The Milcom ’13 conference which focused on military communications was held Nov. 18 through 20 at the San Diego Convention Center and began Nov. 18 with a breakfast plenary session featuring Camp Pendleton’s Lt. General John A. Toolan as the keynote address speaker.
Toolan is currently the commanding officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The Brooklyn native has been in the Marine Corps since 1977. In his current assignment, Toolan has been stationed at Camp Pendleton for approximately 1 1/2 years. He was appointed as the Commanding General for the 2nd Marine Division in 2010 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 as the Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.
His previous Camp Pendleton stints allowed two of his three children to graduate from Fallbrook High School; his son was a 2001 graduate and a member of the Warriors’ 2000 CIF champion football team while one of his daughters graduated in 2004. Toolan commanded the Weapons Field Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton prior to being deployed to the Kuwait theater for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I’m just an infantry guy,” Toolan said.
The theme of Milcom ’13 was “Balancing Commercial and Defense Technologies”. Milcom ’13 was the 32nd annual Milcom conference.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the Marines and sailors who are stationed here to step back and take a look at some of the things that are going on in innovation,” Toolan said.
Toolan noted that the operational environment is more complex than ever, in part due to connection by cell phones and other new technology and in part due to more threats from individual actors as well as national operatives to disable American communication abilities.
The drawdown of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan also means that the ships which carry deployed Marines will be more geographically dispersed. “We are refocusing our expeditionary options, amphibious options, and most importantly crisis response,” Toolan said.
“We will be more dispersed,” Toolan said. “Forces on each ship will need to be able to operate independently.”
Although plans call for a reduction in the total Marine Corps force from 202,000 currently to 174,000 by 2017, the cyber structure is slated for increases. “We see potential in enhancing cyber capabilities at the tactical level,” Toolan said.
That will take the Marines’ operating situation into account. “It’s a different environment on ship. Bandwidth remains limited and at times inefficient,” Toolan said.
The possibility of blackouts or jamming will also be recognized. “To this end there will be renewed focus on line-of-sight,” Toolan said.
Training will need to include the ability of Marines to adjust. “The average 19-year-old would probably go into withdrawal if you took away his smart phone,” Toolan said.
Communications to unmanned aerial vehicles will also be part of the military’s future. “We need an aerial layer,” Toolan said. “I look forward to development in this area.”
Toolan also cited a need for on-the-move capability. “The solutions to this capability gap are emerging,” Toolan said. “No longer will a commander have to stop and set up a transmission terminal to make a phone call.”
Industry is being sought to develop such solutions. “Some of these improvements will be needed to fully leverage that capability,” Toolan said.
“We could use help from industry to reduce their complexity and increase their simplicity,” Toolan said. “Many times there are only one or two Marines around who have mastered the systems capability.”
Toolan noted that Marines perform multiple duties, so communications specialists may be engaged elsewhere. “This is what makes Marines unique. Every Marine truly is a rifleman,” Toolan said.
That would require communications systems which could be operated by Marines other than specialists.
“We need a few other things as well. We need the systems to be more intuitive,” Toolan said. “We need industry to keep in mind that Marines operate in widely dispersed areas of operations.”
Industry will also need to meet the Marine Corps’ fiscal limitations. “Help us be more affordable. As we approach a period of fiscal austerity, we’re going to have to adapt on both sides of the aisle,” Toolan said. “We must resist the temptation to acquire a Ferrari when a Ford will do.”
That includes both simplicity and a need for industry to hold to initial cost commitments. “Prices cannot skyrocket during development,” Toolan said.
“Interoperability’s a key factor, too,” Toolan said. “Proprietary systems that don’t play well with others won’t be nearly as attractive as those who do.”
Toolan has faith that industry will meet the Marine Corps’ needs. “We will maintain our strength, resilience, and leadership in the 21st century,” he said.