Marine Corps rolls up its sleeves on cyber acquisition

The Marine Corps is looking to make "rapid acquisition" less of an oxymoron.

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The phrase "rapid acquisition" has long been a punchline at Beltway conferences, an acknowledgement of an inveterately slow government system. The Marine Corps is trying to change that perception through a cyber acquisition strategy that designates emergency requirements that must be fielded as soon as practically possible.

Harry Oldland, one of the officials at the center of the new strategy, said he is aware of the possible pitfalls of moving too quickly, but also noted the unforgiving rate of technological change in the IT field.

"Anytime you move quickly…you assume risk," said Oldland, director of systems engineering and integration at Marine Corps Systems Command.

Oldland's nascent Cyber Acquisition Team is in charge of responding to two new requirements that account for the rate of change in cyberspace. An "emergency" requirement should be fielded within 30 days of receipt, and an "urgent" requirement within 180 days.

Marine Corps acquisition officials have done a simulation for an emergency requirement to understand the contracting support it would entail, Oldland said, adding that the exercise was useful in "wringing out…those things that you absolutely have to do."

Oldland’s team has yet to receive an emergency requirement, but is helping to draw up two urgent requirements, one of which is intended to protect the Marine Corps Enterprise Network from attacks using private sector tools.

The new acquisition strategy was born of the Marine Corps Cyber Task Force, a project that last summer made recommendations to address an array of challenges in cyberspace. A key recommendation was the establishment of an assistant deputy commandant for information warfare, creating a one-stop shop for information warfare requirements.

The ADCIW is Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, who also heads the Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command. That Reynolds wears both those hats allows operational experience to inform acquisition requirements, Oldland said.

For Oldland, key to progress in IT acquisition will be the interspersing of technical experts such as engineers with the officials developing requirements. The Corps has also established a "cyber portfolio synchronization team" to share best practices for IT programs, covering everything from software to servers, he said.

On a related front, the Corps last week announced that it was close to finishing an initial phase of fielding a collection of command and control software that includes an application store that will "provide tactical applications faster than current acquisition methods by allowing [combat operations centers] to download mission-related apps when needed."

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