United States Marine Corps — 2007 edition
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Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL)
Scott R. Gourley

A s the focal point for exploration of future warfighting concepts and experimentation, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL), located at Quantico, Va., has the mission “To conduct concept-based experimentation to develop and evaluate tactics, techniques, procedures [TTPs] and technologies in order to enhance current and future warfighting capabilities.”
Originally established in 1995 as the commandant’s Warfighting Laboratory, MCWL is part of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC). In 1998, MCWL’s commanding general was assigned the additional role and responsibility of serving as Vice Chief of Naval Research (VCNR), assuming a significant role in the oversight of Marine Corps-related Naval Science and Technology (S&T) programs.
In addition to the dual hats as MCWL Commander and VCNR, the commanding general’s mission has been further expanded to include serving as executive agent for S&T for the deputy commandant, Combat Development and Integration (DC, CD&I) [see “Marine Corps Combat Development Command” article on pages 60-67].
As emphasized by the MCWL credo, the organization’s experimentation goals focus on the needs of warfighters, with the principal goal of the experimentation being to “forward substantiated recommendations on training, organizing, and equipping the operating forces.”

MCWL is organized with multiple subordinate divisions. Divisions include the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities (CETO), the Business Financial Management Office (BFMO), the Operations Division (formerly called Global War on Terrorism [GWOT] Operations Division), the Technology Division, the Concepts and Plans Division, the Joint Concept Development and Experimentation (JCDE) – Suffolk, the Experiment Plans and Transition Division, the Wargaming Division, and the Experimentation Division.
CETO, for example, was established in November 2000 at the direction of the Senate Armed Service Committee’s Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities as a result of that body’s growing concern for a wide range of security challenges likely to face the United States in the 21st century. Described as a “think tank dedicated to developing new ideas for the Marine Corps,” CETO products include seminars, briefings, reports, assessments, and articles.
With responsibility for the planning, programming, budgeting, and execution of all MCWL finances, BFMO responsibilities include preparing, justifying, and defending MCWL inputs to the Program Objective Memorandum (POM)/Program Review (PR) process, Department of the Navy budget formulation, and annual command plans.
In addition to serving as the Lab’s entry point for support to the operating forces, the Operations Division is also responsible for the Marine Corps Improvised Explosive Device Working Group (IED WG), which supports the Lab’s role as Executive Agent for Science and Technology for the Marine Corps. IED WG responsibilities and functions include: providing the focal point for developing IED countermeasures; serving as the Marine Corps interface to all IED-related organizations external to the Marine Corps to include the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO); driving technology procurement, training, and TTP development as it relates to countering IEDs, with a focus on prediction, prevention, detection, neutralization, and mitigation; and identifying and assisting in the development of new technologies that benefit deployed forces.
MCWL’s Technology Division identifies, develops, and demonstrates technologies with advanced capabilities through experimentation.
The Concepts and Plans Division develops concepts for addressing the future environment per guidance provided in the national defense and military strategies and projections of the future threat environment. These concepts are intended to underpin the eventual development of new USMC capabilities. The division is further organized into four branches: USMC/Naval Concepts Branch; Plans Branch; Joint Concepts Branch; and Operations Branch.
As the name implies, MCWL’s Joint Concept Development and Experimentation (JCDE) – Suffolk is located in Suffolk, Va., where it supports U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) joint war games, concepts, and experimentation.
The Experiment Plans and Transition Division is responsible for experiment planning and design as the Lab’s ongoing “Sea Viking” live force experimentation campaign. Sea Viking is planned and executed in two-year segments with supporting events including workshops, wargames, limited technical assessments, limited objective experiments, and advanced warfighting experiments.
MCWL representatives offer the operational definition of wargaming as: “the artificial replication of a situation of competition or conflict not involving actual military force that is characterized by human decision-making which impacts the course of events throughout. It revolves around the interaction of two or more opposing forces guided by predetermined objectives, rules, data, and procedures designed to depict an actual or assumed real world situation.” Based on that definition, they describe the role of the Lab’s Wargaming Division as “[using] wargaming to support the entire experimentation process.”
Finally, MCWL’s Experimentation Division serves as “the live-force experimentation arm of MCWL” with three core functions: (1) Fulfill the experiment operations and experiment control responsibilities for all Advanced Warfighting Experiments (AWEs) and the vast majority of Limited Objective Experiments (LOEs); (2) Experiment with technical and nontechnical solutions to warfighting challenges that result in the development of new TTPs and that may also support current and new warfighting concepts; and (3) Experiment with select “commercial off the shelf” (COTS) products that do not require technical development (but may require operational or TTP recommendations for employment) and technologies/equipment being developed by Marine Corps Systems Command. The division is task organized for each experimental mission assigned and is traditionally augmented with units or personnel from the operating force to support the MCWL Experimentation Campaign Plan (ECP) [described below].
Output from the Experimentation Division takes the form of TTPs and training syllabi, recommended doctrine, “X-Files,” Universal Need Statements (UNS), assessment reports or other initial programmatic documents, operational force training, after action reports, and experimentation support to the other divisions within the Lab.
In addition to the divisions, several separate branches report directly to the MCWL Chief of Staff, including Command Support; Synthesis Center; and liaison officers to both Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEF) I and II.
Other organizations within MCWL include a Science and Technology Integration office, which falls under the Lab’s technical director, with a range of tasks and functions that include: integrating and focusing S&T efforts, coordinating the Marine Corps S&T process, serving as the principal point of contact for the operating forces in coordinating S&T support for emergent needs, and acting as Marine Corps representative and coordinating input into the Department of Defense Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD) Program.

The top priority for MCWL experimentation is in response to “Urgent Universal Need Statements” (Urgent UNS), with subsequent priorities assigned to concept-based experimentation (including joint concept experimentation) and technology investigations. Lab representatives add that one underlying goal of MCWL experimentation is to “always be responsive to changes in the National Security Strategy, National Military Strategy, and the Joint Vision.”
MCWL experimentation is organized under a multi-year Experimentation Campaign Plan (ECP) [noted above], which is used as the basis for budgeting and resource allocation.
In describing the MCWL experimentation process, Lab representatives note that the first step involves the identification of concepts or ideas for MCWL experimentation. Coordinating with MCCDC and other advocates, the experimentation process generally flows through eight broad stages: 1. Concepts and Plans Division develops USMC concepts and participates in Joint Concept development — the start point for combat development; 2. JCDE -Suffolk cross checks and coordinates joint service implications through USJFCOM; 3. Wargaming Division refines the concept and provides capability insights; 4. Technology Division identifies equipment and technology candidates for the proposed experimentation; 5. Experiment Plans and Transition Division plans the experiment, establishes the hypothesis/hypotheses, specifies objectives and measures of effectiveness, and identifies levels of effort; 6. Business and Financial Management Office identifies proper funding and coordinates resourcing the effort; 7. Experimentation Division conducts detailed planning and executes the experiment; 8. finally, experiment outputs are analyzed, assessed, and synthesized for reporting to decision makers.
Types of experiments that MCWL conducts include: Limited Technical Assessments (LTAs) – focused on the technical performance of a particular piece of gear; Limited Objective Experiments (LOEs) – focused on utility of experimental TTPs in the context of a tactical scenario (alternatively, the focus could be on the utility of new gear or experimental technology in the context of a tactical scenario – with or without experimental TTPs); Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE) – a larger scale LOE, usually involving multiple combinations of experimental gear, technologies, and TTPs; and Extended User Evaluation (EUE) – Extensive exposure of an innovation with an operating force unit without the restrictive design and controls characteristic of other types of experiments.
A quick examination of a list of recently-released MCWL initiatives reveals the breadth and scope of activities conducted or supported by the Lab at one end of the experimental spectrum.
Examples of experimentation initiatives focused on warfighter/Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) support include the Boomerang II (mobile acoustic shooter detection), Counter IED Multi-Sensor Change Detection, Counter Sniper Vehicle (CSV), Distributed Tactical Communications System (DTCS), Double-Shot Vehicle Video Surveillance System, IED Detector Dogs, Mini-Expeditionary ISR Robot, M40-XM Prototype Sniper Rifle, Near Infrared Optical Augmentation (NIRO), 12-gauge high explosive cartridge, and the Wasp unmanned aerial system (UAS).
Representative of that list is the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)-funded Wasp, a “micro” air vehicle that would provide the platoon leaders with “binoculars forward” in a 4- to 5-km range with one hour duration.
Other MCWL initiatives are focused further out, including experimentation projects like the “Big Dog” Robotic Project, Bio-Technologies, Coalition C4 Interoperability, Distributed Operations Tactical Command and Control, Electrocardiogram (ECG), Electronic Control Active Suspension System (ECASS), Heavy Machine Gun Technology Development Initiative (HMGTDI), Improved Personnel Armor, Individual Identification Friend or Foe (IIFF), Joint High Speed Vessel, Modular Wearable Computer (MOWC), Precision Approach Landing System (PALS), Remote Weapon Systems, Road Side IED (RSIED)/Vehicle Borne IED (VBIED) Vehicle Capability, Small Unit Sensor System (SUSS), Tactical Medical Coordination System (TacMedCS), Tag and Track Initiative, Telepresent Rapid Aiming Platform (TRAP), Tier II UAS, Wearable Computer Simulation System (Daggers), and the XM 326 (“Dragon Fire II”) 120 mm mortar system.
Representative of this future focused experimentation is the so-called Big Dog robotic quadruped. The DARPA-funded robot could theoretically serve as the squad leader’s “pack mule,” capable of moving at (goal) speeds of 10 mph while carrying a variety of critical combat loads. Near-term expectations for experimentation with Big Dog prototypes include a mobility demonstration on Quantico’s “hill trail” with concept exploration of a “Big Dog 81mm Mortar Carrier.”
At the higher end of the process, the “Warrior” experimentation series provides an excellent example of a multi-phased effort in which phases were given a title – Hunter Warrior, Urban Warrior, and Conceptual Warrior – designed to reflect the conceptual focus of that phase, with each of the two-year phases culminating in a large AWE.
In 1997, MCWL executed Hunter Warrior as its initial major AWE, examining a range of concepts and issues tied to sea-based power projection. After a two-year buildup (1997-1999), Urban Warrior marked the second major AWE, with experimentation focused on the application of information technologies in an urban operational environment. The Capable Warrior phase, which culminated in 2001, incorporated lessons learned from the earlier phases while exploring the impact of emerging broadband wireless technologies, intelligent agent decision support tools, and collaborative decision-making systems on sea-based operations in an extended battle space.
The Warrior experimentation series paved the way for additional experimentation, which was shifted to an even-year cycle to coincide with experimentation conducted by USJFCOM. The first of the new cycle events was Millennium Dragon 2002, which was the Marine Corps’ primary contribution to USJFCOM’s Millennium Challenge 2002 experiment.
MCWL was moving forward to another follow-on experimentation event in 2004, but that event was cancelled in recognition of the demands on operating forces from current combat deployments.
Whether single systems or combined networks, the experimentation efforts conducted and supported by MCWL are representative of tackling what Lab representatives call “the three worlds of innovation and transformation.” Those three worlds include solving immediate problems, looking out four to five years to the needs of “the next service,” and also looking out 10 to 15 years to the projected needs of “the service after next.”
But regardless of which of the three worlds is being addressed, it still comes down to the individual rifleman – not an interruption of MCWL’s daily routine but, in fact, the reason for it.