Urban warfare tech may alter Corps

OAKLAND, Calif. - The Marine Corps, the most tradition-bound of the military services, this week launched a major exercise using advanced information networks that one day may fundamentally alter the way the Corps organizes its forces and carries out operations.

The Marines' Urban Warrior experiment, under way throughout the streets and urban canyons of Oakland, revolves around the introduction of network technology at the lowest levels of command and holds far-reaching implications for the way Marines think and act on an individual and unit level.

In particular, the technology experiments are forcing the Marines to grapple with whether the concept of unity of command - acting with one mind to accomplish a common objective - will be made a slave to digital links. However, the Corps' top leaders and former veterans are confident in the staying power of the Corps' traditions and the ability of local unit commanders to bring human order to the chaos of network-centric warfare.

"Our ability to win battles comes down, as it always has, to the individual Marine - the fundamental fabric of our Corps," said Gen. Charles Krulak, Commandant of the Marine Corps. "No advance in technology will ever change that."

Urban Warrior, now in its third day, is the culmination of a series of experiments designed to test new concepts and technologies for fighting throughout the streets, sewers and buildings of the world's urban areas. The experiment also is providing the Corps with the opportunity to practice coordinating with local fire and police officials during simulated natural disasters and terrorist attacks involving chemical weapons.

The urban battlefield "will be an amorphous battlefield where Marines must be able to move from peacekeeping to humanitarian operations to mid-intensity conflict in a matter of hours," Krulak said. "The success or failure of operations being conducted in this environment, particularly in the three-block war scenario, will rest increasingly with the rifleman and with his ability to make the right decision at the right time."

Although the technology being used here, including palmtop computers, unmanned aerial vehicles and Global Positioning System-enhanced parachutes, are relatively new to urban warfare, the Marine Corps is not. The question being asked, however, is: Will the Corps be able to adapt the new tools to its way of doing business, or will the service allow the technology to change it in ways that were never imagined?

"The Marine Corps looks to take advantage of modern technologies and embrace them into their warfighting concepts, not rearrange their warfighting concepts to suit the modern technologies," said Debra Filippi, the Corps' deputy chief information officer and director of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I). "Everything we do to take advantage of today's technology is to safeguard the life of the Marine and enable them to do the nation's bidding. The fundamentals haven't changed."

To ensure that Marines are prepared to fight and win the network-centric battle, the Corps has taken steps designed to enhance and reinforce the basic process of making Marines.

For example, it has lengthened recruit training, enhanced training in core values - such as duty, honor and moral courage - and added the Crucible, a grueling 54-hour test of each recruit's mental, physical and moral fabric exacerbated by food and sleep deprivation, Krulak said. "It is the defining moment in that young man or woman's life, and it is where they first realize that they are the fundamental fabric of our Corps," he said.

According to Lt. Col. Carl Bott, chief of the C4I division at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Quantico, Va., it is critical, particularly in the Marine Corps culture, not to overlook the human glue that makes network-centric warfare possible. "You trust the Marine before the machine," Bott said.

Daniel Kuehl, a professor at the School of Information Warfare and Strategy at the National Defense University, said the introduction of information networks into the Marine Corps culture will only reinforce a tradition that has existed since the founding of the Corps in 1775.

"The Marines have always prided themselves on the fact that when the lieutenant goes down [in battle], the gunnery sergeant takes over," Kuehl said. "Although they are trying to leverage technology and human factors together, they are profoundly distrustful of putting all of their eggs in the same technology basket."

John Verton, a Marine squad leader in Vietnam, said today's Marines must be willing to distrust the information flowing over the network when it does not seem right. "The Marine Corps must still train their corporals, sergeants and lieutenants to make the decision they believe is the best, regardless of what their video screen or downloaded information is telling them," Verton said. "They are the best source of intelligence because it's happening right in front of them. However, they must use the information, not be used by it."

Likewise, Don Meyer, a Vietnam veteran who saw combat with the 9th Marines, said human intuition and the bonds formed between Marines are strong enough to survive the age of network-centric warfare.

"One of the strengths of the Corps has been that we have embraced improvements while holding true to our commitment to each other and the Corps," Meyer said. "I wish I could define what makes a Marine a Marine for life, but I can't," he said. "I only know that the equipment provided in the future, no matter how advanced it may become, will never change the character of a Marine."

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