appreciation for how far we've come in developing a lab for system virtualization and the new capabilities that we only now are beginning to explore for expanding our support for Marines deploying aboard ship,” said Baker.

MCTSSA, the only elite full-scale laboratory facility operated by the Marine Corps, is a subordinate command of Marine Corps Systems Command. MCTSSA provides test and evaluation, engineering, and deployed technical support for Marine Corps and joint service command, control, computer, communications and intelligence systems throughout all acquisition life-cycle phases.

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