Force Design 2030 (FD2030) outlines specific gaps in the current Fleet Marine Force and proposes solutions for correcting those deficiencies. One of the critical requirements is distributed intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) capabilities. To meet these requirements, the Marine Corps must upgrade the current company-level intelligence cell (CLIC) construct by adding or improving unmanned aerial systems (UAS), signals intelligence/electronic warfare (SI/EW) platforms, and ground sensors to each CLIC, as well as providing additional leaders to properly integrate and employ these assets at the company level.
Unmanned Aerial Systems
UASs will be critical to the success of any distributed unit. Longer range and endurance UASs (Group 2 UASs), rather than smaller systems, provide company commanders well-balanced platforms without too-heavy logistical footprints. Platoons and squads require smaller platforms that prioritize rapid deployability over range and endurance; quadcopters are well suited for this role. As the Marine Corps searches for the right system, there are capabilities any company level UAS should have: day and night sensors; target acquisition with the equivalent target location error of manned aircraft; radio communications relay; weather resistance; minimal training to operate; and a reliable launching ability.
Group 2 UASs should include SI/EW payloads and all UASs should be enhanced by machine-learning software that can identify, classify, and track targets faster than a human operator. In addition to the Group 2 system, an MRZR-type light vehicle should be included to provide power for longer-range antennas and battery recharging, plus facilitate the operator’s ability to follow and support maneuver. Last, there needs to be an ability to pull the full-motion video feed from the UAS through a universally standard handheld that is compatible with manned and unmanned aircraft sensors across all service branches.
FD2030 provides each company an signals intelligence/electronic warfare (SI/EW) support team, which will fill a critical collections gap at the company level, but, as with UASs, the Marine Corps will need to ensure the right gear set is acquired. The most effective way for a company to collect signals would be a system of small and lightweight sensors strapped to the grunts’ packs. The SI/EW Marine would then receive and consolidate the data, including lines of bearing (LOBs) to signals of interest. The more distributed SI/EW sensors can be among a platoon or patrol, the more fidelity that can be gained from the collect. Moreover, by attaching the sensors to infantry Marines, SI/EW Marines can focus on processing and exploiting LOBs to provide actionable intelligence.
For the future operating environment, SI/EW equipment also should be enabled by machine-learning to track and classify signals and acquire LOBs for frequency-hopping communication sets. A communication suite for accessing national and theater reporting should be included with the SI/EW team as well. Finally, the SI/EW Marines should be equipped with an electronic attack platform that can disrupt tactical communications and conduct counter-UAS. An organic SI/EW support team with these capabilities would enable a rifle company to fight effectively in the electromagnetic spectrum.
Ground sensors also should be provided to the CLIC. Absent from the proposed FD2030 company, ground-sensor platoons currently reside at intelligence battalions to provide sensor emplacement teams (SETs) for deploying units. These teams provide quality gear that can improve both collections and force protection. Through persistent and low-risk surveillance of a target area, ground sensors provide indications and warnings of adversary activity and cueing for other collections assets. SETs also are equipped with high-power optics employable from an MRZR or dismounted. This capability can help fill the gap of manned surveillance created by FD2030’s planned divestment of scout snipers. In addition, SETs are trained to employ expeditious radar, which should be able to provide point of origin for ground fires and detect enemy UASs for the future force. An organic SET with these capabilities would significantly increase a company commander’s situational awareness and ability to operate independently.
Integration and Employment
The equipment and operators, however, are only half the battle. Successful integration and employment is where commanders will make their money. Easier said than done, especially when it comes to detailed mission planning and the addition of large amounts of new data into a commander’s decision-making cycle. A large hurdle to overcome is the analysis required to process the collect from all these new sensors into usable intelligence. Even with the support of the current CLIC, there are too many inputs to be managed. No single Marine can receive all that data and process it effectively in real-time to get the right intelligence to his commander. To get the most out of new ISR assets at the company level, additional leaders and analytical capability are required.
It can be assumed that the “Enhanced Intel Cell” is the planned solution to this problem. The composition of the cell remains an important question. Ground intelligence officers are the ideal solution, as they have the right amount of expertise in intelligence, fires, and maneuver to properly support a rifle company commander.
Finding the right assignment for ground intelligence officers has been a difficult issue. Fortunate ground intelligence lieutenants are slated to go from school directly to infantry battalions, where they use what they learned in their MOS training as either the assistant battalion intelligence officer or scout sniper platoon commander. Many ground intelligence officers, however, are instead sent to fill billets in logistics or other non-deploying units in which their training and skills go largely underused. Creating a new billet for ground intelligence officers as CLIC officers-in-charge (OICs) solves both the shortfall of future CLIC leaders and the issue of properly employing ground intelligence officers. Other authors have reached the same conclusion and have proposed a similar concept for slating them.
If this solution were to be implemented, each of the three rifle companies in a battalion would rate a ground intelligence lieutenant. Since FD2030 plans to trim the Marine Corps down to 21 active-duty infantry battalions, a total of 63 ground intelligence lieutenants would be required to fill all CLIC OIC billets. Currently, there are more than 100 ground intelligence first and second lieutenants on active duty.1 The Marine Corps could cut almost 40 percent of these officers and still meet the ground intel officer staffing requirement for future infantry battalions.
This beefed-up CLIC can follow the same model as the current weapons platoon that is organic to a Marine rifle company. Weapons platoon commanders employ machine gun, mortar, and assault sections in support of a scheme of maneuver. Similarly, collections sections (UAS, SI/EW, SET) can be assigned an appropriate command relationship and tasking based on mission analysis. The small-unit leaders—collections section leaders—will then lead in mission planning for their Marines and equipment while the CLIC OIC ensures the company collections plan is nested with higher headquarters.
During the company’s mission planning, the upgraded CLIC will be capable of more robust support than is currently provided. Relying on battalion or higher headquarters’ to provide standard intelligence planning products is not a viable option for units executing distributed operations. A CLIC led by a ground intelligence officer can fill this gap. With the combined background in infantry and intelligence, analysis from a CLIC led by a ground intelligence officer will provide a significant increase to a distributed company’s baseline understanding of the battlespace and adversary while also freeing the commander to focus on other aspects of planning and preparation for combat.
Once planning is complete and an operation begins, the remainder of the intelligence cycle can be executed in real-time. The section noncommissioned officers will employ their sensors and conduct the first level of analysis of the collect. The CLIC OIC then compiles those data points and, utilizing their understanding of infantry tactics, processes that information into actionable intelligence for the company commander. Now, only relevant and exploitable intelligence is being disseminated to the company and the task of processing of raw collection has been taken off the skipper’s plate. In addition, the CLIC OICs can easily be integrated into company fire-support teams to support dynamic targeting. This concept of employment will generate significantly increased lethality for a rifle company by enhancing its ability to observe, orient, decide, and act on the modern battlefield.
The most effective way for future infantry battalions and companies to meet that endstate is by improving the CLIC concept. By adding UASs, SI/EW support teams, SETs, and leaders, the new CLIC would be a large step toward achieving the FD2030 objectives and give rifle companies a new competitive edge.
1. This number is based on a roster pulled from Marine Online on 27 Aug 2021. There were a total of 89 active duty ground intelligence first lieutenants and 14 active duty ground intelligence second lieutenants at the time of the report.