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Marines Special Ops Want Industry Help to Create Systems that Talk to Each Other

Defense tech leaders describe wanting to remove ‘one-trick pony’ systems.

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Marines Special Ops Want
U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) conduct a specialized training exercise in Isiolo, Kenya, in 2022. Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Alysia Blake / DVIDS

Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) officials want a better way to manage web-based applications with aggregated data amid an evolving security landscape where having multiple systems and applications that don’t talk to each other can present security risks.

The complexities of having multiple systems and applications that don’t talk to one another and the technologies that are “one-trick ponies” are some of the biggest shortfalls to conducting successful operations, according to Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) specialists.

Three MARSOC specialists, whose names cannot be used due to the nature of their job, spoke about their most pressing tech needs needed to carry out its mission — providing highly trained and specialized forces to execute complex and sensitive operations worldwide in austere environments.

“We talk about these different types of applications that don’t talk to one another, and I feel like we can solve this with industry by … creating some sort of desktop software applications, web-based applications that have that data aggregation as well as other features,” a special operations capability specialist said at the Modern Day Marine conference in Washington, D.C. in May.

Since its inception in 2006, MARSOC has been conducting a wide array of missions, including unconventional warfare and special reconnaissance. MARSOC consists of a little over 3,000 personnel, with hundreds of Marines deployed on a daily basis.

As a special operations force, MARSOC relies on leveraging technological advancements to conduct its missions successfully and stay ahead of adversaries. Still, the specialists said that while they are looking forward to incorporating emerging technologies into their operations, what they really struggle with is carrying around pieces of technology that do one thing only. This prevents them from being more efficient and moving at the speed of mission.

“One of our biggest complaints is just how much gear we have. Obviously what we do as communicators, we have from servers to nodes to radios. … There’s so many pieces of gear that we could be in charge of at any time,” a special operations capabilities specialist communications said.

The service, he said, describes a one-trick pony as one where a piece of gear does one thing only.

“If you had something like that, where all these programs could talk, where they didn’t have to jump from screen to screen to screen or device to device. In some cases, that’s a literal laptop where this laptop only works with this piece of gear. … It’s extremely inconvenient as a communicator where I have to be on the fly or move to the team’s needs,” the specialist added.

MARSOC Commander Maj. Gen. Matthew Trollinger emphasized the importance of finding solutions to data integration challenges, fusing multiple systems and collapsing various pieces of gear into one as his specialists conduct missions in highly complex operating environments.

“Anything that we can leverage to mitigate or lessen the burden on the individual again because I’m all about making sure that people have what they need or we can relieve them of something that they don’t need to have hanging over them or weighing them down,” he said. “How can we best leverage technology for the individual to get after what it is?”

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