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Photo Information

Capt. Brittany Snelgrove (left), a lead network engineer, and Mike Fulinara, an engineer, both of Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity, review the data from the NETPAC network capture and analysis system March 16, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. MCTSSA is a component of the Task Force Aquila MCEN Lab Federation along with other designated Marine Corps and Naval labs. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Amy Forsythe, Public Affairs Officer, MCTSSA)

Photo by Amy Forsythe

MCSC launches Task Force to modernize IT network

23 Mar 2021 | Matt Gonzales, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication Marine Corps Systems Command

The Marine Corps is improving its enterprise network to meet the commandant’s vision, address cybersecurity threats and prepare for the future fight.

Marine Corps Systems Command recently activated Task Force Aquila—a team of technical experts tasked with modernizing the Marine Corps Enterprise Network. The MCEN is an interconnected network of networks comprising people, processes, logical and physical infrastructure, architecture, topology and cyberspace operations.

TFA employs a process-driven approach to track significant, enterprise-level changes to the MCEN. The result provides technical, performance and threat evaluations of proposed changes to the network and ensures network modernization decisions are adequately informed.

“The purpose of TFA is to improve the delivery of enterprise capabilities to our Fleet Marine Force while maintaining the discipline necessary to deliver a unified, standardized and configuration-controlled MCEN,” said Gaurang Dävé, TFA director and a cyber-technology officer at MCSC.

Why is TFA needed?

More than 50 Department of Navy organizations and supporting agencies contribute to the MCEN. Some organizations implement changes without having a sound understanding of the enterprise network, which can present unknown risks.

TFA allows the Marine Corps to understand those technical risks in an ever-evolving cyber environment. The group provides technical leadership and enterprise network configuration management to improve information-environment operations for the Naval Force.

The group assesses new or critical technologies and provides technical recommendations about network changes that could affect Marine Corps operations from the tactical edge to the supporting establishment.

TFA evaluates any proposed enterprise product or capability for the MCEN. For example, the group’s Technical Assessment Team could conduct a full-scale evaluation of a weapons system or sensor platform to determine its suitability to the MCEN and its vulnerability to potential cyber threats.

“We can conduct quick-turn technical assessments all the way to a large-scale system of systems analysis” said Greg Smith, MCTSSA’s senior principal engineer for Architecture at Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity, who co-operates TFA‘s Technical Assessment Team.

Mike O’Neil, MCTSSA’s senior principal engineer for Emerging Technology who co-operates TFA’s Technical Assessment Team alongside Smith, said the purpose of the group is to understand risks before making the change to the MCEN.

O’Neil added that a key TFA enabler is the MCEN Federated Lab, which provides the TFA MCEN engineering assessment capability.

The MCEN Federated Lab comprises multiple Marine Corps and Naval labs that work together to evaluate proposed performance- and cybersecurity-related changes to the MCEN. The Federated Lab also helps to support design, engineering, optimization and analysis of alternatives for the MCEN.

MCTSSA serves as a component of the Federated Lab along with other designated Marine Corps and Naval labs.

“Because the MCEN is a complex system of systems, assessing changes requires pooling technical expertise, and test infrastructure and resources from across the naval enterprise,” said O’Neil. “The MCEN Federated Lab, composed of multiple Marine Corps and Naval labs, helps to address this challenge.”

Test site for ‘what-if’ scenarios

The TFA Architecture Team maintains the MCEN’s enterprise baseline architecture—its equipment, configuration, processes, locations, hosting facilities and capabilities. They also integrate models of future MCEN concepts to support analysis of missions, designs and constructs prior to network implementation.

The team leverages architecture to inform enterprise decisions and optimize the MCEN for Marine Corps missions. David Goosman, TFA’s lead architect, sees the architecture as foundational to modernize and maintain the network baseline architecture.

"TFA will inform and enable decision-making through data-driven models and architectural analysis, which will greatly benefit the Marine Corps,” said Goosman.

TFA is working to establish a MCEN Digital Twin to enhance the engineering capabilities of the MCEN Federated Lab. The Digital Twin will provide a means of replicating parts of the MCEN to enable TFA to conduct multiple system-of-systems assessments to better understand a product before it goes live.

The development of the Digital Twin will be conducted in phases starting with a blended approach consisting of models, virtualized systems, emulated systems, functionally equivalent systems and actual systems.

At full operational capability, the MCEN Digital Twin will be an essential tool for conducting what-if scenarios supporting analysis-of-alternatives, technology insertion, engineering decisions and automated testing of proposed architectural changes to the MCEN.

TFA supports Force Design 2030

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger’s Planning Guidance underscores the need for enterprise IT engineering.

Berger states the Marine Corps’ intent to achieve an integrated operational architecture that enables Information Environment operations. The formation of TFA supports Berger’s plan for reforming the Marine Corps by 2030, outlined in Force Design 2030.

TFA tracks and supports strategic Information Technology initiatives so an engineered MCEN can meet the intent of the commandant’s Force Design 2030.Michael Cirillo, Task Force Aquila’s senior IT expert

Berger also emphasized the importance of meeting peer competitors on a complex future battlefield. This future environment will require a unified network in which Marines can quickly transmit data for command and control purposes.

The incorporation of a secure, unified network supports this vision.

“The CMC’s vision is to enable and modernize the Marine Corps network by 2030,” said Mr. Dävé. “This vision establishes objectives for naval integration and a secure, unified and supported enterprise network extending from the tactical edge into the supporting establishment.”