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The MAGTF Common Handheld program will allow Marines to securely use modern handheld communications devices like tablets and smartphones in tactical environments to make more informed decisions on the go. Marine Corps Systems Command partnered with the National Security Agency’s Commercial Solutions for Classified program to address the unique security considerations inherent in using commercial products for tactical purposes. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Tyler W. Stewart)

Photo by Sgt. Isaac Lamberth

New program will give dismounted Marines secure, smart devices

19 Jul 2016 | Mathuel Browne, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication Marine Corps Systems Command

Marine Corps Systems Command is developing a way to securely use modern handheld communications devices like tablets and smartphones to help Marines to make better decisions on the go. 

“There have been a lot requests from the infantry community to use commercial smart devices for dismounted Marines for reference and tactical sharing,” said Maj. Kevin Shepherd, team lead for Marine Air-Ground Task Force Common Handheld at MCSC’s MAGTF Command, Control and Communications. “Until recently, it was too expensive to create custom rugged devices that work independently from the vehicles’ mounted systems. But as cells phones and tablets started becoming cheaper, we began looking at commercial devices as an option.”

In response to Marine feedback, the team created the MAGTF Common Handheld program designed to identify suitable commercial handheld devices, customize their software and ensure they meet security standards. The program will provide devices with the necessary tactical applications preinstalled, eliminating the need to have multiple electronics for various capabilities.

“Take a Marine who is out on patrol and needs to send a spot report of a suspicious activity. With a swipe of an app they will be able to send information to the central command without having to boot up a laptop,” said Lt. Col. Tamara Campbell, product manager for Integration, Interoperability and Situational Awareness at MC3. “What Marines will have is a device that they know is secure and will not compromise their position.”

MCSC partnered with the National Security Agency’s Commercial Solutions for Classified program to address the unique security considerations inherent in using commercial products for tactical purposes. The CSfC program clears commercial products to be used in classified communication, based on industry standards, which can be fielded to Marines in months, not years. This is accomplished by working with technical communities from industry, government and academia to develop and publish product-level requirements for information assurance certification.

“Up until this point, handheld commercial devices used for tactical purposes had to be reprogrammed with military-owned security not found in the original device,” said Shepherd. “Working with CSfC, we are using their approved list of devices. These devices will all have multiple layers of encryption, both on the phone and in transmission. If obtained by the wrong person, our devices should withstand any hacks long after the tactical information loses value.”

The first common handheld devices are scheduled to be fielded to infantry squad leaders in fiscal year 2019, said Campbell. They will be loaded with the Joint Battle Command–Platform application, a next-generation friendly force tracking system that equips users with secure data encryption and advanced logistics capabilities.

“This project is huge, because right from the start the MAGTF Common Handheld program will provide Marines with large amount of data such as maps and imagery, keeping them more agile no matter the mission,” said Shepherd.

The MC3 program office provides Marines with a large portfolio of command, control and communications equipment including tactical communication systems, networking and satellite communications, and MAGTF command and control systems.

Marine Corps Systems Command