How MAWTS-1 Supports Change in the USMC

By Robbin Laird

During my latest visit to MAWTS-1, I had a chance to focus upon recent developments generated by the latest WTI course.

Last year, I had a chance to talk with Col Wellons and LtCol Ryan Schiller, the Aviation Development, Tactics and Evaluation Department Head, about work on F-35 integration with HIMARS.

This time I had the chance to meet LtCol Schiller in person and talk with his team about both the Tactical Demonstrations (TACDEMOs) and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) Development initiatives that they worked on during the latest WTI exercise.

The attendees also included LtCol Waldron, Maj Watts, Maj Zasadny, Maj Buxton, and Capt Jacobellis.

With regard to TACDEMOs, among the key efforts were the use of the Light-Marine Air Defense Integrated System (L-MADIS) for force protection/defense, the use of the new Gorgon Stare ISR system, improvements such as using new noise cancelling helmet microphones and new technologies for JTAC cueing, etc.

With regard to TTPs Development, a number of initiatives were conducted which allow the Marines to operate with more lethality and survivability in a variety of combat settings.

These TTPs included working with a new precision penetrator warhead on the laser guided APKWS rocket, F-35 distributed STOVL operations, F-35 and HIMARS integration as well as various aspects of MAGTF digital interoperability such as operations in a contested environment.

MAWTS-1 is working with industry and various USMC and USN organizations to test out new technologies as well as new TTPs to support the strategic shift from a focus on counter-insurgency operations to contested near-peer force-on-force engagements.

It was a very wide ranging conversation and I am going to simply highlight a few elements from that conversation to give insight into their methods as well as the strategic shift underway.

According to LtCol Schiller, a key function of ADT&E is to assist in the process of informing future requirements.

“It is part of our mission to help requirement officers in Headquarters Marine Corps.

“We do this by taking items from DARPA, research labs, industry and the PMAs and integrate them into WTI courses.

“We then provide an after action report with our assessment on their performance and utility to the force.”

The students and instructors in the course help provide a realistic performance assessment for new equipment or technologies in an effort to help the USMC fill current and future warfighter gaps.

A particularly interesting TACDEMO was JTAC Virtual Cueing.

In effect, this piece of equipment is part of the shift to enable increased situational awareness to the JTAC.

It also has the potential to improve training.

JTAC Virtual Cueing permits simulated threat environments, close air support aircraft and weapons in an objective area that can measurably increase training and proficiency of JTACs while significantly reducing costs to the taxpayer.

However, solely focusing on the GCE may result in missing some of the less visible aspects of what is going on at MAWTS-1.

Through a variety of developments, the Marines are focusing on extending the range of offensive and defensive capabilities in the battlespace from the air and sea to support the GCE ashore.

While the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) tends to operate as its own entity, these new technologies will permit synergistic lines of effort with joint or even allied ground, air and naval elements.

One example of this being tested at MAWTS-1 is the continued integration of Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) TACDEMOs.

G/ATOR provides targeting information and fires support ashore.

One challenge will be to shape a MAGTF, joint and allied understanding of how to efficiently operate in concert.

This is magnified with the introduction of the F-35 which provides significant MAGTF organic support but also possesses capabilities to enable joint and allied fourth generation aircraft as well.

A key focus was how to manage and conduct Integrated Fire Control between G/ATOR and F-35.

“We focused on how to maximize three core systems – G/ATOR, the Composite Tracking Network (CTN) and CAC2S (the latest software iteration of the Common Aviation Command and Control System) as they are fielded to the force for the first time as a systemic whole.”

“We are going to be able to provide significantly greater information to all of the shooters, whether airborne, shipborne or ground based missile defense systems.”

A key challenge for the ADT&E Department at MAWTS-1 is to change the mindset of Marines in order to get them to understand and adopt new TTPs for new systems and not simply adopt a less effective legacy mindset.

In addition to TACDEMOs, the ADT&E Department continuously refines TTPs for the Fleet.

One TTP initiative conducted during the WTI course was Distributed STOVL operations (DSO) with the F-35, which is clearly a work in progress. 

During the previous WTI they conducted DOS with MV-22 support, but during this course they did used a KC-130J.

“The KC-130J took off with Marines, ordnance, fuel and a security team.

“They landed at a remote facility, set up two forward arming and refueling points as well as a defensive perimeter.

“Shortly thereafter, two F-35s landed and received hot fuel and hot-loaded ordnance, then they took off and executed their mission.

“We are clearly working towards and expeditionary air base type of mindset for the force.”

They also integrated TTPs for both Group 4 and Group 1 UASs, both in an offensive capability as well as in a layered defense from threat UASs.

Finally, we discussed digital interoperability and its role in the evolution of the MAGTF.

And I had a chance to see and work with the MAGTAB.

This is a commercial tablet with an encrypted link to provide a means for the MAGTF to handle the transfer of relevant data throughout the Aviation Combat Element and Ground Combat Element (GCE).

The Marines have taken an off-the-shelf commercial technology and adapted it to provide core data communications capability within the USMC, and as one Marine put it, “have shown others in the joint force that you don’t have to write a complicated requirements document to get a cutting edge capability.

“This represents significant progress in terms of understanding how we can leverage commercial technology in the current fight while still meeting requirements to have low risk in terms of data protection and transmission security.”

During this WTI course, the ADT&E Department placed significant focus on creating a disrupted battlespace which included jamming, electronic warfare and other key non-kinetic elements.

Several members of the joint community also participated at WTI bringing advanced capabilities to play in the tron warfare area.

The goal is to get Marines to proactively think about how the adversary will conduct battle so that strengths can be countered and weaknesses exploited.

It is also becoming more and more important to prepare Marines to incorporate the use of non-lethal disruptive technologies and techniques.

One of the MAWTS officers highlighted the fact that when Harriers drop bombs, the pilots and GCE can see the immediate effect.

But when they fly jamming pods, they do not see the immediate effect and can be frustrated.

“But their jamming effect could be much more significant than the bombs that they might have dropped in conflict.”

Learning how to engage in such a manner is part of the technology-training challenge as well.

The featured photo shows an AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar starting up at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Feb. 26.

The AN/TPS-80 will replace the AN/TPS-63 andreduces set up time from eight hours to 30 minutes for the system.

Marine Air Control Squadron 2 recieved the first G/ATOR issued to the Fleet Marine Force following testing to improve the squadron’s readiness and expeditionary capabilities.



Photo by Lance Cpl. Ethan Pumphret 

2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

The slideshow highlights WTI and STOVL distributed training and the photos are credited to the USMC.

In a story written by Monique Randolph and published by Marine Corps Systems Command on March 13, 2018, the the G/ATOR system was highlighted:

For the Marine Corps’ Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar program office, reaching initial operating capability is a big deal—a momentous occasion, in fact. The one-of-a-kind radar system is more than 10 years in the making, but will help the Corps outpace emerging threats for decades to come. 

“Most people, even in the acquisition field, don’t understand how long it takes to deliver a radar [to the fleet]—it’s a complex system, and the services only build them every 30 to 40 years,” said John Karlovich, program manager for GATOR/Ground-based Air Defense within Program Executive Officer Land Systems. 

Unlike some other weapon systems, a radar is not something the military can buy commercially. They must be designed and customized to meet the precise needs of the service. 

“We pretty much start with a clean sheet of paper and go from how to develop it, through development, to fielding and then sustainment,” he said. “The bulk of the 10-plus years to get to fielding was engineering and test centric, but the last year and a half and through the life of the system is sustainment and life-cycle support centric.” 

For G/ATOR, that life cycle will be 30 years or more.

“A program—regardless of size or complexity—goes through the same steps, but there are transition points; we’re in a transition point,” said Maj. James Thompson, military deputy for operations in the G/ATOR program office. “Once the system is fielded, you have to focus on spares, life-cycle sustainment, and operational assessment—meaning once you put the system in the hands of Marines, how are they going to use it? So now that we’ve fielded G/ATOR, we’ll go through continued observation and user feedback, but at the same time, we have to sustain the systems we’re putting out there.” 

The program office works with Marine Corps Logistics Command, Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps, and Marine Corps Systems Command’s supply entities to coordinate sustainment and logistics requirements. 

The road to IOC was long, but it was worth the wait because Marines are now getting a system that will reap benefits for many years, Karlovich said. 

G/ATOR is a next-generation sensor that works in concert with the Corps’ existing Common Aviation Command and Control System, or CAC2S, and the Composite Tracking Network to provide connectivity with joint forces as well as across the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

It replaces five legacy systems (two of which have been retired) with a single solution, and is the first air-cooled, active-array radar of its kind in the Department of Defense.

G/ATOR is lightweight, rugged and can be towed by the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement, and provides increased range and accuracy over the legacy systems.

An application-based software system allows G/ATOR to support both air and ground-based operations. 

“This team took [G/ATOR] from concept to fielding—we delivered the most capable expeditionary ground radar of its kind,” Karlovich said. “It’s a quantum leap forward compared to existing radars, and does exactly what it’s supposed to do in terms of providing dominant, peer/near-peer capabilities to the warfighter.” 

Two aviation units—Marine Air Control Squadron 1 in Yuma, Arizona, and MACS 2 in Cherry Point, N.C.—received their G/ATORs last month. They will put the systems through their paces during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course 2-18 exercise in Yuma in April. 

“I think we’ll get a lot of feedback from the Marines involved in that exercise because they can use [G/ATOR] the way they want to, rather than from a scripted test perspective,” said Thompson. “They will use this system in ways we never thought possible.” 

As part of the operational testing phase, members of the G/ATOR team will travel to Yuma to observe the Marines using the radar, and collect data about any issues or problems they encounter. The exercise will also give the team an opportunity to gather feedback from the broader aviation community. 

“WTI 2-18 involves the entire Air Combat Element, so they will all be paying attention to what this system can do and what [the Marines] are capable of doing now,” Thompson said. 

In all, the Corps will field 45 G/ATOR systems Marine Corps-wide by 2024. The next unit to receive it will be the 11th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California. 

“We’re not about having fair fights; we’re about fielding a dominant capability,” Karlovich said. “After undergoing a major reorganization and reset to the program in 2010, we’ve maintained constant schedule and performance requirements ever since. A lot of hard work was done by a lot of folks well before I got here to get us to this point. I’m very proud of this team.”

The featured photo shows a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 flies by during tail gunnery certification and proficiency training in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor course 2-18 at El Centro, Calif., April 10, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ashley McLaughlin/Released)